FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) _ In an election-year reminder that he ended the war in Iraq, President Barack Obama vowed Friday to help soldiers, veterans and their families overcome economic and health care struggles as they return to the nation they have served.
Surrounded by a sea of men and women in fatigues, Obama saluted their service, but cautioned that a “tough fight'' remains in Afghanistan even as the U.S. works to transfer security control to Afghan forces. He said the troops' return home now presents different challenges.
“After fighting for America you shouldn't have to fight for a job in America,'' Obama said. “To you and all you serve, we need to be there for you just like you were there for us.''
Obama's visit Friday to the vast Fort Bliss Army post in El Paso came on the second anniversary of the end of combat operations in Iraq. While officially not a presidential campaign trip, the visit also served clear political aims by highlighting the end of one unpopular war and the wind-down of another and drawing attention to Obama's role as commander in chief.
Obama also visited Fort Bliss on Aug. 31, 2010, the day he announced the end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq.
“You left Iraq with honor, your heads held high,'' Obama said. “And today Iraq has a chance to forge its own destiny, and there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq.''
Fort Bliss soldiers participated in the Iraqi invasion in 2003 and were among the last to serve in combat roles there. The post endured significant losses during the Iraq war and its troops are now being deployed in Afghanistan.
Before his remarks, Obama held a private roundtable meeting with service members and military families, including “Gold Star'' families who lost relatives overseas.
His message to them, Obama said: “Your loved ones live on in the soul of our nation.''
Obama acknowledged that for those who return, “coming home can be its own struggle.'' He cited the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury.
He announced that he had, earlier Friday, signed an executive order directing federal agencies to expand their efforts at addressing the mental health needs of veterans, service members and their families and to increase measures aimed at preventing suicide.
Among the steps spelled out in the order is an increase in the number of Department of Veterans Affairs' counselors. It also orders the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services to undertake a mental health study aimed at improving prevention, diagnoses and treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury.