Office of the Press Secretary

Fort Bliss Main Hangar
Fort Bliss, Texas

1:06 P.M. MDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Team Bliss!  (Applause.)  Hooah!  Thank you so much, everybody.  Hooah!

     AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

     THE PRESIDENT:  To General Lloyd Austin, thanks for the introduction and your leadership, leading our troops in Iraq and taking care of our soldiers now that they are at home.

And right at the top, let me say that our hearts are obviously with all the folks who are down in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac. Our prayers are with those who've lost loved ones. And I've directed the federal government to keep doing everything that it can to help our partners at the state and local level. As a country, we stand united with our fellow Americans in their hour of need.

I want to thank General Pittard and all your great commanders for welcoming me here today. I want to give a shout-out to the Sergeant Major of the Army, Ray Chandler. (Hooah!) And Command Sergeant Major Ronnie Kelley. (Hooah!) These guys remind us that our noncommissioned officers are the backbone of our military -- (applause) -- leading the finest enlisted force in the world. (Hooah!)

It is great to be back at Fort Bliss, home to the Army, Air and Missile Defense Command -- "Swift and Sure." (Hooah!) We've got Guard and Reserve here. (Hooah!) Of course, it's home to the legendary 1st Armored Division, "Old Ironsides." (Hooah!) We've got a lot of brigades here, including the "Iron Eagles," "Iron Brigade," "Bulldogs," and "Ready First." (Hooah!)

And I also want to salute Lucille Pittard and Alice Kelley and all the extraordinary spouses and military families who are here. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

    I know that all of you are grateful for the incredible support you receive from your civilian neighbors.  So I want to acknowledge two champions of Fort Bliss -- we've got Congressman Silvestre Reyes and we've got Mayor John Cook.  And we've also got all the great folks in El Paso and New Mexico.  Give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

     I've come back to Bliss for a simple reason.  Two years ago, I was here to mark a historic moment in the life of our nation and our military -- the end of major combat operations in Iraq.  It was a chance for me to say on behalf of the American people to you and all who served there -- welcome home, and congratulations on a job well done.

     AUDIENCE:  Hooah!

     THE PRESIDENT:  In every major phase of that war, you were there, the Iron Soldiers.  Because of your speed and strength, American troops toppled a dictator in less than a month.  Because of your commitment, you stayed on extended tours and went back, tour after tour, year after year.  Because of your determination to succeed, you turned back an insurgency.  You stood firm against sectarian strife.  You helped pull Iraq back from the abyss and you trained Iraqis to take the lead.  That was the progress you made possible with your service and your courage.

     And so, two years ago, I was able to come here to Bliss and mark the end of our combat mission.  And that night I told the American people that all our troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the following year.  At the time, I know some folks didn’t believe me.  They were skeptical.  Some thought the end of combat was just word games and semantics, but I meant what I said.  (Hooah!)

     So you kept training up those Iraqi forces.  We removed nearly 150,000 troops, and this past December, under General Austin’s leadership, the last American troops came home, including the 4th Brigade Combat Team from Bliss.  (Hooah!)  (Applause.)

You left Iraq with honor, your mission complete, your heads held high. After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq was over. And today Iraq has a chance to forge its own destiny, and there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq.

     On this anniversary, we honor the memory of all who gave their lives there -- nearly 4,500 American patriots, including 198 fallen heroes from Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division.  And we salute all who served there.

     When I was here two years ago I told you something else, though -- that we had more work to do, including taking the fight to al Qaeda.  (Hooah!)  And there, too, I meant what I said.  With allies and partners, we’ve taken out more top al Qaeda terrorists than at any time since 9/11.  And thanks to the courage of our forces, al Qaeda is on the road to defeat and bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America.

     Two years ago I also told you that we’d keep up the fight in Afghanistan.  And I know that some of you recently got back.  On behalf of a grateful nation, welcome home.

Some of your buddies are in Afghanistan right now -- (Hooah!) -- and our thoughts and prayers are with all the troops from Bliss deployed around the world, including Afghanistan -- the "War Eagles" and the "Highlanders."

And I know that some of you will be deploying later this year. (Hooah!) And I’ve got to tell you the truth -- this is still a very tough fight. You know this. You carry in your hearts the memory of comrades who made that ultimate sacrifice, including six heroes from Bliss who gave their lives on that awful day last month.

     I just had the opportunity to meet with some of our Gold Star families, and our message to them is this:  Your loved ones live on in the soul of our nation and we will honor them always.

Because of their sacrifice, because of your service, we pushed the Taliban back. We’re training Afghan forces. The transition to Afghan lead is underway, and as promised, more than 30,000 of our troops will have come home by next month.

     Just as in Iraq, we are going to end this war responsibly.  Next year, Afghans will take the lead for their own security.  In 2014, the transition will be complete.  And even as this war ends, we will stay vigilant so Afghanistan is never again a source for attacks against America.  Never again.  (Hooah!)  (Applause.)