“Because of you, the 9/11 generation, we are accomplishing what we set out to do” after the terrorist attacks on the U.S., Obama said.
Turning to Afghanistan, he said that security responsibility is shifting to the Afghans after more than a decade of war.
“What that signals is our war in Afghanistan is winding down,” Obama said to cheers.
To Marines, sailors and families, Obama’s comments were reassurance that the years of repeat deployments were coming to an end.
“It’s important to know that we’re finally going to get out of this war,” said Whitney Bowie, 20, whose husband is a Marine lance corporal.
Annette Kalunta, 40, whose husband, a staff sergeant, has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said "it’s nice to hear that after so many losses and injuries that we’re finally getting out of the field.”
A total of 345 Marines from the San Diego County base have been killed in Iraq, and 121 in Afghanistan. More than 3,500 have been wounded in the two wars.
Obama singled out for praise Capt. Matthew Lampert, who redeployed to Afghanistan just 18 months after losing both legs in combat.
Lampert’s wife, Camille, is also a Marine captain. Obama said the Lamperts represent the “finest in the Marine Corps.”
Obama also called on the Marines and sailors to help in the fight against sexual assault within the ranks. He said that such assaults were undermining the effectiveness of the military. “We’re going to work together, all of us, to stop these crimes,” he said.
On the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the most common combat injuries among U.S. troops, Obama said, “It is not the sign of weakness to ask for help.”
One of the loudest cheering came when Obama said that more needed to be done in the government and private industry to help veterans and spouses find jobs in the civilian community.
“If you’ve done a job on the battlefield, with bullets coming at you, you sure as heck can do a job here in the U.S.,” he said.
Obama noted that while he was making his first trip to Camp Pendleton, First Lady Michelle Obama has been here before. “I know it’s not as exciting when I come to visit, but she says hi.”
Camp Pendleton is home to the 1st Marine Division, the oldest and largest division in the Marine Corps, with the motto “No better friend, no worse enemy.”
Marines from the base have taken a major combat role in two recent wars and suffered heavy casualties in fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province and Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Currently, some 2,600 Camp Pendleton Marines and sailors are in Afghanistan. A larger force will be sent there in 2014 as Camp Pendleton takes over responsibility from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for Helmand province, long a Taliban stronghold.
Obama’s visit came at the end of a two-day Southern California trip that that featured an online chat focusing on housing and a visit to the “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”