While most of us slept, the war in Iraq officially ended.
On Thursday, the command flag of Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, was officially hauled down. Only around 5000 troops remain in the country, with the bulk of them scheduled to leave by the end of the year. One and a half million U.S. men and women served in Iraq over the last eight years, and 4487 of them lost their lives there. Many more were wounded.
Reportedly, the ceremony was muted. CNN called it “understated.”
I prefer the word “dignified.” I cannot read the mind of General Austin, but I imagine the ceremony was somber as a sign of respect for those U.S. forces who served and sacrificed in Iraq since 2003. America left in accordance with a timeline we approved – not a minute before – and on our own terms.
The future will show whether the young republic is up for the challenges that await it. But history will show that U.S. forces served honorably and selflessly throughout the long conflict, winning a war and later rebuilding its former enemy in order to give it a chance at survival in a dangerous world. What they did there was nothing short of phenomenal.
When they return, however, I worry that they will come home to a country that has moved on. Their heroism and performance – under brutal conditions – have taken a backseat to the latest sound bite.
We who await their arrival owe them the respect and gratitude they deserve. They should be congratulated. Their accomplishments should be celebrated, and their service saluted. And those who died or were injured should be remembered forever.
Welcome home, and job well done.