President Barack Obama praised veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Tuesday in Minneapolis and thanked them and their families for their sacrifices.
In a speech to the American Legion, which is holding its national convention this week in Minneapolis, the president talked about plans to withdraw troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called the bond between the U.S. military and the nation's citizens a "sacred trust." He said living up to the nation's responsibilities to returning service members is not about politics and is instead "a moral obligation."
Obama also took credit for progress his administration has made in assisting veterans. But he said much more needed to be done.
"As a nation we're facing some tough choices as we put our fiscal house in order," Obama said. "But I want to be absolutely clear, we cannot, we must not, we will not balance the budget on the backs of our veterans. As commander in chief, I won't allow it."
More than 7,500 American Legion convention delegates and family members filled the main ballroom of the Minneapolis Convention Center. They rose to a standing ovation in response to the president's pledge to spare veterans from harsh budget cuts.
It was the only standing ovation the president received during his speech, although convention-goers repeatedly applauded him.
Obama took credit for helping to increase funding for veterans programs but said the nation needs to do more to help veterans find homes, jobs and address mental health problems.
Despite the applause, the president did not connect with American Legion delegates as his predecessor did.
"I've seen better receptions for presidents in the past," said Gene Franks of Alaska. "George Bush was a veteran. George was a legionnaire. George Bush put his legion hat on in front of the audience. We know who George Bush is."
Bush served in the Air National Guard.
Many Republicans, including some who aim to replace Obama, have criticized the Democratic president as being weak on defense. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking the GOP nomination, has suggested that members of the military don't respect President Barack Obama.
The Minneapolis speech was Obama's first appearance before the American Legion, although he has addressed Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans gatherings.
Legionnaire Dennis Haas of Pennsylvania said he thought Obama received a warm reception considering the circumstances.
"I think in a lot of ways it's a tough crowd," Haas said. "You're got an awful lot of conservatives within the American Legion, within the military."
Haas said he usually votes back and forth between party lines, but that he's a "registered Republican." He hopes the Obama administration can push though its veterans' initiatives.
"He's not doing anything that's hurting us a far as the military," Haas said. "As long as that money keeps coming through [so] we can keep supporting our troops, that's what's important."
He said how veterans feel about the president personally doesn't matter.
That's the way the military is," Haas said. "I mean, I went through the Clinton years and I went through the Carter years. I didn't agree with everything that was being done, but they were our commander[s] in chief."
Still, American Legion member Shelia Schulte, of Texas, said she doesn't trust the president. Schulte said she respects Obama's position as president but disagrees with him on "a lot of policies" and the speech did nothing to change that.
However, Legion member Don Garrett, of Alaska, called the president's speech fantastic and said it hit all of the right points. Garrett, who described himself as politically "independent," said he thought the president did himself some good by appearing at the legion convention.
"This has been a positive move on the president's part," Garrett said. "I think that maybe he might have got through to some people as far as where he is and what he is standing for, trying to do."
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who also is seeking the Republican nomination for president, addresses the convention on Thursday.