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  • More guard members flocking to Republican Party...

    Guard members flock to McCain, ‘polite’ to Biden

    By Rick Maze - [email protected]
    Posted : October 06, 2008

    Being a longtime National Guard supporter who has been honored for helping get better armored vehicles to troops on the front lines apparently is not enough to impress an audience of Guard members.
    Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the Democratic vice presidential candidate, learned Sept. 22 that sometimes simply being second fiddle is what matters most after he addressed the National Guard Association of the United States in place of the person at the top of his ticket, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
    It’s the first time a presidential candidate has skipped the NGAUS convention since 1992.
    Biden has worked closely with the Guard on many issues, and in 2002 received the association’s Charles Dick Medal of Merit for his efforts to get mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, into the hands of deployed troops. Biden’s son, Beau, is a Delaware National Guard judge advocate deploying to Iraq.
    Biden’s speech was filled with promises on the Guard initiatives that the association spent a weekend discussing, including more influence for the Guard in Pentagon decision making, better equipment and better benefits.
    But association members still said they believe Republicans will spend more on defense than Democrats if elected to the White House. Biden’s speech at the Baltimore convention was far less well attended, and got far less applause, than the one given a day earlier by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
    “Polite applause,” one Army Guard officer said of the response to Biden’s address. Like other rank-and-file association members, the officer asked not to be identified by name as supporting or opposing a particular candidate. NGAUS is nonpartisan, and many of its members were in uniform for the two speeches.
    Along with Biden and McCain, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake and the Army and Air Force chiefs of staff spoke at the three-day convention.
    For some association members, Obama’s failure to appear — he said he had a scheduling conflict — was seen as a sign of disrespect for a group that feels it deserves attention now more than ever because of its expanded role in homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Obama’s absence was disappointing but not surprising, association members said. “This is not really the place for him,” said an Army Guard member who said he supports McCain. “This is not his kind of audience.”
    An Air Guard first lieutenant, an aide to a Guard general, said most Guard leaders have made clear they think Democrats would cut defense spending while Republicans would increase it.
    Stephen Koper, executive director of NGAUS, said his group never endorses candidates for elected office.
    McCain was introduced Sept. 21 by NGAUS Chairman R. Martin Umbarger as a “comrade in arms” who needed little introduction to a military audience.
    McCain, whose son Jimmy is a Marine lance corporal and an Iraq war veteran, said that as president, he would work to prevent parochialism from limiting the Guard to a back seat on military issues; expand health care benefits for Guard members and their families; and punish employers who discriminate in hiring and re-employing reservists after deployments.
    As a retired Navy officer, McCain said he understands the evolving roles and needs of the Guard. “Before 9/11, I do not think a lot of us understood the potential of the National Guard,” McCain said.
    “My friends, we understand it now. We place great demands on the National Guard. At times, the Guard’s responsibilities exceed even the demands we put on our active-duty forces.”
    McCain pledged to provide more manpower and equipment to the Guard so that units are better prepared to respond when called, and to improve health care benefits for Guard and Reserve members and their families.
    Biden, who Umbarger called an “unshakeable” Guard supporter, said an Obama administration would elevate the Guard’s status within the Pentagon by giving its chief a seat at the Joint Chiefs of Staff table, and also would try to reduce the Guard’s burden by increasing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps, Biden said.
    Biden, who has made eight trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, said most of his flights into the war zone have been in aircraft with Air National Guard crews, giving him high respect for their service.
    McCain received eight standing ovations during his address to the Guard association. Biden received just one.

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

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