December 14th, 2011
06:34 PM ET
(CNN) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday welcomed home returning troops from Iraq, hailing their service to help a people they didn't know as an example of what makes America great.
"As your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words, and I know your families agree - welcome home. Welcome home," Obama told cheering troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
"Welcome home," he repeated again, to enthusiastic applause. "Welcome home."
The U.S. military mission that began in 2003 is ending this month, and Obama used the speech to mark the fulfillment of a campaign pledge he made in 2008 to end the war.
Noting the almost 4,500 Americans killed and more than 30,000 injured, Obama spoke of the heavy sacrifice and hard work in the Iraq mission.
"Because of you - because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met, Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny," Obama said. "That's part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the empires of old, we did so not for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right.
"There can be no fuller expression of America's support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about who we are."