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Military not likely to be focus of Obama State of the Union address

Jan. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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A post-9/11 veterans group is calling on President Obama to address the issue of pending reductions to military retirement pay in his State of the Union address tonight, but the White House has given no indication the military will be a significant focus of the speech.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder Paul Rieckhoff, who will be attending the speech with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., urged lawmakers to undo the cuts but also said Obama should lead on such military issues as retirement reductions, military sexual assault, veterans’ suicides and the Veterans Affairs Department claims backlog.

“We expect to hear the president stands with us in opposing these cuts. We’ve got to remember that folks are fighting and dying in Afghanistan right now, and this impacts them,” Reickhoff said during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Statements from the White House, however, indicate Obama’s speech will focus largely on domestic policy, including growing the economy, jobs, strengthening the middle class and expanding programs and policies to assist the poor in moving from poverty to the middle class.

In press releases from the White House, no mention was made of the military in the speech.

Still, at least one service member — Vice Adm. Michelle Howard — will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama for the speech, an indication the president will at least mention the armed services in some fashion. Howard has been nominated for a fourth star and would be the first woman to reach that rank in the Navy and the first black female four-star in any service.

A 1982 Naval Academy graduate, surface warfare officer and former commander of the landing ship dock Rushmore, Howard is currently deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy. She would be assigned as vice chief of naval operations when she receives her fourth star.

Also seated with the First Lady will be Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, a wounded Army Ranger who has met President Obama three times: once before he was wounded while participating in a D-Day reenactment in Normandy, France, and twice after his injury, at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., and in Arizona during physical rehabilitation.

Now 30 and living in Phoenix, Remsburg was serving with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan when he and other members of his unit were struck by a roadside bomb on Oct. 1, 2009. The deployment was Remsburg’s tenth; he received a severe traumatic brain injury in the blast, lost sight in his right eye and became paralyzed in his left arm.

“It’s an honor to be selected to join the First Family,” Remsburg said, speaking to Military Times through his father Craig on Tuesday. “But it’s even more of an honor to be the face of wounded warriors, to represent them to the public and keep them in the forefront of minds.”

Previous State of the Union speeches by Obama have mentioned military personnel and families, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

But less than one-fourth of Obama’s annual addresses have substantially focused on the military, veterans’ issues and national security policy.

President George W. Bush devoted about half his annual addresses throughout his two terms on military and veterans’ affairs, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and national security issues.

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