In a Baghdad ceremony with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, U.S. Forces-Iraq cased its colors, ending its command responsibilities over the remaining 3,500 U.S. troops expected to depart Iraq within days.
"No words, no ceremony can provide full tribute for the sacrifices that have brought this day to pass," Panetta said.
Panetta quoted Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, saying, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here but it can never forget what they did here."
Dempsey added: "We've paid a great price here. And it has been a price worth paying."
Dempsey has previously said that it wasn't until the last 24 hours that it really began to sink in for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, who is forever wedded to Iraq. Dempsey served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, returned to command the Army's 1st Armored Division in Baghdad in 2003 and again to lead the Iraqi security forces training mission in 2005 for two years before rising to the rank of four-star general.
"It was on the flight over that I reflected on the fact that this has been a 20-year journey for me," said Dempsey, looking tired but driven after a long day of meetings with Kuwaiti leaders. For guys like him, he said, "Iraq was the defining element of the last 20 years of our career."