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Biden thanks Fort Drum for Iraq success

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Vice President Joe Biden says Fort Drum's 2nd Brigade deserves "a hero's welcome" for its work training security forces in Iraq. Biden made a personal visit to the Army base near Watertown yesterday. He said it's the "dawn of a new era in Iraq" as the U.S. prepares to draw down 95,000 troops from the country. The security situation improved so much that Iraqi military and police took control more quickly than expected. That allowed the 2nd brigade to return home three months early. David Sommerstein was at Fort Drum for the vice president's visit and has our story.

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The 10th Mountain Division band gets to play lots of songs before a vice-presidential visit. Extra security keeps thousands of soldiers and their families waiting for hours. The huge hanger is adorned with camouflaged netting, a helicopter, and an American flag the size of a house. People wile away the time hugging, high-fiving, and celebrating an early return.    

For Patricia Antequiera, there was lots to be thankful for. "Oh ecstatic, we were just so thankful. As you can see, I'm still emotional about it," she said. Antequiera's husband returned last Saturday. She says she and her three children are relieved he's home. And now they're thrilled that the Bidens are here to greet them. "I feel like wow, for them to take that time out of their very busy schedule to welcome them home--it just really shows that everyone's important," she said.

 The 10th Mountain Division's second brigade holds a special significance. It was one of the first units sent to fight Al-Quaida in the mountains of Afghanistan after September 11th. It served in Iraq 3 times. Sergeant Christian Webber's been there twice--first in 2007, when he saw a violent country torn apart by sectarian fighting. "The people didn't really trust the army or anybody else, they felt like they were alone. But since coming back this deployment, the federal police were doing their own thing, the Iraqi army were doing their own thing, the people were more confident with what were doing now than what we did back then," Webber said.

According to army officials, insurgent attacks were down 59% this year. Here at Fort Drum, the Obama administration is kicking off a series of events drawing attention to the stability in Iraq and the withdrawal of US troops.

The vice pride president arrived at the adorned hanger to much fanfare. Once there, he praised the second brigade for their role in training Iraqi security forces quickly. "With your help, Iraqi leaders and security forces persevered and are succeeding. And therefore those who sought to make chaos destruction the hallmark of the new Iraq--they have failed because of you," Biden proclaimed to applause and cheers.

Biden said President Obama was fulfilling a campaign vow of pulling US troops out of Iraq by the end of next year. He recalled visiting Iraq shortly after the war began and Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad was pulled down. "I was looking forward to the day when I could stand by you as your mission began to near its end. One month from now, as President Obama pledged, America's combat mission in Iraq will end."

Biden made no mention of President Bush or his troop surge that the then-Senator Biden opposed. But he did refer to the Walter Reid scandal and under-protected humvees, and called the Iraq war "confusing" and one that President Obama "inherited." Biden and his wife Jill paid special attention to the challenges military families face at home. Their son Beau fought in Iraq for a year. "I'll never forget the joy and the tremendous relief I felt when our son came home from his deployment in Iraq. So I know how much your families missed you, how proud they are of your service, and how happy they are to have you back home," Dr. Jill Biden said.

The Obama administration faces escalating violence on the other war front in Afghanistan, not to mention the resignation of a so-called runaway general and the release of reams of classified documents. Many of these soldiers here at Fort Drum will likely fight in that dangerous war zone. So on this day, Vice President Biden cast his gaze to Iraq. He closed saying he was proud of the soldiers who helped stabilize the situation there. Sergeant Donnette Irving of the Bronx, who came on Saturday, agreed. "One percent of the US population serves the military. One percent. I'm proud to be here, I'm proud to do this," she said.

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