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Obama Thanks Fort Bragg Soldiers For Iraq Service


President Obama has vowed to stay committed to Iraq. He emphasized that earlier this week when he met at the White House with Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Yesterday, the president marked the pullout of troops from Iraq in North Carolina. He and the first lady visited Fort Bragg to offer thanks and congratulations to the soldiers there.

Dave DeWitt of North Carolina Public Radio sent this report.



OBAMA: All the way.


DAVE DEWITT, BYLINE: Presidents have been coming to Fort Bragg, in the Sandhills of North Carolina, since FDR stopped by on his way to the hot springs in Georgia. But this was President Obama's first trip as Commander in Chief, and he had a specific purpose for visiting.

OBAMA: Fort Bragg we are here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our military. For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq.

DEWITT: During those nine years, troops at Fort Bragg have grown accustomed to presidential visits. President George W. Bush came three times, including a 2005 prime-time address that re-affirmed his administration's commitment to Iraq, two years after the war began.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Like most Americans I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: is the sacrifice worth it?

DEWITT: Six-and-a-half years later, when that question is posed to Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Grano, he hesitates.

JOSEPH GRANO: I don't think, sometimes, that war, really has anything - nothing can really be worth the price of war at times. So for me that's a difficult question to answer with a yes or no.

DEWITT: This is Grano's 16th year in the Army. His wife, Layla, has seen her husband through multiple deployments to Iraq, and she isn't sure either.

LAYLA GRANO: Wow, was it worth it? Um, you know, for me it was difficult. I grew, personally, from it, but then again, my husband came home. You know, I think to the individual it has a different meaning to each person. But I'm glad it's coming to an end, basically, that's where I stand on it.

DEWITT: For the first time in five years, the Granos will spend Christmas together. Of course, many families won't ever again share holidays with loved ones. President Obama says those who died in Iraq won't be forgotten.

OBAMA: We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq - 1.5 million. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded. And those are only the wounds that show. Nearly 4500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice.

DEWITT: Two hundred two of those who died were based at Fort Bragg. The most recent was 23-year old David Hickman, from McLeansville, North Carolina. Hickman died last month in an I.E.D. explosion. He may very well end up the final casualty in the war in Iraq.

President Obama says history will remember what the troops from Fort Bragg and throughout the military have accomplished.

OBAMA: That's why you, the 9/11 generation, has earned your place in history. Because of you, because you sacrificed so much for a people that you have never met, Iraqis have a chance the forge their own destiny.

DEWITT: That sacrifice is ongoing. Many of those in attendance are expecting to be deployed, soon, to Afghanistan. And many said they are anxious to go.

For NPR News, I'm Dave DeWitt.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dave DeWitt