FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Army News Service, May 9, 2011) -- President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Fort Campbell May 6 to speak with Soldiers who recently returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
The leaders' first stop after arriving was with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment compound where the commander in chief and vice president met privately with leadership and Soldiers of the 160th SOAR, also known as the "Night Stalkers."
It was the Night Stalkers who are credited with flying the mission in Pakistan that transported the Navy's "Seal Team 6" on an operation that resulted in the capture and kill of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Across the airfield, more than 2,300 Soldiers anxiously awaited the dignitaries' arrival to Hangar 3 at Campbell Army Airfield.
"It's an honor to be back here so soon," Biden told the Soldiers. "So let me just say how much gratitude the president and I have and all Americans do have for you all. You guys have been in the fight from the beginning. The risks you've taken, the incredible sacrifices you've made, the comrades you've lost, the losses you've personally endured. You've been in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world."
After Biden warmed up the crowd, Obama took the podium.
"Hello Fort Campbell," Obama said to thunderous applause, "101st Airborne Division Air Assault, hello!"
"I want to acknowledge the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Night Stalkers, for their extraordinary service," Obama said with a wide smile as he welcomed home some of the units that have just returned to Fort Campbell. "On behalf of a grateful nation, welcome home."
The president also acknowledged the rest of the 101st Soldiers still in theater.
"I came here for a simple reason: to say thank you, on behalf of America," the president said. "This has been an historic week in the life of our nation."
Obama's trip came five days after he announced to the world that Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos at the Pakistani compound where he was hiding. One 101st Soldier thought it was fitting that Obama would cap off his week at the installation. Since deploying in 2010, 125 Soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.
"I kind of figured that he would come out and come to a place like Fort Campbell, especially being with all the history we have here," said Pvt. Jose Carambot, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The president recognized the great role that the 106th SOAR and also the 101st played in fighting terrorism, in stabilizing Afghanistan, and training the country's own troops.
"These Americans deserve credit for one of the greatest intelligence military operations in our nation's history," Obama said, "but so does every person who wears America's uniform. The finest military the world has ever known, and that includes all of you men and women of the 101st."
"Even before this week's operation we have put al-Qaida's leadership under more pressure than at any time since 9/11 on both sides of the border," the president said. "Our strategy is working and there is not greater evidence than justice finally being served to Osama bin Laden. I don't want to fool you; this continues to be a very tough fight. You know that. But, because of this progress, we're moving into a new phase."
This is the first time Obama visited Fort Campbell. Biden made a visit earlier this year where he had the unexpected privilege to welcome home Soldiers with the 101st after visiting with the Fort Campbell High School football team in February.
"I think his speech was very moving and inspirational," said Capt. Michael White, G3 Aviation. "I'm glad he was able to find time to come down and speak with us. My wife and Family are back home right now and they're watching this on TV. It's amazing."
Despite the criticism over the handling of the bin Laden situation in recent days, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade's Spc. Victoria Scott called Obama's trip "enlightening."
"I liked what the commander in chief had to say," said the Soldier of six years, who has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's uplifting to still see him supporting us."
The visit came on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and both Obama and Biden took the opportunity to thank the Families and spouses.
"I want to also thank your Families. They've made sacrifices as well, the most tangible sacrifices," Biden said. "Your Families serve as well and the rest of America owes your Families a debt of gratitude as well."
(Kimberly Lewis, Megan Locke and Heather Clark, of the Fort Campbell Courier, contributed to this report.)