After newly minted Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney surprised critics and broke tradition by failing to mention U.S. troops or the war in Afghanistan, his speech Tuesday at the National Guard Association Conference in Reno, Nev. was widely billed as an opportunity to make up for that oversight.
And Romney delivered, interspersing anecdotes of time spent with the Massachusetts National Guard while governor of Massachusetts with messages of thanks and promises to care for veterans. But in doing so, he may have incurred new criticism by passing on yet another chance to differentiate his military strategy and vision from that of President Barack Obama.
???With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent???s plans for our military and for our national security,??? Romney said, following a description of his own memories of Sept. 11, 2001 in acknowledgment of the anniversary of the attacks. ???There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it.???
The high point of the speech–Romney???s answer to critics who allege he hasn???t given enough attention to the troops in his speeches–came when he recalled a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, while he was still governor. When he prepared to return home, he offered to make a call spouses and family members of any deployed National Guardsmen who gave him their names and contact information. He ended up with 63 numbers:
???I returned home on Memorial Day weekend. I decided to start making just a few of those calls first thing in the morning, before my kids and grandkids got up. After I???d made only two or three, a Guardsman???s wife answered and said, ???Oh, Governor Romney, I thought that might be you calling.??? Apparently, the first spouses I had called, had called other spouses, or had emailed their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan who then emailed their spouses back home to tell them to expect my call. So I made 63 calls on Memorial Day.???
Romney also pledged his support to veterans, promising to beef up jobs programs for those who served, to address the ???emergency??? of high suicide rates in the armed forces, and to crack down on the growing backlog of disability claims within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
???When the backlog for disability claims reaches nearly one million ??? when a federal building in Virginia becomes structurally unstable because so many claims have piled up on its highest floors ??? then we can all agree that the system is in need of serious and urgent reform,??? he said.
In terms of bringing the roughly 70,000 troops home from Afghanistan, Romney reiterated support of Obama???s 2014 exit plan and called for a clear and decisive path to victory in the meantime.
???We can all agree that our men and women in the field deserve a clear mission, that they deserve the resources and resolute leadership they need to complete that mission, and that they deserve a country that will provide for their needs when they come home,??? he said.
But this, another speech from Romney low on details about his own plans and vision regarding the military will likely trigger more calls for a clear mission of his own.