By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 25, 2008 - President George W. Bush kicked off his last Thanksgiving week as commander in chief today by thanking the soldiers of Fort Campbell, Ky., for the key role they've played in the war on terror and telling them they're what he'll miss most when he leaves office. Bush visited the home of the 101st Airborne Division, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 5th Special Forces Group soldiers, many recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Among them were the "Screaming Eagles" division's 2nd Brigade, in the midst of returning early from Iraq because of decreased violence there.
"You have performed with courage and distinction on the front lines of the war on terror," Bush told the soldiers, who erupted into cheers, applause and "hoo-ahs" throughout the address.
"You have returned on success," he continued. "On behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to welcome home the Bastogne Brigade, the Strike Brigade, the Rakkasans Brigade. Job well done!"
The president praised the troops for actions that he said not only have brought new hope and opportunity to Iraq and Afghanistan, but also helped to make the United States more secure.
"[You] have gone on the offense in the war against these killers and thugs," he said. "You have taken the battle of the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here in the United States."
Meanwhile, as part of "the great ideological struggle of our time," the Fort Campbell soldiers have brought a more hopeful vision of justice and liberty, he said. "With the soldiers at Fort Campbell out front, the forces of freedom and liberty will prevail," he said.
The president recalled his first Thanksgiving visit to Fort Campbell, just two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a month after the war in Afghanistan had started. Fort Campbell's Rakkasans Brigade was the first conventional brigade to join the battle.
Since then, the 101st Airborne Division has continued to play a major role in the terror war, most recently as part of the troop surge in Iraq.
"Our troops conducted this surge with resolve and with valor, and nobody knows the impact better than the Screaming Eagles," Bush told the soldiers. He noted the huge turnaround they helped to bring to Iraq's Salahuddin province, which was struggling to recover from the Golden Mosque bombing when the division's Bastogne Brigade deployed there last year.
"But you partnered with the Iraqis to restore security. Schools and businesses are now open. The Golden Mosque is being rebuilt," Bush said. "And throughout the province, hope is returning. The terrorists are being driven out. The Iraqi people have the Screaming Eagles to thank."
Bush noted similar successes taking place across Iraq, with violence and sectarian violence down dramatically and 13 of the country's 18 provinces now under Iraqi security forces responsibility.
"Slowly but steadily, economic and political progress is taking place," he said. "And Iraqis are working together for a more hopeful future."
Bush vowed to continue reducing U.S. forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve, a strategy he calls "return on success."
So far, a Marine expeditionary unit, two Marine battalions and six Army brigades, including the Rakkasans, have returned from Iraq without replacement. "By the end of January, we'll have brought home more than 4,000 additional troops," Bush said.
Meanwhile, the president cited progress toward completing a strategic framework agreement and security agreement with the Iraqi government. Ultimately, these agreements will pave a way for future economic, diplomatic and military cooperation between the United States and Iraq.
Bush called ongoing debate about these agreements among Iraqi lawmakers a sign of Iraq's strong democracy and a testament to the successes U.S. servicemembers have helped to bring about.
"War in Iraq is not over, but we're drawing closer to the day when our troops can come home," Bush said. "And when they come home, they will come home in victory."
After the cheers subsided, the president thanked the soldiers for their historic accomplishments.
Success in Iraq will frustrate Iran's ambitions to dominate in the region, deny al-Qaida a safe haven for new attacks and give millions of people in the Middle East the promise of liberty and democracy, he said.
But the impact of that success will resonate far beyond Iraq and the region, he added. "Success in Iraq will mean that the American people are more secure at home," he said.
As he prepares to leave office, Bush said, he's often asked what he'll miss most about the job.
"Well, above all, I'm going to miss spending time with men and women who have volunteered to serve the United States of America -- the fine men and women who wear the uniform," he said.
"We are blessed to have defenders of such character and courage," the president said. "I'm grateful to the families who serve by your side, and I will always be thankful for the honor of having served as the commander in chief."