Obama visits Ft. Bliss soldiers
By: Ricky J. Carrasco
“I wanted to come down to Ft. Bliss to say thank you and welcome home” President Barack Obama
On the day that the US formally ends combat operations that began in Iraq over 7 years ago, President Barack Obama visited Ft. Bliss to meet with soldiers. There was a small crowd of about 100 soldiers, soldiers’ families, and area VIPs there to greet him as he got off Air Force One at Biggs Field. The President was on the ground for a little over an hour to speak with about 180 soldiers in a closed ceremony. He also spoke privately to Gold Star families, those who have lost parents and spouses to the war in Iraq, including one Army wife who just days ago lost her husband.
“I’m going to make a speech to the nation tonight. It’s not going to be a victory lap. It’s not going to be self-congratulatory. There’s still a lot of work that we’ve got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us. But the fact of the matter is that because of the extraordinary service that all of you have done, and so many people here at Fort Bliss have done, Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself, and America is more secure.“
Many of the public officials who met with the President re-iterated that today was not a day necessarily to celebrate or to stop being active and vigilant. Rather, today’s message marks a transition period where Iraq will have to move ahead with its own future as its people see fit to create.
Congressman Silvestre Reyes stated in a press conference after the President departed, “It is now their responsibility. We’re not where we should be. There is still a lot of work left to do.” In fact, a large military presence of about 50,000 American troops are still in Iraq to “aid and assist” the government on their road to independence. This new non-hostile transition will be called “Operation New Dawn.”
El Paso and Fort Bliss will continue to provide a central base for future operations. Commanding General Dana Pittard stated that Ft Bliss is currently seeing the “largest expansion of any American military base since World War II.” General Pittard was visibly moved that President Obama singled out Ft. Bliss for this visit, restating that this would be a great morale boost for the city, as well as for the base.
For many present, the visit left many questions unasked and unanswered. Specifically, the topics of border relations and the continued threat of violence from the on-going Mexican drug war were on many minds. Congressman Reyes travelled down from Washington, D.C., with the President, and voiced these same concerns. Reyes denied the idea that Mexico is a failed state, saying that “we need to continue to support the government of Mexico.” He gave the example of Colombia, a nation that many saw as a failed state only 10 years ago. “Yesterday, I met with President Santos (of Colombia). His country is a perfect example of a country came back from the brink. Now, Colombian police are training Mexican police on how to better perform their jobs.” Furthermore, Congressman Ciro Rodriguez stated that over $600 million has been appropriated for border security, $3.4 million for El Paso area alone.
President Obama’s visit, although brief, served to show his gratitude for the men and women who pay the actual cost of war. Rebecca Rogerson and Jackie Feliciano are two Army wives who were selected to meet the President. Rogerson stated that Obama “gave words of encouragement and prayers for our husbands’ safe return.” Feliciano, who has not seen her husband has been deployed for over six and half months, said that the President thanked the soldiers and their spouses for their sacrifices.