FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, April 8, 2009) -- Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, joined 1,200 Fort Bragg Soldiers and several hundred spectators to welcome the XVIII Airborne Corps back to Fort Bragg Wednesday.

Biden, who served as guest speaker for the event, joined XVIII Airborne Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III on the stand at the post's parade field following the unit's return from a 15-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Wednesday's event marked Biden's first visit to Fort Bragg as vice president. He said he was impressed with the Soldiers that stood before him.

"I have been incredibly impressed," he said to the crowd and more directly, Austin. "My only regret general, is that the rest of America is not standing next to me."

Biden said the XVIII Airborne Corps Soldiers are among the nation's best.

"You are the best trained; you are the bravest; you are the most conditioned and you are the best force America has ever assembled, and I am honored and proud to be here today with my wife, Jill," he said.

The corps began its deployment in January 2008. During the time it was in Iraq, working closely with Iraqi Security Forces, the unit saw a decrease in the number of attacks across the country. Those attacks went from totaling 800 per week to less than 100 per week, according to a corps fact sheet.

The corps was also instrumental in ensuring that provincial elections occurred in January. The corps' 15 month-long efforts, while partnered with Iraqi Security Forces, saw election day attacks decrease from 300 in 2005 to just 11, two months ago.

"You went in the midst of what was an uncertain future for Iraq and you left -- five or six days ago -- you left behind a country in which violence is being replaced by progress.

"Over the course of your deployment, you dealt a serious blow to Al-Qaeda, by taking the fight to them in the north; by moving out in Anbar province; by taking on the Shia extremists in the South." Biden said. "You helped secure the provincial elections, which I might add, were very much in doubt.

"Everybody acts now like this was a done deal, this was a certainty -- but it was not."

Biden said the corps' performance in Iraq sent a message to the world that things were moving forward. He said the unit proved that a country that had been in chaos could actually hold an orderly transfer of power at a provincial level.

"You gave the Iraqis a fighting chance to reclaim their country and establish a stable government for the first time in God knows how long," he said. "A government chosen by its own people, not imposed upon them by a superpower; not imposed upon them by a dictator."

He said what was more important was that the corps provided the support necessary for Iraqi Security Forces to take control of their own country and allow the president to announce the drawdown of U.S. Forces in Iraq.

He pointed out that the XVIII Airborne Corps was part of a larger U.S. effort, but added it had been successful in making Iraq a better place than it was before its arrival.

"Because of all the work you've done, all the work our military has done, I am absolutely confident that the Iraqis are in a much better place to take responsibility for their own security," Biden said. "To the men and women of the XVIII Airborne Corps, on behalf of a grateful nation, we thank you. Thank you for a job well done. You did more than I suspect you know."

Austin spoke to the crowd briefly before introducing the vice president. He said he was proud of his Soldiers and the entire Fort Bragg community for the support it provided during the deployment.

"There is nothing closer to my heart than the American military family," Austin said, "especially the Fort Bragg Family. No one can understand the sacrifices you made during this long deployment better than the men and women that are here with us today.

"Please know that your sacrifice and your support helped our men and women of the corps achieve immense success in Iraq. In fact, we literally could not have done what we did without you."

Austin acknowledged that Fort Bragg's community extends well beyond its gates and he thanked the local community for its invaluable support.

He said was equally impressed with the actions of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, which he commanded during the deployment.

"I must say that the team that we assembled and deployed was, hands down, the best corps staff I have ever witnessed," he said. "Iraq has a tremendous opportunity to achieve its potential because of the men and women of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Our families and friends can be proud of what was accomplished in Iraq."

(Reginald Rogers writes for the Paraglide newspaper at Fort Bragg.)