Obama stops in Springs, calls for patriotism

Wants more enlistments, community service

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — As part of a weeklong patriotic pitch, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama unveiled a plan to entice all Americans to participate in public service and called on young Americans to enlist in the military.

“You invest in America, and America will invest in you,” said Obama, whose speech included key phrases that triggered memories of President John F. Kennedy for some.

Military soldiers and their families have carried the burden for far too long, Obama told about 400 invited guests on the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Guests included Obama supporters, military veterans, health-care workers, ROTC students, College Republicans, college staff and members of AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and other service agencies.

Colorado Springs, home to five military installations, provided a strategic location for a “call to service” speech. The city also ranks among the most politically conservative communities in the nation — a fact not lost on Republican leaders who objected to his presence.

“The burden of service has fallen onto the backs of our military and their families, who have endured tour after tour of duty bravely and brilliantly,” said the Illinois senator, who added that the military community has not received the care and support it deserves.

Obama again called upon young Americans to enlist in the military to ease that burden and to help meet future challenges.

Military enlistments have declined significantly since their high level during the two years immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We need to ease the burden on our troops… that’s why I call on a new generation of Americans to join the military,” Obama urged.

He said as president, his goal would be to increase ground forces by 65,000 and marine forces by 27,000.

The government, however, must uphold the “sacred trust” of providing services and benefits to those who wear the military uniform of the United States, he said.

“…We will only send them into harm’s way when we absolutely must,” said Obama, who accused the current administration of entering into a needless conflict with Iraq that created a multitude of bad consequences, including excessive loss of life and a blemished international image for the nation.

Obama said that as a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, he has fought to provide adequate equipment for the military serving in Iraq, longer periods between deployments and support, benefits and job opportunities for veterans and their families.

Obama said he wants to bring the troops home safely from Iraq, but offered no details on the logistics of a withdrawal.

Community service initiatives

Obama said that if elected president, he would initiate a program encouraging middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service annually. College students who perform 100 hours of service a year would be rewarded with a $4,000 tax credit under the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The goal is to offset tuition costs to allow more students access to a college education.

He added that he would expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 volunteer positions, double the size of Peace Corps and create an Energy Corps to take on renewable energy programs and environmental cleanup projects.

He also envisions the creation of an online network that would offer citizens the opportunity to browse the USA Freedom Corps site to find the right volunteer service for their abilities and interests.

Obama believes it’s time to renew American spirit and confidence in this country.

“…Our destiny as Americans is tied up with one another,” he said. “If we are less respected in the world, then you will be less safe. If we keep paying dictators for foreign oil, gas prices are going to keep rising, and so are the oceans. If we can’t give our kids a world-class education, then our economy is going to fall behind.”

Those realities hit many listeners who had to choose between paying for gas or groceries, borrowed to pay for school tuitions and watched the stock market plunge as low as 1930 in the Great Depression.

“…loving your country shouldn’t just mean watching fireworks on the Fourth of July,” Obama said. “Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part. If you do, your life will be richer and our country will be stronger.”

Republicans protest

While Democrats embraced Obama’s message inside the UCCS gymnasium, outside a dozen Republican college students protested his appearance.

Among the waving pro-McCain placards was a handwritten poster that stated Obama has “NO administrative experience! NO military experience! NO credibility!!!”

El Paso County Republican chair Greg Garcia said Obama, “didn’t talk about troop withdrawal from Iraq because the surge is working. You won’t hear him talk about withdrawal. This isn’t just a flip-flop, it’s a back flip off the high dive.”

Garcia said Obama came to Colorado Springs because he knows he can’t win statewide without El Paso County.

In Denver, in a media conference called by the Republican National Committee, Colorado Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams and state Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, chided Obama for coming to Colorado to deliver a policy speech — particularly one including military reforms.

Both Republicans chastised Obama for attempting to portray himself as a moderate in order to appeal to conservative Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

Of particular concern were remarks made by Gen. Wesley Clark, an Obama supporter, who portrayed Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s military experience as minimal.

Last week, Clark said he respected the fact that McCain’s military experience and his experience as a prison of war in Viet Nam after his plane was shot down. Clark, however, said McCain’s campaign inflated his military experience to a leadership position when he had made no strategic decisions.

Obama said publicly that he had not sanctioned Clark’s remarks and regretted them.

Despite that, Gardner and Wadhams said it was disrespectful for Obama to deliver a private speech that called for enlistments and services for military personnel in Colorado Springs, which is heavily populated with active and retired military personnel.

Obama also was slated to attend a $1,000-a-person fundraiser at The Broadmoor on Wednesday evening.