MINNEAPOLIS — President Obama pledged Tuesday to find jobs for tens of thousands of troops returning from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that after a decade of war “it’s time to focus on nation building here at home.”
Appearing before 6,000 veterans at the annual American Legion convention here, Obama thanked the troops who have deployed since the 9/11 terror attacks but acknowledged that many have remained out of work since arriving home.
“In this tough economy, far too many of our veterans are unemployed,” Obama said. “America must meet its obligations to our veterans, indeed, where we need each other—and that’s the task of renewing our nation’s economic strength. ... And our veterans, especially our 9/11 Generation veterans, have the skills and the dedication to help lead the way.”
In a 40-minute speech that played heavily on patriotic themes, Obama began to lay out some of his vision for creating jobs, a key pillar of his fall agenda. Next week, Obama will deliver a major speech on jobs that the administration hopes will sharpen a contrasting vision between the president and Congressional Republicans on how to boost the sluggish economy. Obama also is scheduled speak to labor organizations in Detroit on Labor Day.
The speech came on the same day that Mitt Romney, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, attacked Obama’s foreign and economic policies in an address in San Antonio to another veterans organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Obama told the American Legion veterans, dressed in their blue blazers and military-style caps, that he has directed the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs agencies to create a “reverse boot camp” to train returning troops on skills they would need to enter the labor force.
The president said he has challenged the private sector to create 100,000 jobs for veterans through a proposed tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans and another for those that hire wounded veterans.
“When Congress returns from recess, this needs to be at the top of the agenda,” Obama said. “For the sake of our veterans, for the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working and contributing and creating the new jobs and industries that will keep America competitive in the 21st century.”
Obama got applause several times, including when he mentioned the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but for the most part the crowd was modestly enthusiastic.
Though he paid tribute to veterans of each American war since World War I, Obama spent most of his time honoring those who have served since 9/11. He compared them to the much-beloved World War II veterans and said the post-9/11 troops have taken their place among the “greatest generations.”
“In a decade of war, they have borne an extraordinary burden, with more than two million of our service members deploying to the war zones,” Obama said. “Hundreds of thousands have deployed again and again, year after year. Never before has our nation asked so much of our all-volunteer force—that one percent of Americans who wears the uniform.”