Local News

Biden: Bragg troops gave Iraq 'fighting chance'

Posted April 8, 2009 6:00 a.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2009 4:32 p.m. EDT

— Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, visited Fort Bragg Wednesday to welcome the XVIII Airborne Corps on its return from Iraq.

The corps spent the last 15 months in charge of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. It completed that work on Saturday and passed along the command to I Corps of Fort Lewis, Wash.

About 900 soldiers have returned to Fort Bragg over the past two weeks, and XVIII Airborne Corps commander Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin returned on Sunday.

Biden, whose son, Beau, is serving in Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard, credited the Fort Bragg troops with improving the security of the war-torn country during their deployment.

"Today, Iraq is experiencing the lowest levels of violence since the beginning of the war," he told about 1,500 troops gathered on the parade ground on post. "Iraq has a tremendous opportunity to achieve its potential because of the efforts of the 18th Airborne Corps.

The vice president pointed to Iraq's provincial elections in January, in which 11 attacks were reported across the country. During the last elections, in 2005, 300 attacks occurred, he said.

"You went in the midst of what was an uncertain future for Iraq, (and) you left behind a country in which violence is being replaced by progress," he said. "You gave the Iraqis a chance – a fighting chance – to reclaim their country and establish a stable government for the first time in God knows how long."

Biden also thanked the troops and their families for the sacrifices they have made during repeated deployments in recent years.

"A 15-month deployment,  to most Americans, that's a lifetime," he said. "So many people – good, decent Americans – don't have any idea of the depth of the sacrifice your families make."

Still, he stressed that, while the U.S. is shifting security duties in Iraq to Iraqi soldiers, Fort Bragg troops would continue to be counted on to fight the war in Afghanistan.

"There's more work to be done, which means there are more people who are going to be separated from their families. We're going to ask more of those of you who wear the uniform," he said.

During the ceremony, Biden presented awards to several soldiers, including six Bronze Stars – the Army's fourth-highest combat medal – and a meritorious service award for a chaplain.

"It says a lot to me that the vice president would come down and speak with soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey West, one of the Bronze Star recipients.

The visit marked the second time in a week that the vice president has appeared in North Carolina. Last Wednesday, he stopped in Faison and Pikeville to tout the $787 billion federal stimulus package and its impact on rural communities.