REMARKS BY U.S DEFENSE SECRETARY AT END OF IRAQ MISSION CEREMONY
15 Dec 11. Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. Sergeant Major, General Austin, General Mattis, General Dempsey, honored guests: it is a profound honor to be here in Baghdad, and to have the opportunity to participate in this moving ceremony, on this very historic occasion for both the Iraqi people and the American people.
No words, no ceremony, can provide full tribute to the sacrifices that have brought this day to pass. I’m reminded of what President Lincoln said at Gettysburg, about a different war, in a different time. As he paid tribute to the fallen in that war, his words echo through the years as we pay tribute to the fallen of this war: “the world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Today we are honored by the presence of so many distinguished guests from the Iraqi and American governments. And to the distinguished members of the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi military, thank you for your courage, for your leadership, for your friendship over these many years. More importantly, thank you for your loyalty to the future of Iraq. Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now a reality.
We are deeply fortunate that in addition to all the great commanders who led our troops here, there are two great Americans stepped forward to lead this mission through this final transition. Today we honor these two national treasures: Ambassador Jeffrey and General Austin.
Jim, I want to thank you for your wise counsel and for your brilliant diplomacy at a time that called for both. Lloyd, our nation owes you its highest gratitude for your tireless commitment to this mission through multiple lengthy deployments. I want to offer my deepest thanks on behalf of the American people for shouldering this burden of leadership.
Lloyd, your effort to make this day a reality is nothing short of miraculous. This was one of the most complex logistical undertakings in U.S. military history 50,000 U.S. troops withdrawn seamlessly, dozens of bases closed or handed over, millions of pieces of equipment that had to be transferred all while maintaining security for our forces and the security of the Iraqi people.
Lloyd you’ll now reunite at the Pentagon with someone whose able leadership during a critical time in this war effort helped achieve its ultimate success: U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno. Together with Ray, you’ll now lead the army through an important moment of transition as Vice Chief of Staff. You’re part of a generation of battle-proven leaders who have now taken the reins of our national security.
And I can’t tell you how much we benefit from that great experience. Lloyd, I know you’ll ensure, along with Ray Odierno and Marty Dempsey who fought in this conflict, that as we confront new strategic challenges, we do not forget the lessons of war.
Nor will we ever forget the sacrifices of the more than one million men and women of the United States armed forces who served in Iraq, and the sacrifices of their families. Through deployment after deployment after deployment, families somehow withstood the strain, the sacrifice, and the heartbreak of watching their loved ones go off to war. The loved ones fought in places like Fallujah, Ramadi, Sadr City and elsewhere. And today, in particular, we remember the nearly 4,500 brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as the more than 30,000 wounded warriors many of whom still struggle with serious, life-altering injuries.
To all of the men and women in uniform today: your nation is deeply indebted to you. You have done everything your nation asked you to do and more. Your dedication, your commitment to this mission has been the driving force behind the remarkable progress that we’ve seen here in Baghdad and across this country.
You came to this “Land