National Convention Day 1

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6a00d8341bfadb53ef0133f3711cb7970b-320wi Mr. Wolf here.... Mr. Greyhawk here.... Going through the standard stuff now, the pledge, the recitation of the Legion preamble, and a very heartfelt remembrance of PNC Matthews by Clarence Bacon. Right now 4 Troops is singing. I will be updating all day, but right now we are waiting on some of the bigger names to speak while we watch the "Four Pillars" video. Master of Ceremonies Ben Stein is speaking right now, doing the opening. He's getting a good reaction from the attendees with a mixture of humor and fire-and-brimstone praise for veterans. Now Ben is honoring the various Youth recipients, like the American Legion Baseball player of the year, the Oratorical Champion, the Eagle Scout of the Year etc. Here is Tori Beth Black, our Oratorical winner: OK, Secretary Gates is next up after he gives Spirit of Service Awards to service-members from each branch. GATES:
Legion has done so much for our nation and our military, as an Eagle Scout, I am particularly appreciative of the support of scouting. Discussing Iraq, AQ has been "cut off" from masters abroad. Not saying that all is or necessarily will be all well in Iraq, not time for premature parades, we still have a job to do. Opportunities for Iraqis have been bought at a horrific price with the blood sweat and tears of men and women in the American uniforms. Afghanistan moving ahead on all fronts. 1) US been here a long time, we should think of campaign up to this point as 2 wars. 2001-2002 won outright when Taliban ousted. After Iraq started, it became a second tier, and following 2003, they regrouped. We now have the resources needed for this fight. 150k troops including allies. 45k from Nato. 2) Going forward, Afghans must take charge of own situation. Gen Petreaus is working with Karzai on local defense forces. Hardline against corruption. Drawdown will be conditions based. Not headed for the exits next summer. Very much still in the fight next year, and Taliban shouldn't be surprised by that. Just now reaching the full surge forces that the C-in-C requested. Enemy is paying price for crimes against local peoples. We will continue to secure key population centers. There will be setbacks and heartbreak. Intensifying combat and increased casualties are to be expected. But we will stay in the fight.
OK, and now we have Sec'y of the VA Shinseki. Shinseki:
Always be unfinished work. Nature of the mission, but for all of us, it is important to establish priorities, fight for resources, and go out and help veterans. *Eliminate Veterans Homelessness by 2015.* Change the culture, transform the Department. Set Priorities, challenge them to get more and better results, and generate means of ensuring that money is being wisely spent. 328,000 currently using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. AO Claims, new presumptions. Worked hard on that, and ready to get going on addressing those new claims. Gulf War Syndrome....we want to get on with helping veterans, and worry about the rest later. Nine new ailments which are presumptive. New rules on PTSD. More money and resources to mental health. Over 20k mental health staff members. We will not accept hopelessness. Three main goals for the next year: 1. Increase Access. 2. Eliminate Backlog. 3. Eliminate Homelessness.
Next main speaker is John Boehner, House Minority Leader. Even though he hasn't actually spoken yet, pretty sure I know what he will say, since it is up on his website here. Part of his remarks dealt with Iraq:
It is an honor to share the stage today with Secretary Robert Gates and I join him in thanking our brave men and women who have served and are currently serving in Iraq. This day belongs to our troops, whose courage and sacrifices have made the transition to a new mission in Iraq possible. It is with profound gratitude that we reflect on all that our servicemembers and their families have done – and continue to do – during a time of peril. We also salute the work of their commanders, General David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno. At this moment, I can’t help but think back to a time when the situation in Iraq was grim and the future seemed bleak. When General Petraeus embarked on the surge strategy, it was widely viewed as our last chance to save Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent toward chaos. The consequences of failure then, as now, were severe. Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results. One leader in the U.S. House of Representatives declared the surge a failure before it was even implemented. One leader in the United States Senate said, and I quote – ‘this war is lost’ – while additional forces were being mobilized. One lawmaker rejected the idea that the surge would reduce violence in Iraq, saying – and again I’m quoting – ‘in fact, I think it will do the reverse.’ These are lawmakers who supported – and accepted support from – an anti-war organization that ran a full page ad in the New York Times smearing a four star general, a commander of men and women in harm’s way as “General Betray Us.” These are sad facts. Today we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated – but progress. And I want to thank President Obama for setting aside his past political rhetoric and recognizing the importance of the surge and the diplomatic agreement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki. At this hour, 50,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq. For those troops, and for their families, the war will not be over until they come home. And though the mission has changed, their work is no less critical. For there is no stronger bulwark against the menace posed by the Iranian regime or other extremist forces in the region than a democratic Iraq. There is no greater inspiration to moderate governments and reformers in the region than a successful Iraq. And there is no better argument against those who preach intolerance and hatred than a free, stable, thriving Iraq. Of course, true success in Iraq will be determined not by the words politicians speak today, but by their actions in the months and years ahead. The hard truth is that Iraq will continue to remain a target for those who hope to destroy freedom and democracy. The people of that nation – and this nation – deserve to know what America is prepared to do if the cause for which our troops sacrificed their lives in Iraq is threatened. I hope the president will address that question as early as tonight, when he speaks to the nation, and the world. Over the past several months, we’ve often heard about ending the war in Iraq, but not much about winning the war in Iraq. If we honor what our men and women fought for, we cannot turn our backs now on what they have achieved. When we support our troops, we support them all the way – there is no such thing as supporting our troops, but not their mission. Victory in Iraq was the only option in 2007 – and it is the only option now. The American Legion understands that, and the American people understand that. That is why we are here talking about our troops returning home in success instead of gradual surrender. Of course, too many of our own have returned home from Iraq to be laid to rest. Their sacrifices have not been in vain, and I know Legionnaires give their all to ensure that the families of the fallen are held up in our hearts and deeds. Staff Sergeant Daniel Clay is one of our fallen heroes. His wife, Lisa Bell Clay, once worked in my congressional office. Sergeant Clay was one of our United States Marines killed in Fallujah in 2006. He left behind a letter to his family to be read in case of his death. In the letter, Sergeant Clay wrote: ‘What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice. Why? Because it was our duty. That sounds simple. But all of us have a duty. Duty is defined as a God-given task. Without duty, life is worthless.’ This Marine understood his duty to God and country. We as elected leaders must understand ours as well.
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Good stuff... love being able to follow even though I was unable to attend... Thanks!

The American Legion has worked tirelessly for the nation and our people many have come and gone and many still will follow. The future is out there for us to be better.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.