FINAL FLIGHTS BRING U.S. BACK HOME AS IRAQ WAR'S 'LAST CASUALTY' (THE 4,483rd AMERICAN) IS MOURNED
By Lee Moran
Daily Mail (London)
December 16, 2011
The U.S. war in Iraq officially ended yesterday -- with the 4,483rd, and final, combat fatality named as 23-year-old Specialist David Hickman.
The eight-year conflict, that has cost America $800 billion and divided the nation, came to a close with a low-key ceremony at Baghdad's heavily-fortified airport.
The U.S. flag was solemnly taken down to mark the withdrawal of American troops.
Hickman, a star high school athlete from North Carolina who had recently married, was killed by a roadside bomb in Taji on the northern edge of Baghdad on November 14.
The attacks, which also wounded four on his patrol, came just weeks before the member of the 82nd Airborne Division was due to leave.
He would have been alongside thousands of troops crossing the border into Kuwait's Camp Virginia, from where they caught flights back to the U.S. U.S. military bases in Iraq are fast becoming ghost towns as America continues to withdraw virtually all of its troops by December 31.
Only 4,000 troops remain in the country -- down from a peak of 170,000 at the height of the war in 2007. And of the 505 military bases set up during the eight-year mission, only four continue to have a handful of personnel.
Kalsu, in Iskandariya; Echo in Diwaniya; Camp Adder near Nasiriya; and Camp Bravo in Basra are all shadows of their former selves.
Adder, once the largest base in southern Iraq, will be the last to close when control is formally passed on to Iraq’s Receivership Secretariat.
Despite President Barack Obama's earlier assertion that all American troops would be home for Christmas, at least 4,000 forces will remain in Kuwait for some months.
The troops will be able to help finalize the move out of Iraq, but could also be used as a quick reaction force if needed.
Yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told his troops at Baghdad airport that they could leave with great pride.
'After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,' he said.
He acknowledged the country faced serious challenges from terrorism, sectarian violence, and political and economic difficulties but insisted America would stand by the Iraqis as they sought peace and prosperity.
He told his audience of a few hundred troops: ‘No words, no ceremony can provide full tribute to the sacrifices which have brought this day to pass.’
The conflict began in March 2003 when George W Bush and Tony Blair launched an invasion across the Kuwaiti border, ousting Saddam Hussein but failing to find his supposed weapons of mass destruction.
In Falluja, a former Al Qaeda stronghold, several thousand Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal, burning the Stars and Stripes and waving pictures of dead relatives. Elsewhere in the country the reaction was more mixed.
Many Americans will be delighted to have their troops home. With its huge expense, dubious causes and post-war blunders, the Iraq conflict has been the most unpopular U.S. military venture since the Vietnam War.
One of the biggest mistakes following the ousting of Saddam was to dismantle his army, and senior U.S. officers doubt Iraq’s ability to defend its own soil or even its valuable oil rigs in the Persian Gulf.
Washington wanted 3,000 troops to stay on as part of a deal to train the Iraqi armed forces but talks fell apart over demands for American soldiers to have immunity from prosecution over any abuses.
On Wednesday, President Obama marked the end of the war by praising the ‘extraordinary achievement’ of U.S. troops.
IRAQ WAR DEAD: NORTH CAROLINA MAN, SPC.DAVID HICKMAN, WAS LAST TO DIE IN COMBAT
December 16, 2011
On November 14, a North Carolina man, Spc. David Hickman, became the last last man to die in combat in Iraq.
The Defense Department confirmed to the Grio that Spc. Hickman was the last man to die in hostilities in Iraq. He became the 4,487th fatality in the war on November 14th, when his unit was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Baghdad.
The 23-year-old from Greensboro, N.C. was a member of the 82nd Airborne, serving in the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Newly married to wife Cali, the former star high school athlete was based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, just under two hours from where he grew up.
According to an obituary last month in the Greensboro News Record: "David was born on January 16, 1988, and was a lifelong resident of Greensboro, N.C. He graduated from Northeast High School in 2006. He was an all conference outside linebacker for the Rams football team and served as team captain. David was also an accomplished black belt in the art of Taekwondo. He joined the military in 2009 after a short college stint at Ferrum College in Virginia. His military awards and decorations prior to his death include The National Defense Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Expert Infantry Badge, and the Parachutist Badge. His awards to come are the Combat Infantry Badge, The Good Conduct Medal, The Bronze Star, and The Purple Heart.
In addition to those killed, 32,200 U.S. servicemen have been injured in the Iraq war, and according to the Department of Defense, the U.S. war in Iraq cost nearly $1.8 trillion; an average of $3.8 billion per month.
N.C. SOLDIER REPORTEDLY LAST TO DIE IN IRAQ WAR
December 16, 2011
David Hickman was a star football player in McLeansville, North Carolina. He was a quiet man with a larger-than-life presence. He also holds the distinction of being the last soldier to die before the official announcement of the end of the Iraq war. That fact has made him a part of history, CNN affiliate WGHP reports.
Hickman, an Army specialist, was remembered Thursday by friends as the U.S. marked the official end of the war.
President Obama commemorated the milestone with an appearance at Fort Bragg, where Hickman was stationed before being deployed in September.
OBAMA, PANETTA HONOR IRAQ WAR TROOPS
"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,” he told cheering troops.
The coincidence did not go unnoticed by Hickman’s friends, who spoke to WGHP.
"That is so like David. He wasn't going to go out quietly. He's going to go down with a place in history," said his friend Logan Trainum. "He wasn't the loudest one in the room, but he was the most noticed one in the room. He just had that presence about him."
Even in death, Hickman was making his presence known, his friends said.
"When it's in the history books, it's like we know what happened at the end of that war. And that was our friend, because he was a hero. Simple as that," friend Lyndsee Mabe told WGHP.
The conflict, which began in March 2003, took the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. service members.
Earlier this month, talking to the Los Angeles Times, Trainum said Hickman told him troops were cool to Obama’s announcement in October that American troops would leave Iraq by Christmas.
"Today I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays," Obama said on October 21.
"They felt like people were going to make one last try to get them before they left," Trainum was quoted in the Times as saying.
Hickman’s mother, Veronica Hickman, told the Times that she had a message for Obama if she had the chance to meet him: "I'd tell him: 'You shouldn't have broadcast that everybody would be out by the end of the year. It made them targets. You should have slyly got them out.' "
“Hearing David’s voice” on the phone in November brought a thrill, she told the Times. He was excited about coming home for Christmas.
The next day, November 14, she got the dreaded knock on the door. The military had come to inform her that her son had been killed that morning by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
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