President Obama has at times been described as a detached commander in chief.
The warm words the president used to describe his relationship with a soldier in the audience, a guest of honor who sat next to first lady Michelle Obama, projected a far different image.
The experiences of Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was wounded in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, provided a coda to a speech that focused in part on the unintended consequences of wars.
Obama said he met the soldier in the summer of 2009 at an Omaha Beach anniversary of D-Day.
“He walked me through the program — a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack,” Obama said. “We joked around and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.”
Remsburg soon deployed to Afghanistan — his 10th overseas tour. A roadside bombing in Kandahar on Oct. 1 of that year nearly killed him. He was in a coma for three months and remains partially paralyzed and brain damaged.
“Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” said Obama, who has visited the soldier twice since his return.
Lawmakers leaped to their feet clapping as Obama told attendees about Remsburg’s gradual recovery and strength.
Even as America’s role in the war in Afghanistan draws to a close this year, the United States will continue to wrestle with the legacy of that conflict, as well as the war in Iraq, Obama said.
“As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life,” he said. “We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care — including the mental health care — that they need.”
Chai R. Feldblum, an Obama appointee who has been a commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since 2010, said the government needs to do more to help disabled Americans.
“I wish all the legislators clapping for Cory would pass legislation that helps people with disabilities,” she said after the speech. “The president could have helped that if he had included disability when he mentioned the inherent dignity and equality of all people.”
Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.