Remarks by John McCain to the National Guard Association
U.S. Senator John McCain will deliver the following remarks as prepared for delivery to the National Guard Association in Baltimore, MD, today at 3:00 p.m. ET:
Thank you, Major General Marty Umbarger, for that kind introduction. Colonel Al Faber, Major General Poythress, Brigadier Generals Arflack, Taylor, and Ross -- I thank you gentlemen as well. And let me add a warm hello to my good friend Major General Stan Spears of South Carolina, and to Brigadier General Steve Koper, and Lieutenant General John Conaway. It's an honor to join with all of you again for this 130th General Conference. And I bring greetings from the Governor of the Great State of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
Every day in this country and across the world, the men and women of the National Guard are giving brave and faithful service. Everyone who wears the uniform of the United States has accepted the calling of service to a cause greater than self. This hard calling is what defines the citizen soldiers of the National Guard, and America is in your debt.
As we meet, Guard members are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, while still others have just returned from a training mission in the nation of Georgia. Other guardsmen are still working to bring order and safety to the victims of Hurricane Ike along the Texas coast, just as they did after Katrina.
Our nation faces many challenges. We have all watched the crisis on Wall Street this past week, and I would like to address that for just a moment. Last Friday, I proposed a plan for comprehensive reform of the broken institutions that allowed this crisis to become a grave threat to our economy. At the center of the plan is the principle that we must keep people in their homes and safe guard the life savings of all Americans by protecting our financial system and capital markets. Senator Obama has declined to put forth a plan of his own. At a time of crisis, when leadership is needed, Senator Obama has not provided it.
We saw this same lack of leadership on Iraq. Because of the sacrifices and perseverance of all the troops -- active-duty, Guard, and Reserve -- victory in Iraq is finally in sight. My opponent, Senator Obama, likes to say that the surge in Iraq was more successful that anyone could have predicted at the time. He said that the surge succeeded, "beyond our wildest dreams." That's his way of saying that it took him by surprise.
And to this day Senator Obama still cannot bring himself to admit his own failure in judgment. For a guy who talks so much about hope, he didn't hold out much hope for victory in Iraq. Instead, he commits the greater error of insisting that even in hindsight, he would oppose the surge. Even in retrospect, he would choose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory. Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president. What's missing is the judgment to be commander in chief. In short, both candidates in this election pledge to end this war and bring our troops home. The great difference is that I intend to win it first.
The achievement of our troops in Iraq is even greater because they had to press on even as some politicians back home were telling America and the world that our cause was too hard, and all was lost, and retreat was our only option. Those politicians panicked when things got tough, which seems to be a pattern with my opponent. Whether it's a reversal in war, or an economic emergency, he reacts as a politician and not as a leader, seeking an advantage for himself instead of a solution for his country. Among the many lessons of Iraq were the words of General David Petraeus. Upon arrival in Iraq, he told his troops to remember that "hard is not hopeless." And that is a lesson that applies to other great challenges that America now faces: Hard is not hopeless.
Unlike Senator Obama, I believed the surge would succeed because I knew the capabilities and culture of the United States military. I was blessed to have been born into a family that made its living at sea in defense of our security and ideals. My grandfather was a naval aviator; my father a submariner. Earning their respect was one of the great ambitions of my life. And so it was nearly pre-ordained that I would find a place in my family's profession, and that occupation would one day take me to war.
Such was not the case for many of you. Your ambitions might not have led you to war; the honors you sought were not kept hidden on battlefields. You answered the call when it came; took up arms and served for your country's sake. You were citizen-soldiers. And yet today, the National Guard's role resembles, in many respects, the role it performed in World War II, when Guard units fought in every theater and every major campaign. Units such as Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment -- the famed "Bedford Boys" of the Virginia National Guard -- that spearheaded the allied assault on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.
Before 9/11, a lot of us didn't always fully appreciate the power and potential of the Guard, and what it might one day be called upon to do. But my friends, we understand it now. Times have changed -- we all understand that now.
Today, thousands of National Guard soldiers and airmen once again fight alongside their active component comrades on every battlefield in the war against militant Islam. From the mountains of Afghanistan to the back alleys of Iraq, Guard and Reserve personnel are engaged in every aspect of this conflict.
The men and women of the National Guard represent the very best of what it means to be an American and what our country is truly all about -- free people of every race, creed, color, and ethnic background, who regard it as their sacred duty not simply to indulge in the rights and privileges of citizenship, but to answer its obligations. No matter the danger to our security or safety -- at home or abroad -- the National Guard has answered the call. You have always been ready. You have always been there.
For everyone in the military today -- whether you are Guard, Active, or Reserve -- these are difficult times. We are a nation at war, and we have asked of our men and women of the armed forces an almost unprecedented level of commitment and sacrifice. Extended deployments and back-to-back combat tours have become the standard rather than the exception.
The new security environment in which we live will continue to pose great challenges, and require that we use all elements of national power to defeat radicalism. The National Guard will play a vital role in this multi-dimensional effort, precisely because its citizen-soldiers and airmen bring such a wide range of skills and capacities to the force.
We place great demands on the National Guard. At times, the Guard's responsibilities exceed even the demands we put on our active-duty forces. And our government has certain obligations that it has not always kept.
As we go forward, America must make a new and lasting commitment to our National Guard. This commitment must begin with our political leadership recognizing the sheer magnitude of what we ask Guard units to accomplish -- abroad and here at home -- with a force comprised primarily of part-time soldiers and airmen.
This means a national leadership that respects and treats our governors and adjutant generals as partners in national and homeland security policymaking, rather than as impediments and intruders. Part of that essential effort was to grant the Chief of the National Guard Bureau the fourth star that the position merits -- and I'm pleased to congratulate General-Select Craig McKinley on being the first Guardsman to wear that fourth star.
This means getting rid of policies, practices, and customs that fail to promote a seamless Total Force based on cooperation, jointness, and the mutual respect that all components, including the Guard and Reserve, have earned with their blood and bravery. We cannot afford -- and I will not tolerate -- an environment in which parochialism stands in the way of building an integrated Total Force.
This means giving the National Guard all the manpower it needs -- including a sufficient complement of full-time positions -- so that every unit is ready to mobilize for any contingency. This means providing all the training the Guard requires, so that no one is asked to take on a mission unprepared. And it means ensuring that our Guard is well supplied, so that no unit will ever go into harm's way without the best equipment that America can provide.
A serious commitment to supporting the Guard also means that service to country should come at the cost of a civilian career. When employers exceed the requirements of the law in supporting the Guard commitments of their workers, we should encourage and honor that. And when employers fall short of those legal requirements, the sanctions should be serious, and they must be enforced.
Finally, our commitment to the Guard and Reserve means establishing a new compact with our Guard and Reserve personnel to ensure that they and their families are given appropriate care, during and after their time of service.
PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury affect Guard members just as they do active-duty personnel. In the Senate, I co-authored the Wounded Warrior Act, which was the first major legislative initiative to address these injuries. And I pledge to you that, if I am president, I will build on this legislation to improve screening and treatment for these severe injuries suffered by many in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I will ensure that we take into account the special challenges of identifying and caring for our traditional Guard members -- and their families -- who need assistance.
We made a great step forward when the president signed the GI Bill for the 21st Century this summer. I am proud to have supported that legislation in its final form, once it included the number one request of career service members -- that they be given the freedom to transfer their benefits to a spouse or child. I expect that many eligible Guard members and their families will want to take advantage of that benefit.
As with anyone who has served in uniform, veterans of the Guard deserve the best of medical care and other benefits. As president, I will do all that is in my power to ensure that those who serve today, and those who have served in the past, have access to the highest quality health, mental health and rehabilitative care in the world. And I will not accept a situation in which veterans are denied access to care on account of travel distances, backlogs of appointments, and years of pending disability evaluation and claims. We should no longer tolerate requiring veterans to make an appointment to stand in one line for a ticket to stand in another.
We must also modernize our disability system to make sure that eligible service members receive benefits quickly, based on clear, predictable, and fair standards. And we must address the problems of capacity and access within our VA health care system.
While this will involve a wide range of initiatives, I believe there is a simple and direct reform we should make right away. My administration will create a Veterans' Care Access Card to be used by veterans with illness or injury incurred during their military service, and by those with lower incomes. This card will provide those without timely access to VA facilities the option of using high-quality health-care providers near their homes. For many veterans, the closest VA facility isn't close enough. And many of their local providers are already familiar with the most common needs of veterans. Often, all that prevents them from receiving local care is a system for sharing medical records among VA, DOD, and civilian hospitals and doctors. My reform will improve care, reduce risks, and broaden access all at the same time.
The VA must also broaden its care for the women who are entering the armed forces in greater numbers than ever, and who are suffering from the same war wounds -- visible and invisible -- suffered by other veterans. As rapidly as possible, we must improve the VA system so that it can fully assess and treat conditions that predominantly or exclusively affect women. And here the Veterans Care Access Card will prove especially valuable, affording women medical options while the VA improves capacity and expands services.
No one who has worn the uniform of his or her country can ever take these matters lightly. We all learned an ethic in the service of looking after one another, of leaving no one behind, and this commitment did not end when we left the service. As a matter of duty and of honor, whatever our commitments to veterans cost, if I am president those commitments will be kept.
The next president will have many responsibilities to the American people, and I take them all seriously. But if I am elected, I will have one responsibility that outweighs all the others. And that is to use whatever talents I possess, and every resource God has granted me to protect the security of this great and good nation from all enemies foreign and domestic.
It is every veteran's hope that should their children be called upon to answer a call to arms, the battle will be necessary and the field well chosen. But that is not their responsibility. It belongs to the government that called them. As it once was for us, their honor will be in their answer not their summons. Whatever we think about how and why we went to war in Iraq, we are all humbled by and grateful for their example. They now deserve the distinction of the best Americans, and we owe them a debt we can never fully repay. We can only offer the small tribute of our humility and our commitment to do all that we can do, in less trying and costly circumstances, to help keep this nation worthy of their sacrifice.
Many of them -- especially our Guardsmen -- have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many had their tours extended. Many returned to combat sooner than they had been led to expect. It was a sad and hard thing to ask so much more of Americans who have already given more than their fair share to the defense of our country. Few of them and their families will have received the news about additional and longer deployments without aiming a few appropriate complaints in the general direction of people like me, who helped make the decision to send them there. And then they shouldered a rifle or climbed in a cockpit and risked everything -- everything -- to accomplish their mission, to protect another people's freedom and our own country from harm.
It is a privilege beyond measure to live in a country served by them. I have had the good fortune to know personally a great many brave and selfless patriots who sacrificed and shed blood to defend America. But I have known none braver or better than those who do so today.
To the National Guardsmen who today will walk combat patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan, to those who will fly missions in support of our deployed forces, to those engaged back home in humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering, and to all of you who know what it means to stand the long night watches -- thank you. You understand both the value -- and the price -- of freedom. You are the best among us, and I pledge to you my undying fidelity to the cause of protecting America -- and to a National Guard that will always be ready, and always be there. Thank you.