On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mitt Romney addressed the National Guard Association Conference in Reno, Nevada. He recalled the "smell of war" on 9/11, spoke about an "American century," paid tribute to member of the National Guard, and came out against defense cuts the White House and Congress agreed upon.
Romney said that on 9/11, he had originally planned to be in New York but had to come to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress a few blocks away from the White House about the upcoming Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.
"Someone rushed into our office and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center," Romney said. " I turned on the small TV on the desk and watched in shock as flames and smoke erupted from the North Tower."
Romney said as he called his wife, Ann, he saw the second plane "crash into the second tower" and realized these "were purposeful acts, these were terrorist acts, these were evil and cowardly and heinous acts."
Romney then said he realized the Pentagon had been hit when he was driving toward Virginia later in the day.
"I could smell burning fuel and concrete and metal," Romney recalled. "It was the smell of war, something I never imagined I would smell in America."
Romney stated, "with heavy hearts the tragic loss of life, and we express thankfulness for the men and women who responded to that tragedy. We honor them, and we honor those who secure our safety even to this day."
"Wherever the cause of freedom has called, you have answered," Romney told the guardsmen. "And as the threats to liberty have emanated from distant lands, you’ve served far from home and far from family. The nation has asked much more of you than had been expected, but you have never faltered, never wavered from the mission of your motto: 'Always Ready, Always There.'"
Romney gave thanks to the National Guard who helped out after Hurricane Isaac, the troops serving in Afghanistan and the SEALs who killed bin Laden, and he proclaimed, "this century must be an American Century."
"It began with terror, war, and economic calamity," Romney said. "It is now our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity."
For this to happen, he continued, "the return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts."
"It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink – and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild," Romney said. "We can always find places to end waste. But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide."
Romney then said the Veterans Affairs system was "in need of serious and urgent reform."
"The backlog of disability claims needs to be eliminated, the unconscionable waits for mental health treatment need to be dramatically shortened, and the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers and veterans must be treated like the emergency it is," Romney said. "We must keep our promises and regain the trust of all who have worn the uniform and served."
Romney then recalled a story about the time he visited Iraq and Afghanistan when he was governor of Massachusetts. He told members of the National Guard to give him a note if they wanted him to call their spouse or family when he returned home.
"When I left for home, I found that I had 63 calls to make," Romney said, before noting that he made all 63 calls on Memorial Day of that year.