It is not every day the vice president of the United States visits your workplace, but 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers aren’t your everyday warriors.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, spent Wednesday afternoon welcoming home Soldiers of 2nd Brigade Combat Team from Iraq and thanking them for their service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Soon after Air Force Two landed on the tarmac at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, the vice president entered 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment’s aircraft hangar to the thunderous applause of Fort Drum’s fighting men and women and their Families.
“Many of you recently returned from Iraq. Before I go any further, let me just say, on behalf of the American people you have served so courageously: Welcome home! You are the best of us, the best America has. We honor you and we thank you. Welcome home,” Biden said during his first official visit to Fort Drum. “Jill and I understand how your Families must feel at a time like this. The day that our son Beau came back from a yearlong tour in Baghdad was one of the proudest of our lives.
“Some of you are still waiting. Our troops in harm’s way—including about 900 members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team due home from Iraq in the coming days—remain, as ever, in our thoughts and prayers,” he added.
As the vice president stood before a hangar full of 10th Mountain Division Soldiers, his wife took time to thank not only the Families of 2nd BCT Soldiers, but also all Family Members who have been supporting their loved ones as they serve in far-away lands.
“I am proud to be here as the second lady of the United States, but I am even more proud to be here as a military mom,” Dr. Biden said. “In my travels to military bases across this country and abroad, I have been truly overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform and their Families.
“Each of you have chosen to serve your country, and you have done so nobly,” she added.
The English professor spoke from the heart as she mentioned those who stay behind and stay strong for their heroes.
“We are honored to be in your presence today and are grateful for the opportunity to thank you and your Families for your service to our country,” she said. “So to all the Families, we know that you are serving too, and this country appreciates your courage, your strength and your sacrifice.”
While at the hangar, the vice president served as reviewing officer during 2nd BCT’s uncasing of the brigade colors, as well as the uncasing of guidons from 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment; 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment; 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion; and 210th Brigade Support Battalion.
After the official ceremony, Biden brought a message directly from the Soldiers’ commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. One month from now, as President Obama pledged, America’s combat mission in Iraq will end,” Biden said. “By Aug. 31, from more than 145,000 troops on the ground when this administration took office, 50,000 will remain.
“You and your Families have endured multiple deployments. You have felt the strain of missing anniversaries and holidays, and even the arrival of a newborn child,” he continued. “You have enabled the Iraqi people to replace a tyrant with a new constitution, a new parliament and two national elections conducted freely, fairly and, by and large, safely. And perhaps most important, you have prepared Iraq’s security forces to safeguard their future as a sovereign, stable and self-reliant country. Now it is up to them.
“You have paid a heavy price for our success,” Biden added. “You have climbed to glory and returned to a proud and grateful nation. Welcome home, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. God Bless America. And God Bless all of our troops.”
Biden’s visit marks only the second time a sitting vice president has officially traveled to post. Fort Drum’s senior mission commander explained what Biden’s appearance means to the installation.
“It’s a great honor for Vice President and Dr. Biden to visit with our troops here,” said Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander. “Their visit clearly shows that our senior leaders recognize the sacrifices all of our Soldiers and Families make every day.
“I am thankful for the time they can spend here as a demonstration of America’s appreciation for all that the 10th Mountain Division has accomplished and continues to accomplish for this great nation,” he added.
After the ceremony, the Bidens met privately with Fort Drum wounded warriors and their Families before leaving the North Country.
Out of more than 17,000 Family Members in the Fort Drum community, one who was impressed by what she heard said she won’t forget the rare opportunity to hear from such a prominent national figure.
“Eight ladies from the family readiness groups met with Dr. Biden and were very impressed with her,” said Patricia L. Petkosek, wife of Lt. Col. John Petkosek, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment. “They felt she was here at Fort Drum because she wanted to be, not because it was an obligation. The ladies also felt she was very sincere regarding her concern she has for Soldiers and Family Members.”
“When asked how they felt personally about meeting with Dr. Biden, all agreed that they felt validated and appreciated for the efforts they put into the FRGs during deployments,” she added.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Soldiers of 10th Mountain Division have taken the lead in the war on terrorism. Fort Drum Soldiers were some of the first forces taking the fight to the enemy after the terrorist attacks on that September morning.
Among the sea of green, one Soldier who just returned from Iraq remarked about what it meant to have the vice president come to spend time with them as well as the rare chance to meet him.
“This is an honor,” said Spc. Alex Trautwein, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who was a member of the ceremony’s honor guard. “I am going to tell my mother about this as soon as it is over. I am proud to say I played a small part in this.
“I am also thankful that we are here today,” he added. “We lost a few of our brothers, but most of us made it back to be here today. I am honored to say I served with the finest Soldiers in the world.”