FORT DRUM, N.Y. (July 28, 2010) -- Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team received a rousing welcome home from Iraq here today, not only from fellow Soldiers, family members and community leaders, but also from Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
The brigade is one of the Army's most-deployed units, having served three deployments to Afghanistan and four to Iraq, and had been deployed to eastern Baghdad since October.
Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division commander, noted that the 2nd Brigade served well in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, in 2006 and 2007, and again from last fall until now.
"During the most recent deployment," Terry told the brigade's Soldiers, "you have done a magnificent job laying the foundation for transition to Operation New Dawn - from training Iraq's security forces to enabling public works projects and providing simple services to the people of Iraq, your efforts have been critical."
The vice president noted that because their son, Beau, is a National Guard officer who served a year-long deployment in Iraq, he and Dr. Biden have a special appreciation for the service and sacrifices the 2nd Brigade Soldiers and their families have made.
"I think you underestimate just how much you do," he told the more than 2,600 Soldiers and family members attending the ceremony. "You underestimate the awe that you inspire. You underestimate the notion that the American people, when they get to see up-close and personal what you do, have incredibly high regard for all of you. The sacrifices you and your family make on behalf of the American people are hard to measure."
Biden said he didn't have to study up to know about the 10th Mountain Division's proud history, because he'd already heard about it from his longtime friend and colleague in the Senate, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who was severely wounded by enemy fire while serving in the division as a platoon leader.
"You are today's warriors," he said to the 2nd Brigade Soldiers, "and worthy of the proud legacy you represent."
The military's mission in Iraq has been complex and challenging, the vice president said.
"[The mission involved] a war zone with no safe havens and no front lines, an invisible threat from explosives that turned highways into death traps, and an enemy that used suicide as a devastating weapon, requiring - and most people don't understand this - split-second decisions that could save Soldiers' lives or cause the death of innocents," Biden said.
More than a million U.S. servicemembers have served in Iraq since the war began, the vice president noted.
"You and your colleagues have persevered and succeeded," he told the 2nd Brigade Soldiers. "With your help, Iraq's leaders and security forces persevered and are succeeding. And therefore, those who sought to make chaos and destruction a hallmark of the new Iraq have failed because of you."
Noting that he's been to Iraq on numerous occasions, including four times as vice president, Biden told the Soldiers and their families he's seen the dividends of their service.
"I know what you've sacrificed, and I know what you've accomplished," he said. "You and your families have endured multiple deployments - four to Iraq and three to Afghanistan for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team alone. You have felt the strain of missing anniversaries and holidays, birthdays, and even the arrival of a newborn child or the loss of a parent."
"You have enabled the Iraqi people to replace a tyrant with a new constitution, a new parliament, and two national elections conducted freely, fairly, and, by and large, safely. And perhaps most importantly, you have prepared Iraq's security forces to safeguard their future as a sovereign, stable, self-reliant country."
It's now up to the Iraqi people and their leaders to move forward in establishing a new permanent government, the vice president added, and he expressed confidence that they would do so.
The homecoming here is one of many this summer, as the United States ends its combat mission in Iraq and draws down to 50,000 troops remaining in the country by Aug. 31, in accordance with an agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi governments. The agreement calls for the remaining U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraq's security forces until all U.S. forces leave Iraq by the end of next year.
Dr. Biden introduced her husband at the homecoming event, and took the opportunity to offer her own words of welcome to the returning Soldiers and to share her impression of today's servicemembers.
"In my travels to military bases across our country and abroad," she said, "I have been truly overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform and inspired by the dignity and the sense of patriotism that our military families exhibit every day."
She noted that she and the vice president celebrated the recent Fourth of July weekend with troops in Iraq. "I was humbled by their dedication, their resilience and their pride in the work they were doing. ... We are honored to be in your presence today, and are thankful for the opportunity to thank you and your families for your service to our country."
"So to all of the families," Dr. Biden continued, "we know you are serving too. And this country appreciates your courage, your strength and your sacrifice."
No military family should have to bear its struggles alone, Dr. Biden added, noting that she and first lady Michelle Obama have been working together to ask all Americans to do what they can to make the load lighter for the families that are providing for the nation's defense.
After the homecoming event, Dr. Biden visited Fort Drum's Chapel Drive School Age Center, one of many child-care facilities on the sprawling post. She toured the facility -- which includes a gymnasium, a technology lab and a homework center among its features - while about 135 children were participating in the center's summer camp program.
Robin D. Moor, the facility's director, showed Dr. Biden around, and at every stop, the children eagerly explained what they were doing as they participated in a wide range of activities - some recreational and others educational.
"We make sure that when they come here, they have a lot of fun things to do while their parents are at work or deployed," Moor said. She also noted that the summer camp program has a full-time family and youth behaviorist with whom children can talk about their feelings and concerns about their parents' deployments or other aspects of an Army child's life.
The children weren't shy about asking questions, and were delighted to learn that Dr. Biden is a career educator and an Army mother. When she told a group of children that Beau Biden had served a year-long deployment in Iraq, a girl shot up her hand to ask a question - but it wasn't about deployments.
"How old is he'" she wanted to know. Told that Beau Biden is 41, the girl exclaimed, "Wow, that's 11 years older than my mother!"
Dr. Biden then conducted a private meeting with 10 wives of Fort Drum Soldiers to hear their concerns and ideas. Before she left, she urged all of the women to stay in touch with her and invited them to pay a personal visit if they're ever in Washington.