Thousands of NC troops in Iraq will soon head home
Posted October 21, 2011 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2011 10:28 p.m. EDT
Fort Bragg, N.C. — President Barack Obama's declaration Friday that the war in Iraq is over, means thousands of North Carolina troops will be headed home by year's end.
About 4,500 Fort Bragg troops are still on the ground in Iraq. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro has nearly 40 airmen in Iraq.
No Marines from Camp Lejeune are in Iraq now, but the base has seen numerous deployments over the past nine years.
Anthony Smith served with the Army in Desert Storm. The retired soldier said he was at the VA hospital when Obama made the announcement that Iraq soldiers would be home for the holidays.
“Everybody in the room reacted to it. Everybody was happy about it. I hope they can pull this off,” he said.
The Iraq war has been one of the longest and most divisive conflicts in U.S. history.
“Finally, they are coming home and get them out of there,” Fayetteville resident Cathy Gignilliat said. “It is time. They need to get them out.”
Obama's statement put an end to months of wrangling over whether the U.S. would maintain a force in Iraq beyond 2011. He never mentioned the tense and ultimately fruitless negotiations with Iraq over whether to keep several thousand U.S. forces there as a training force and a hedge against meddling from Iran or other outside forces.
Instead, Obama spoke of a promise kept, a new day for a self-reliant Iraq and a focus on building up the economy at home.
"I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year," Obama said. "After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."
Obama spoke after a private video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and he offered assurances that the two leaders agreed on the decision.
The U.S. military presence in Iraq stands at just under 40,000 service members. All U.S. troops are to exit the country in accordance with a deal struck between the countries in 2008 when George W. Bush was president.
Obama, an opponent of the war from the start, took office and accelerated the end of the conflict. In August 2010, he declared the U.S. combat mission over.
"Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home," Obama said. "The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops."
More than 4,400 American military members have been killed since the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003.
One hundred eight soldiers originally from North Carolina, not including those stationed in the state, died in Iraq.
Camp Lejeune lost 295 soldiers and Fort Bragg 196, including special forces. The North Carolina National Guard lost 14 soldiers and the Marine Air Station at Cherry Point had eight causalities. Pope and Seymour Johnson Air Force Bases had a combined four deaths in Iraq.