American Dispatch: Returning Home From Iraq. A Snapshot From Ft Bragg

By FOX News Radio’s Eben Brown

Men and women in Army Combat Uniforms with speckled camouflage patterns are hard at work.  Some are part of the Army’s elite Airborne units.  Some are Special Operations troops.  Others are with the Air Force’s 440th Airlift Wing.  They are the highly trained engineers who keep the Military’s flying machines in proper working order, so those in Airborne and Special Ops don’t have to worry about them malfunctioning over the skies of battle.

The 440th has a hangar at Ft. Bragg’s Pope Army Airfield.  Normally it would be littered with airplane parts.  On Wednesday, the engineers, infantrymen, and snipers alike morphed it into an auditorium for a special guest.  It was President Obama’s first ever trip to this post.  And he was here to greet the troops returning from Iraq.

“Welcome home!” the President proclaimed to the hundreds of servicemen and women of all ranks who clamored on risers, holding out their camera phones for as close of a photo of the President as they could muster.  “HOOAH!” They cheer in unison; a rally call most buck privates learn in basic training before they learn the location of the latrine. “All the fighting.  All the dying.  The bleeding.  The building, and the training and the partnering.  All of it has lead to this moment of success.”, the President said.

GI’s nodded as the President Obama recounted the chapters of the U.S.’s bloody involvement in Iraq.  The troops here at Fort Bragg were among the first to enter the country in early 2003.  They helped to ensure the sweeping invasion would force Saddam Hussein’s abdication in a month.  But they were also on the front lines of frustration as Islamist fighters targeted them with gunfire and roadside bombs in the midst of a power vacuum in the Sunni Triangle.  Many returned in the troop surge to help secure cities being overrun by a newly-formed chapter of Al-Qaeda, as elected leaders of the Iraqi people waged their war of ideology to bring together ethnic groups used to warring with each other into a government to meet their collective needs.

Not a person in that hangar would deny the nearly-decade long operation was a success. But not one person, not even the President, mentioned a term this nation has used at the end of every great war won in its past: Victory.

“The job is a long way from being done.  But as far as our part in it, yeah I’m happy its come to an end.”,  says First Sergeant Cortland Ballou.  He did two tours in Iraq, both lasting a year or longer.  “We did the best we could under the circumstances.”

But the “best” was enough to change a nation from a dictatorship to a budding republic. And it took American sweat and blood to do it.  Ballou hopes the American people don’t forget that, as they so often did at the conclusion of a controversial war in the nation’s past.  “My uncle is a Vietnam Vet,” tells Ballou.  “I remember the stories he came back with.”

So far, he says he has not been a victim to anti-war activists targeting him.  In fact, the American people have been treating him gingerly.  “I’ve heard more thank you’s from strangers than I get from my own wife.”, he laughs.

It’s hard not to want to hug a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine for that matter.  I do it often.  My brother served in Iraq.  He gave up a year of his young life and endured 120 degree days and frostbitten nights in Iraq’s desert.  I hope he too knows how much love there is out there for him.  He enlisted before September 11th, 2001.  But in the hangar gathered to hear the President’s words are young men and women; so young they still have baby faces and who remember the attacks on New York and Washington from their childhood.

“It was a big moment.  I was in fifth grade.”, says Private First Class Evan Hanson, who joined the Army nine months ago and who has not been deployed anywhere yet.  “Pretty much from that day on, I made my mind up that I wanted to put myself in a place that I could do some good.”

He may get the chance.  These same troops whose return is being celebrated, are very much aware they could be sent off to Afghanistan, where the U.S. Military mission is not over.  The idea looms like a desert sandstorm.  But for now, many of these brave men and women will be spending the holidays back home with their families.  Home.  On U.S. soil.

Listen HERE to FOX News Radio’s Eben Brown reporting from Ft Bragg:

Listen HERE to comments from U.S. troops at Fort Bragg:

Photos courtesy of FOX News.