FORT BRAGG, N.C. – President Obama marked the end of the Iraq war by welcoming home soldiers to Fort Bragg, N.C., and -- amid discussion of deep cuts to the Pentagon budget -- pledging to continue supporting troops and their families.
After nine years, the war will be over in the next few days "not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home," Obama said Wednesday in his address at the Army post
"Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who fought it," Obama said.
Obama said fulfilling the goals of the war means returning Iraq to Iraqis.
"Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We are building a new partnership between our nations."
Nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq in the last three years, since Obama outlined his plan for withdrawal at nearby Camp Lejeune, N.C. In the next few days, the last American soldiers in the country will leave the country -- some on their way home to Ft. Bragg.
More than 30,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq, Obama said, and nearly 4,500 Americans killed, including 202 from Ft. Bragg. Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama by his side, said the commitment to troops does not end with the end of war.
"It's not enough to honor you with words. Words are cheap. We must do so with deeds. You stood up for America, America needs to stand up for you. ... As we go forward as a nation, we are going to keep America's armed forces the strongest fighting force the world has ever seen. That will not stop."
Though the war in Iraq was often controversial, the troops' commitment never faltered, he added.
"This country needs to learn from you. Most of Washington needs to learn from you," he said. "The most important lesson that we can take from you is not about military strategy -- it's a lesson about our national character."
The speech was Obama's first visit to Ft. Bragg, home to Army Special Operations, the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne, among others. Special Forces troops from Fort Bragg were among the first soldiers in Iraq during the 2003 invasion and its paratroopers helped lead the 2007 troop increase.