Fort Bragg knows well the cost of war.
All told, 202 troops from the Army post near Fayetteville, N.C., were killed while serving in Iraq, and at least another 200 died in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of forces stationed at Fort Bragg have served in the two conflicts.
On Wednesday, President Obama and wife Michelle will appear at the post to thank American troops for their service in Iraq as the United States prepares to withdraw all forces from the country by the end of the month. The president is scheduled to deliver remarks at 11:55 a.m. at the 440th Structural Maintenance Hangar.
Though the end of the war meets a timeline that was negotiated by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, the White House has portrayed the milestone as a promise kept by the president as he begins to ramp up his 2012 reelection effort.
On March 19, 2008 — the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war — then-Senator Obama (D-Ill.) traveled to Fayetteville to give a campaign speech promising to end the conflict.
“The war in Iraq has done more to embolden America’s enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades,” Obama said then. “I will offer a clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past.”
Yet Obama has been criticized by his political opponents for his decision to remove the troops, which came after he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to come to an agreement on a pact to leave some U.S. forces in the country for training and security.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, suggested in October that pulling out U.S. forces would increase the likelihood of chaos engulfing the fledgling government.
Obama’s “astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women,” Romney said.
Obama’s appearance Wednesday will cap several days of Iraq-related events for the president, who played host to Maliki on Monday at the White House. The two discussed their agenda for postwar cooperation, which Obama said includes “military-to-military ties that are no different from the ties that we have with countries throughout the region and around the world.”
On Tuesday, the president granted a series of interviews to local television stations in cities and towns with large military bases — Norfolk, Pensacola, Fla., Colorado Springs and Seattle — to talk about the end of the war.
In an interview with David Alan, an anchor with WVEC Ch. 13, an ABC affiliate, Obama was asked how the Iraq war changed him.
Referring to his visits to wounded troops at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Medical Center, Obama said “it’s the most sobering aspect of being president.”
But, he added, “it’s also the one thing that gives you the most pride. These young men and women make such extraordinary sacrifices, such dedication, with so much skill and so much determination. It just reminds you they’re the best we have to offer.”
At Fort Bragg, Obama is expected also to talk about the transition out of the military for tens of thousands of troops over the coming year and the need to help them find jobs.
The unemployment rate for military veterans is higher than the overall rate, and the Obama administration has made veteran hiring a key element of its jobs plan. The only piece of Obama’s $450 billion American Jobs Act that Congress has approved was a tax cut for businesses which hire veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have an obligation, here back home, to make sure that when they come home, they’re getting the support that they need,” Obama said in the WVEC interview.