Ending the war in Iraq: A veteran's reflections

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President Barack Obama is a man of his word. This week, he announced that America’s war in Iraq is finally coming to a close after nine long years. As a candidate, he pledged to bring an end to the war—and as President, he has kept that promise. In the coming weeks, the last U.S. forces will leave Iraq and return home with our thanks and respect. Nearly 150,000 troops and their families sacrificed and served honorably, and sadly, 4,500 made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives, while tens of thousands more were wounded in this conflict. I have personally experienced that loss. I know first-hand the cost of this war. I also know that my brothers did not die in vain. Like thousands of veterans, I am proud of my service and accomplishments there. Today, millions of Iraqis have the chance to build a strong, peaceful, democratic state, because of our efforts. And today, as our troops return home, we pay tribute to their service and sacrifice, and prepare for future missions at home and abroad.

President Obama is a man of his word. As a candidate, he pledged that America would keep its sacred trust with veterans—and as President, he has kept that promise. With more than 3 million veterans returning home after more than a decade of war, this has never been more important. As a recent retiree and veteran transitioning to civilian life, I hope to personally reap the benefits from the President’s efforts, along with 850,000 veterans currently looking for work. More than 600,000 veterans are already benefitting from the Post-9/11 GI Bill that President Obama signed into law in 2009. And this week, the President introduced the new Veterans Gold Card, which will give 200,000 more veterans access to six months of personalized career counseling. A new Veterans Jobs Bank website launched, making 500,000 job postings available to veterans. In addition, the “Joining Forces” initiative has partnered with numerous corporations pledging more than 100,000 jobs to veterans, including wounded warriors, in the next few years. In my view, no president has done more for our troops and veterans.

President Obama is a man of his word. As a candidate, he pledged to end the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy—and as President he has kept that promise. In June 2009, while I was in the midst of my own discharge proceeding after 18 years of service, I had the honor of meeting President Obama and telling him my story. He looked me in the eye and told me: “We will get this done.” And he did. Working tirelessly against tough political opposition, President Obama fought to make sure that our military stood for and reflected the same ideals that we—gay troops and veterans—fought and sacrificed for. Last December, he signed the repeal of DADT into law, and in September, just 10 days before my retirement, repeal took effect allowing open service for the first time in history. President Obama kept his promise and ended years of discrimination. Today, tens of thousands of gay service members are able to serve openly, with their dignity and integrity intact.

The end of the war in Iraq marks a milestone and a turning point in our nation’s history. We should take time to honor the service of our troops, families, and veterans and to pay tribute to the fallen. We should look forward to the challenges we now face, both at home and abroad. However, the end of the war also reaffirms something that I already knew: that President Obama is a man of his word—he keeps his promises. After 20 years in the Air Force, under four different commanders-in-chief, I have never been so proud of my President. He has kept faith with the American people, our troops and families, and our veterans. And I am keeping my faith in him.