By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 27, 2009 - As President Barack Obama today set a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, he praised the military troops and families who have volunteered to "bear the heaviest burden." Addressing an audience at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., the president praised the work of U.S. servicemembers in Iraq who have contributed to a substantial drop in overall violence, dealt al-Qaida a "serious blow" and bolstered Iraqi security forces.
"You make up a fraction of the American population, but in an age when so many people and institutions have acted irresponsibly, so many of you did the opposite," he said. "You volunteered to bear the heaviest burden."
Nearly six years into Operation Iraqi Freedom, Obama today set the timeline for significantly drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq for the end of August 2010.
"America's men and women in uniform, so many of you, have fought block by block, province by province, year after year to give the Iraqis this chance to choose a better future," he said. "Now we must ask the Iraqi people to seize it."
Obama said the situation in Iraq has improved in large part because of the service and sacrifices made by troops and their families. But he added that the war does not end upon a servicemember's return home.
"It lives on in the memories of your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who gave their lives. It endures in the wound that is slow to heal, the disability that isn't going away, the dream that wakes you up at night, the stiffening in your spine when a car backfires down the street," he said.
Obama said it's now the responsibility of a grateful nation to carry out its duty to U.S. servicemembers and their families. This obligation underlies Obama's decision to allocate funding in his budget proposal to increase the size of the Army and Marines to lessen the burden on those serving, he said.
In the same vein, he also has requested funding to expand veterans health care, continue building wounded warrior facilities across America and make advances in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
"We also know that service does not end with the person wearing the uniform," said Obama, noting that his wife, Michelle, has learned firsthand about burdens borne by military families. "I want you to know this: Military families are a top priority for Michelle and me, and they will be a top priority for my administration."
While the United States has engaged in debates about the war in Iraq, there should be no disagreement on what the men and women of our military have achieved, the president said.
"We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein's regime and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government and you got the job done," he said. "And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life. That is your achievement. That is the prospect that you have made possible."
Obama added that each member of the armed forces has his or her own story, which is part of the greater history of the United States.
"America is a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it, from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar, from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar," he said. "You teach us that the price of freedom is great. Your sacrifice should challenge all of us, every single American, to ask what we can do to be better citizens."
Obama acknowledged the soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also highlighted Marines from Camp Lejeune deployed with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force in Afghanistan and the 8,000 Marines preparing to join the fight in Afghanistan.
"We have you in our prayers. We pay tribute to your service. We thank you and your families for all that you do for America," he said. "And I want you all to know that there is no greater honor or greater responsibility than serving as your commander in chief."