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‘The President's Turf’

1:02 PM, Sep 11, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Of course, the return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts.  It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink – and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild.  We can always find places to end waste.  But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide. 

We must recognize that when our troops come home, they should not have to struggle for work.  After all our veterans have done for us, they deserve the opportunity to find good jobs and the dignity of pursuing the American Dream. 

We must also keep the faith with our veterans, no matter when or where they have served, through a strong VA system.  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. 

Our veterans deserve care and benefits that are second to none.  Here, there is considerable work waiting to be done.  The backlog of disability claims needs to be eliminated, the unconscionable waits for mental health treatment need to be dramatically shortened, and the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers and veterans must be treated like the emergency it is. 

Veterans’ benefits are not a gift that is given, but a debt that is due.  The problems with the VA are serious and must be fixed.  We are in danger of another generation of veterans losing their faith in the VA system – so we must ensure that the VA keeps faith with all our veterans.  We must keep our promises and regain the trust of all who have worn the uniform and served.

When I was the Governor of Massachusetts, I saw firsthand the Guard’s bravery and valor.  

In 2006, I visited Iraq and Afghanistan along with two other governors. We met with the members of the National Guard from our respective states. I said to them that if they wanted me to call their spouse or family when I returned, I would be happy to do so. Just hand me a note with their names and phone numbers.  When I left for home, I found that I had 63 calls to make.  I knew that making that many calls would take quite a few days.

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.

Remember, May 2006 was a difficult time in the Iraq War.  Many of you know that from experience.  We were suffering terrible casualties, and terrorism was straining our efforts to stand up the Iraqi government.  The “surge” had not yet begun and our politics back home had become deeply divided. 

As I made those calls, I braced myself for questions about why the Guardsmen I had met couldn’t come home – right away.  Yet in 63 calls, I did not hear a single complaint.  Not one.  On each call, I expressed gratitude on behalf of our nation and my state for the sacrifice of their family and of their loved one who was in harm's way. And then, from virtually everyone I spoke with, they would correct me to say that it was an honor to be able to sacrifice for America and to serve the greatest nation on earth.  Such is the patriotism of the men and women and the families of our National Guard!

Many of those calls left me with tears in my eyes.  I will never forget meeting the brave men and women who had volunteered for the National Guard in Massachusetts, who found themselves on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I will never forget speaking with their loved ones.  And I will always hold the greatest admiration for every one of them.

On the campaign trail, it has been my privilege to meet with troops and veterans from just about every state.  They come from our farms, our great cities, our small towns and quiet neighborhoods.  Many have known violence so that their neighbors could know peace.  They have done more than protect America; their courage and service defines America.  

On this eleventh anniversary of September 11th, we remember the victims who perished in the attacks.  We also remember the men and women serving in dangerous places around the world.  We will not forget why they are fighting or who they are fighting for.  They are faithful to us and to our country; we must not break faith with them.

I want to personally thank you for keeping us safe.  It is inspiring to be in the company of men and women of courage, as I am today. It is an honor to be among those whose sense of duty and love of country lift our hearts and spirits.

We are blessed to live in a country where freedom is so highly cherished, so fiercely protected, and so admirably defended by the noble men and women of the National Guard.

Thank you.  Thank you all for your service.  May God bless America and continue to keep her safe.

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