Applauding their "extraordinary achievement," President Barack Obama saluted returning troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday, declaring that the nearly nine-year conflict in Iraq is ending "not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home."
Marking the conclusion of the war at this military redoubt that's seen more than 200 deaths over nearly nine years of fighting in Iraq, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed several thousand troops and several hundred military families.
"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," he said.
Obama highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of U.S. forces now on their way back home. He recalled the start of the war, a time when he was only an Illinois state senator and many of the warriors before him were in grade school.
The war, he said, took many twists and turns.
"We knew this day would come. We have known it for some time now," he said. "But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long."
He noted the early battles that defeated and deposed Saddam Hussein and what he called "the grind of insurgency" — roadside bombs, snipers and suicide attacks.
"Your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it," he said.
The last U.S. troops are to be out of Iraq by December 31.