Charles Dharapak / AP
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 | 12:44 p.m.
RENO—In observance of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney mostly eschewed politics in a speech today before the National Guard Association, instead paying respect to the members’ service.
On that day 11 years ago, Romney was in Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional members. He drove past the Pentagon after the attack.
“Cars had stopped where they were, and people had gotten out, watching in horror,” he recalled. “I could smell burning fuel and concrete and metal. It was the smell of war, something I never imagined I would smell in America.”
Romney described the attacks as “evil and cowardly and heinous acts,” and said the anniversary serves as a moment to “renew our resolve to protect America from the designs of evil men.”
“The visions and events are seared in the memory of every American,” he said. “We remember those who died. We marvel at the courage of those who stormed the cockpit when they became aware of the malevolent purpose of the hijackers. We hold up in prayer the families and friends who have lived in a shadow cast by grief. We draw strength from the selflessness of the first responders.”
Romney didn’t ignore the fact he is running for president, saying he would usually use such a speech to draw differences between his plans and those of President Barack Obama.
But he did use the opportunity to flesh out some of his national defense platforms, a response to criticism that he didn’t broach the subject in his acceptance speech last month.
“While the war in Iraq is over, nearly 70,000 American troops still remain in Afghanistan,” Romney said. “Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders.
“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.”
Romney also promised a stronger economy for troops to return home to, as well as a reformed Veterans Administration. He said he would eliminate the backlog of disability claims filed by veterans, as well as shorten the wait for mental health treatment.
“And the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers and veterans must be treated like the emergency it is,” he said.
Romney also sought to establish his credentials as a potential commander-in-chief, describing his experience as chief of the National Guard when he was governor in Massachusetts, his visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, and his time with service members.
That struck a chord with Dan Reichen, a guard member from Springfield, Ill.
“It was very encouraging,” Reichen said after Romney concluded his 18-minute speech. “I like the fact that as governor he understood the role of the National Guard. He has personal experience with it.”
Many in uniform at the National Guard Association’s convention were careful not to express a preference for either Romney or Obama. Reichen, for example, pointed out he has confidence in both to perform as commander in chief.
Bryan Schuster, a guard member in Reno, said he hadn’t yet made up his mind in the election, saying it’s frustrating to make a decision amid all of the campaign attacks.
But he added both are qualified to lead the military.
“I would trust either one of them,” he said. “As long as they had confidence in the military commanders, they’ll be OK.”