Last week, Virginia got some wonderful news. In a letter to our National Guard troops, Governor McDonnell announced every unit of the Virginia Guard is home for the first time in ten years. In the last decade, 15,000 guardsmen and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, border security and disaster relief operations at home, and performed other duties that have taken them away from their families, friends, and everyday lives. These brave men and women have conducted themselves with professionalism and a strong sense of service above self. For this we offer our sincere thanks to these incredible public servants.
As governor of Virginia, I had the privilege of serving as the commander in chief of the Virginia National Guard. Command of the Virginia guard rarely occupies much of the conversation driving a campaign. But when serving as governor during two wars, the job takes on a much larger meaning. I joined Virginia families as we sent men and women off to service. I spoke with spouses and family members trying to make do financially and emotionally while their loved ones were away. I celebrated the safe return of our units from their service out of state or country. And unfortunately, I mourned with families at funerals, memorials, and wakes for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our country and our Commonwealth.
Sometimes it seems like our political system has become so polarized that the parties will never find common ground to address the challenges of our day. But I have been heartened to see both parties agree that the needs of our military and veterans are a top priority. As governor, I worked across the aisle with a Republican legislature to cut $5 billion in state spending in response to the worst recession since the 1930s. But even as we made hard choices to keep the budget balanced we found ways to boost support for military and veterans initiatives.
If I am chosen by the people of Virginia to represent them in the United States Senate, I hope to continue the work on military and veterans issues that has been so ably performed by Senator Jim Webb. When you combine Virginia's active duty personnel, reservists, veterans, civilian DOD employees, and government contractors, we are the most military-connected state in America. As such, it is important that Virginia have a seat at the table as our nation decides how to ensure economic opportunities for our returning veterans, responsibly reduce spending while honoring our commitments, and meet our security needs for the 21st century. I know how to make tough decisions to keep a budget balanced, but I also know that it takes a heart, a head, and a backbone.
As senator, I will fight to protect the commitments we've made to our veterans because a promise is a promise. I will also work to ensure our troops leave service with the credentials and certifications of skills that will help them find work in a competitive economy. And I promise to the people of Virginia and our men and women in uniform that I will always be judicious when considering the most solemn duty of the Senate, whether to send our military in to harm's way. But for today, we celebrate the many happy reunions that are occurring across the state and offer prayers of support and comfort for those whose loved ones did not come home.