By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceAugust 31, 2010
WASHINGTON (Aug. 31, 2010) -- President Barack Obama traveled today to Fort Bliss, Texas, to pay tribute to the post's servicemembers, whose contributions and those of their comrades made possible tomorrow's milestone marking the official end of combat operations in Iraq.
"Congratulations, on a job well done," Obama told about 130 1st Armored Division Soldiers, accompanied their spouses, who'd recently returned from Iraq as they gathered in a post dining facility.
"There has not been a single mission that has been assigned to all of you in which you have not performed with gallantry, with courage, with excellence," the president said. "That is something the entire country understands."
Thanks to these efforts, he said, "Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself and America is more secure."
Obama told the troops his White House address to the nation tonight will underscore that as Operation New Dawn begins tomorrow, "our task in Iraq is not yet completed."
"Our combat phase is over," he said, "But we've worked too hard to neglect the continuing work that has to be done" by civilians as well as military transitional forces."
"The work that continues is absolutely critical, providing training and assistance to Iraqi security forces, because there's still violence in Iraq and they're still learning how to secure their country the way they need to," Obama said. "They've made enormous strides, thanks to the training that they've already received. But there's still more work to do there."
U.S. forces also will continue to conduct joint counterterrorism operations with their Iraqi counterparts, he noted.
"But the bottom line is that our combat phase is now over, we are in transition, and that could not have been accomplished had it not been for the men and women here at Fort Bliss and across the country," Obama said.
Political disagreements and debate aside, all Americans agree that "we have the finest fighting force in the history of the world," the president said, drawing loud cheers from his audience.
"And the reason we have that it is that the men and women in uniform, in every branch of service, who make so many sacrifices. And their families make those sacrifices beside them," the president said.
Obama recognized that sacrifice today when he met with Gold Star families at Fort Bliss, including a new mother who had just lost her husband in combat. Yesterday, he visited wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he awarded 11 Purple Heart Medals.
As the U.S. mission transitions in Iraq, Obama told the Fort Bliss Soldiers he will insist that the country "serve you and your families as well as you've served us," with programs and services to support their needs.
He cited increased support for veterans, better care for wounded warriors, including specialized services for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, and a Post 9/11 GI Bill that provides enhanced educational benefits for troops as well as their families.
"I just want to say thank you on behalf of the country, because without you, we couldn't enjoy the freedoms and the security that are precious," Obama said. "And all of you represent that long line of heroes that have served us so well generation after generation."
Obama closed his comments saying he'd like to circulate around the room to shake the Soldiers' hands to thank them for "a job well done" and to ensure they know they are "welcome home with open arms from every corner of this country."
"People could not be prouder of you - and we are grateful," he said.