(CNN) -- Iraq veterans from the Army's 10th Mountain Division came home to Fort Drum, New York, on Wednesday for a welcome that included Vice President Joe Biden.
"I've been looking forward to this day for a long time," Biden told members of the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. "I was looking forward to the day when I could stand with you as your mission came to an end.
"I say on behalf of the president of the United States of America: thank you, we owe you, we are indebted to you...welcome home."
Biden said that the welcome-home ceremony is one of the first of many, as the U.S. prepares to end its combat mission in Iraq in August.
"By August 31, more than 145,000 troops on the ground when this administration took office will be 50,000 troops on the ground -- a total of 95,000 home," Biden said.
Biden thanked the 2nd Brigade for its part in working to achieve "a stable Iraq" that "will be a valuable ally... for years to come." Success in the region, he said, means enabling Iraq to transition to autonomy.
"The 10th Mountain has earned a reputation as one of the Army's most frequently deployed units," Biden said. "You are today's warriors, and worthy of the proud legacy you represent. Our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and the demands we have placed on our soldiers and their families -- are unlike any that came before."
Though Biden said that it would be impossible to compensate soldiers and their families for everything they've done, he pointed out that measures including increased pay and support for family members serving as caregivers for wounded warriors are a good start.
"Just saying 'thank you' matters," he said.
"By the end of 2011, all of America's forces will leave Iraq, and its security will be wholly in the hands of the government of Iraq and its people.
"I know what you've sacrificed, and I know what you've accomplished," Biden said. "We're at the dawn of a new era in Iraq."