Al-Faw Palace, Camp Victory—(ENEWSPF)–January 13, 2011 – 5:50 p.m. Arabian Standard Time.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Task Force Troy, Task Force 807 Med, Task Force Phantom, USDC, I just want to say I am amazed you’re still here. (Laughter.) And I don’t mean in Iraq. I mean, this is my seventh trip since Vice President, my 17th or 18th here, and I can tell you four of those seven trips since I was Vice President my son was here, and I assure you he would not have waited for me. (Laughter.) And so thank you very, very much.
I truly, truly apologize for keeping you waiting so long. It’s all the general’s fault. (Laughter.) Actually, it’s all my fault, but I think we made some good progress today with all of the Iraqi leadership.
We met, and folks, the point I want to make to you is very simple. I’m here to say thank you. I’m here to say thank you from the bottom of my heart and for — and to thank all of your families.
You know, there’s an old expression that is attributable to John Milton. He said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” And your families, your families have made incredible sacrifices for you to be able to be here to promote the interests of the United States of America.
You know, Iraq has made, in large part because of some of you — this is more than your first tour, I know — but for literally the hundreds of thousands of troops, over a million of troops have rolled through here. Because of the incredible sacrifices that have been made since we arrived here, the Iraqi people for the first time, I suspect, I would argue, in their history, on the verge of literally creating a country that will be democratic, sustainable and, God willing, prosperous — that it could have a dramatic impact on this entire region. And God knows the Iraqi people deserve it.
But do you know, when we came to office, the President said that we were going to end this war and we’re going to end it responsibly. By that we meant we were going to end it by bringing you all home within a time certain, but leaving behind a country that was worthy of the sacrifices that so many of your brothers and sisters have made.
Nearly 32,000 of your colleagues have been wounded here in this country; 4,422 fallen angels. The good news is every time I ride home now I’m not riding home with a coffin strapped to the floor of the aircraft as we take off here.
And I want you to know, though, everybody talks about essentially the war is over. You’re still risking your lives for your country. You lost some of your comrades, some of our brave American soldiers, just a couple of days ago. And so I want you to know, the President wants you to know that this is not the normal day in the office for most Americans.
And look, the things that you are doing now in this transition period are the things that are going to put the Iraqi people, the Iraqi government in a position to maybe able to sustain the incredibly hard-fought gains that you initially were responsible for.
You have trained, you have trained the Iraqi forces to the point now where they can be in the lead, and they’re getting better and better every day. They’re going to continue to need our assistance and your assistance for some time.
But the fact of the matter is that there’s a lot that is changing during this transition. Our mission has now fundamentally shifted since September. But it’s going to shift again at the end of 2011. We will probably be in the position of still maintaining and giving support. We will probably be in the position of still — in certain specific areas, having to train and equip.
But you know, what you’re doing now is — what most Americans don’t realize is that each of you and your task forces are doing different things. The 807 Med, you’re not only taking care of over the 100 bases and facilities we have around this country and America, but you’re literally providing the beginning of an infrastructure for a country to be able to deliver health care, to be able to deliver quality health care. And so you’re leaving a legacy, a legacy of not just having helped freed a country, but helped getting the country on its feet and put in motion something that you will be proud, when you’re grandparents, to look at and see that this country is taking care of the basic needs of their country, and know you played a part in that.
You know, when you talk about your families, there is a — I’ve been quoted in the last couple of years because I say it so often — we really have one, one, only one sacred obligation as a nation. We have many obligations, but only one truly sacred obligation, and that’s to prepare and equip those who we send into harm’s way, and care for them when they come home.
There are thousands, close to 17,000, of your comrades that have come home who are going to need extended care the rest of their lives. I visit veterans’ hospitals, I visit Army hospitals, I visit hospitals every single place I go. You all know some of your friends are in Brooke Army Medical Center at their burn center. The price that some of these kids, these people, have paid is beyond, beyond anything anyone should have to ever contemplate.
I spend — and I don’t say this like I — my wife and I, though, spend every Christmas in Walter Reed visiting every non-ambulatory patient in that hospital and their families. And the thing that amazes me — the thing that amazes me about you all is no matter where I go in these hospitals, I always ask the family that’s there or the soldier, sailor, Marine, Airman that’s there who is the one injured, “What can I do for you?” And almost without exception, the only request I ever get is, “Mr. Vice President, can you help me get back to my unit?
I just think — you know, we talk about you all being, and you are, the greatest warrior class that the world has ever created. This is not only the best run, but this is the most powerful, significant military force in the history of mankind.
And the world knows that and our citizens know that, but I wish they knew, I wish they knew and could see what I see every single day. I wish they could see all these young women and men, and not-so-young sometimes, who don’t ask a thing for all that they’ve done, and you wonder how in God’s name can they do this.
Whether I was in Bosnia where we didn’t have as many casualties, or in Iraq where — or Afghanistan where I just came from, or here, it’s the same story. You are part of an incredibly, incredibly proud tradition.
And I hope that not only your military expertise wears off on our Iraqi friends, but I hope that they understand and see — and I think they do — the incredible patriotism, the incredible dedication to the country, the incredible diversity that we represent, men and women, black and white, Asian, Caucasian, every single mix that exists on the Earth, working this one incredible unit to protect the interests of the United States.
So I apologize — I didn’t plan on getting emotional — but I apologize for having kept you waiting, but I do not apologize for the intensity of the feeling that I and so many more Americans have for the sacrifices you and your comrades have made for your country.
I’ll end where I began. We owe you. We owe you more than we could ever repay you. But the amazing thing to me is how after all that you’ve done, so few of you expect anything, even thanks.
But the big difference between my generation and the general’s — and I’m older than he is — who leave their home, who leave their home, as you’ve noticed, and some of you leave home and come back, people have a sense and they know what you’ve done. I hope you know how much they appreciate it.
And I just was recently up in 10th Mountain up in Fort Drum, New York up in Watertown. Any of you who are from that way, you’re not missing a thing. They just had 44 inches of snow. (Laughter.) But I look at the expressions and the faces of the families as you all come back, and I hope, when you re-deploy home, I hope you get as much — appreciate as much the sense of joy and overwhelming thanks that your families and your country feels, as my wife and I felt when our son came home.
So folks, you’re led by one of the truly great generals in the United States military, and that’s not hyperbole, and I mean that literally. And it’s obvious that his enthusiasm for his country and his troops has worn off on all of you guys. Otherwise there’s no possibility you’d wait an hour on a marble floor to hear a Vice President of the United States of America.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. I look forward, if you’re willing, to coming out there and shaking as many of your hands as I can to personally tell you thanks. God bless you all. (Applause.)
6:01 P.M. Arabian Standard Time