NOTE: Staff Writer Mike Kaszuba live blogged from the Minneapolis Convention Center before and during President Obama's address to the American Legion national convention Tuesday.
"We’re working aggressively to address another signature wound of this war, which has led [to] too many fine troops and veterans to take their own lives—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," the president said. "We’re continuing to make major investments—improving outreach and suicide prevention, hiring and training more mental health counselors and treating more veterans than ever before.
"The days when depression and P-T-S-D were stigmatized -- those days must end," Obama added. "That’s why I made the decision to start sending condolence letters to the families of service members who take their lives while deployed in a combat zone. These American patriots did not die because they were weak. They were warriors."
"Let me say something else about the VA funding you depend on," President Obama said in prepared remarks. "As a nation, we’re facing tough choices as we put our fiscal house in order. But I want to be absolutely clear—we cannot, and we must not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans. And as Commander in Chief, I won’t allow it."
As war protesters gathered outside the Minneapolis Convention Center on Tuesday morning, President Obama drew loud applause for his remarks on trying to end the United States' involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Having ended our combat mission in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops so far, we’ll remove the rest of our troops by the end of this year and we will end that war," he said. "Having put al Qaeda on the path to defeat, we won’t relent until the job is done. Having started to drawdown our forces in Afghanistan, we’ll bring home 33,000 troops by next summer and bring home more troops in the coming years."
"Next weekend, we will mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks on our nation," the president said. "In the days ahead, we will honor the lives we lost and the families who loved them, the first responders who rushed to save others, and we will honor all those who have served to keep us safe these ten difficult years, especially the men and women of our armed forces.
"Today, as we near this solemn anniversary, it’s fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 Generation—the more than five million Americans who have worn the uniform over the past ten years. They were there, on duty, that September morning," Obama told the crowd at the American Legion's national convention.
"I’ve been honored to have [the American Legion] by my side when I signed advance appropriations to protect veterans health care from the budget battles in Washington," Obama said Tuesday morning at the American Legion's national convention. " When I signed legislation to give new support to veterans and their caregivers. And most recently, when I proposed new initiatives to make sure the private sector is hiring our talented veterans."
President Obama was introduced Tuesday at the American Legion’s national convention in Minneapolis as someone who “has taken the fight to the enemy,” and received loud applause when an American Legion official recounted the raid earlier this year that killed Osama bin Laden.
Wearing a bright red dress and her crown, Miss America Teresa Scanlan of Nebraska spoke at the American Legion’s national convention in Minneapolis on Tuesday shortly before President Obama was to make an appearance.
“I’ve seen it so much,” she told the hushed crowd of mostly-graying American Legion members. “So many people take our country for granted.”
After she spoke, and the crowd awaited the president, an organist broke into “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree.”
About 200 protesters, mostly antiwar, gathered across the street from the convention center. At 10:15 a.m there were no incidents reported. Police across the street watched but did not interfere. As is standard, Minneapolis police are stationed on overpasses over 35W leading from the airport and through south Minneapolis. -- Randy Furst
As the crowd at the American Legion’s national convention in Minneapolis awaited President Obama on Tuesday morning, one of the most popular speakers was Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the former Notre Dame football player and subject of the popular movie “Rudy."
Ruettiger was the morning’s master of ceremonies – at one point, a portion of the “Rudy” movie was shown in the convention hall – and was later given an American Legion cap. Ruettiger, a U.S. Navy veteran who is now a motivational speaker, accepted the cap as “Anchor’s Away” was played.
Jack Kane of St. Paul, a volunteer at the American Legion’s national convention in Minneapolis, sat on a bench before President Obama was scheduled to speak Tuesday.
“Being union members,” said Kane, a retired machinist, “we kind of backed him to get him in office.
“[But] I’m not sure I agree with everything he’s doing,” he added.
Unlike President Obama’s visit to Cannon Falls two weeks ago, only a handful of protesters stood in front of the Minneapolis Convention Center two hours before his speech Tuesday at the American Legion’s national convention.
Just seven protesters flanked a banner that urged the president to block a proposed pipeline project. The banner read: “President Obama, Yes You can Stop the Keystone XL Pipe Line.”
When Obama visited Minnesota earlier this month on the first leg of a bus tour of the Midwest, dozens of Republicans protested the event and criticized the president for essentially conducting a campaign appearance disguised as a tour to promote his economic policies.
Obama’s visit also drew Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to Cannon Falls. Speaking before roughly 100 Republican protesters that day, Priebus told the crowd: “Welcome to being a battleground state, Minnesota, in 2012.”
Near the security gates outside the Minneapolis Convention Center hall where President Obama was scheduled to speak, a shiny large motorcycle sat in a roped off area.
The “Veterans Tribute Motorcycle” at the American Legion’s national convention featured a bayonet and two sets of hand grenades. A sign alongside the motorcycle said it had been painted to show a hologram of the Stars and Stripes.
President Obama was not drawing the biggest crowd Tuesday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
That distinction belonged to the Ramadan observance that was drawing thousands of Muslims into an adjoining conference hall at the city’s convention center.
The two events produced an interesting scene: Gray-haired veterans in blue blazers and American Legion caps mingling in the hallways with Muslims in traditional dress making their way to prayer services.
Kaahin Abbi handed out flyers for the service, and said many Muslims were aware that President Obama was speaking just a few feet away. “President Obama is doing really good,” he said.
“When he took the office, it was a mess. The economy was eight years down.
“You have to be patient about it,” he added.
As for the Ramadan observance, Abbi added: “This is the best time [where] you can remember how forgiveness is.”
The Rev. Ronald Moore, an American Legion vice commander from Germany, awaited President Obama’s speech Tuesday at the American Legion’s national convention in downtown Minneapolis.
“I didn’t vote for him,” said Moore, an African American who said he was a Republican. “I didn’t think, at the time, he had the feeling for the veteran. [But] I think that’s changed.
“He stepped into a mess, and I approve of the fact he’s trying to do a good job,” said Moore, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. “I think it’s a little bit unfair that everybody’s turning around and trying to blame it on him.“
Moore said he was instead upset with Republicans these days. “I’m very upset with a lot of Republicans who came into office now,” he said. “They’ve turned it into a game.”