I want to start today with a few words about the unimaginable tragedy in Colorado last week. We've since learned that among the victims were four people who had served - or were serving - our country in uniform. Today, our hearts go out to the families of John Larimer of the U.S. Navy; Rebecca Wingo, an Air Force veteran; Jesse Childress, an Army veteran and member of the Air Force reserve; and Jonathan Blunk, a Navy veteran who died shielding his girlfriend from the spray of bullets. The loss of four Americans who served our country only adds to the profound tragedy of that day. All Americans are grateful for their service and deeply saddened by their deaths. We mourn them and we will remember them.
The VFW is now over two million strong. It has a special place in America's heart. Some of you fought recently, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Others are old enough to have marched, flown, or sailed by orders of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whatever your age, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whenever you served - there's one thing you have in common: You answered the call of your country in a time of war. From December 7 th , 1941 to September 11, 2001, whenever America has been tested, you stepped forward. You come from our farms, our great cities, our small towns and quiet neighborhoods. Many of you have known violence so that your neighbors could only know peace. You have done more than protect America; your courage and service defines America. You are America at our best and it is an honor to address you.
Our veterans are part of a proud tradition that stretches back to the battlefields at Lexington and Concord - and now to places like Fallujah and Kandahar. Year after year, our men and women in uniform have added proud achievements to their record of service. And President Obama pointed to some of them yesterday in his speech.
Any time our military accomplishes a vital mission it is a proud moment for our nation. But we owe our veterans and our military more than just an accounting of our successes. They deserve a fair and frank assessment of the whole picture - of where we are and where we want to be. And when it comes to national security and foreign policy, as with our economy, the last few years have been a time of declining influence and missed opportunity.
Just consider some of the challenges I discussed at your last national convention:
Since then, has the American economy recovered?
Has our ability to shape world events been enhanced, or diminished?
Have we gained greater confidence among our allies, and greater respect from our adversaries?
And, perhaps most importantly, has the most severe security threat facing America and our friends, a nuclear-armed Iran, become more or less likely?