Austin: ‘It’s Great to be Back’ From Iraq

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2011 — A small but star-stud­ded cer­e­mo­ny today at Joint Base Andrews, Md., marked the return of U.S. Forces Iraq’s last troops.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton B. Carter, Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey and Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the last com­man­der of U.S. Forces-Iraq, joined fam­i­ly mem­bers of return­ing ser­vice mem­bers to wel­come those final few troops home, Dec. 20, 2011, Joint Base Andrews, Md. DOD pho­to by Army 1st Sgt. Tyrone Mar­shall Jr
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Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey and Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton B. Carter joined fam­i­ly mem­bers of about 30 return­ing ser­vice mem­bers to wel­come those final few troops — includ­ing Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the last com­man­der of U.S. Forces-Iraq — home.

Five days ago in Bagh­dad, Austin presided over the cer­e­mo­ny mark­ing the end of the war in Iraq. Today, he said, “It is great to be back in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.”

Austin was part of the war’s first wave near­ly nine years ago, in March 2003, when as the 3rd Infantry Division’s assis­tant com­man­der for maneu­ver he ordered lead ele­ments over the Kuwaiti bor­der into Iraq.

From Sep­tem­ber 2010 until today, he over­saw what he called “one of the most extra­or­di­nary feats in our military’s his­to­ry:” the end of mis­sion and return of U.S. troops and equip­ment from Iraq.

For sev­er­al months, U.S. troops have worked tire­less­ly to repo­si­tion what were then 50,000 ser­vice mem­bers and 2 mil­lion pieces of equip­ment remain­ing in Iraq, Austin not­ed.

“Sun­day, the last of our troops crossed the bor­der from Iraq to Kuwait, with their equip­ment,” he said. “They did it in an order­ly fash­ion, [and] they did it ahead of sched­ule.”

The mil­i­tary-led mis­sion in Iraq has come to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion, Austin said, and the safe return of USFI’s unit col­ors, “capa­bly car­ried and passed on from com­man­der to com­man­der since 2003,” rep­re­sents the com­mit­ment that “helped make this great day pos­si­ble.” “It is my priv­i­lege to rep­re­sent them,” the gen­er­al added. “I could not be more proud of our men and women in uni­form, who are unques­tion­ably the pre­em­i­nent mil­i­tary force in the world.”

Austin cred­it­ed Iraq vet­er­ans and their coali­tion part­ners with remov­ing a bru­tal dic­ta­tor, per­se­ver­ing through the dark­est days of the insur­gency, and pro­vid­ing the Iraqi peo­ple with oppor­tu­ni­ties for free­dom “they have not seen in their life­time.”

The gen­er­al not­ed the team of State Depart­ment diplo­mats remain­ing in coun­try to build on the Unit­ed States’ strate­gic rela­tion­ship with Iraq.

“Their pro­fes­sion­al­ism and their spir­it of team­work were instru­men­tal in mak­ing our inter­a­gency efforts so suc­cess­ful,” he added. Austin thanked the fam­i­lies and friends of return­ing vet­er­ans for their love and sup­port, and said the nation owes the fam­i­lies of the near­ly 4,500 ser­vice mem­bers killed in Iraq “a debt of grat­i­tude it can nev­er repay.”

“Please know that we share in your loss, and that you will always be a part of our fam­i­ly,” he said.

Austin thanked the sol­diers, sailors, air­men, Marines, Coast Guards­men, civil­ians and coali­tion part­ners who served in Iraq for “a job extreme­ly well done.”

“I am tru­ly hum­bled by your ser­vice and your many, many sac­ri­fices,” he added.

Austin salut­ed those wound­ed in the Iraq war, not­ing their fight­ing spir­it “serves as a source of inspi­ra­tion for us, and you will always have a place in our for­ma­tion.”

Austin offered wish­es for “a very joy­ous hol­i­day sea­son” to all Iraq war vet­er­ans and their loved ones.

“Please know that your sac­ri­fices were instru­men­tal in lib­er­at­ing an oppressed peo­ple, in pro­vid­ing them an oppor­tu­ni­ty to enjoy a bet­ter way of life,” he said. “You have set the con­di­tions for democ­ra­cy to take root in a region that is crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant to the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca … again, thank you for a job extreme­ly well done.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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