RENO - Gov. Mitt Romney lavished praise on the National Guard at its annual national conference, and he promised to protect and preserve the military if elected.
But the speech by the Republican presidential candidate was devoid of details explaining his plans.
In the 15-minute speech to the National Guard Association of the United States in the Reno/Sparks Convention Center, Romney conceded that he would normally compare and contrast his plans for the military and its budget with those of his opponent, President Obama. But, citing the fact Tuesday was the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, he said: "There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it."
That said, however, he sharply criticized the budget and deficit reduction plan adopted by the president and Congress, which includes sharp cuts to military and Guard budgets.
"The return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military, to devastate defense budget cuts," he said. "We can always find places to end waste but we cannot cancel program after program. We cannot jeopardize critical missions and cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide for our men and women in uniform."
Romney repeatedly thanked the packed convention auditorium for their service in wars since the founding of the nation, their service during catastrophes such as the Katrina and Isaac hurricanes and other missions.
And since 9/11, he said, "guardsmen have helped keep us safe from attack.
"We live in a time of turbulence and disruption," he said. "We need the Guard's vigilance and strength now more than ever before."
For Romney, the appearance before the National Guard also provided an opportunity to address men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Romney has been criticized for not mentioning Afghanistan in his speech to the Republican National Convention two weeks ago. While Romney said Tuesday the U.S. goal should be to transfer security to Afghan forces in 2014 - the same timeline as Obama's - he cautioned, "We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders."
He said America needs a military "that is second to none, that is so strong that no one would ever think of testing it."
"America must lead the free world and the free world must lead the entire world," he said, drawing applause from the audience of more than 2,000.
In return, he said the nation and its leaders owe the military including the Guard "a country that will provide for their needs when they come home."
He said troops should not have to struggle to find work when they return, and they deserve a Veterans Administration system that is strong and provides care and benefits "second to none."
Pointing to the huge backlog in claims for both physical and mental health services as well as the suicide rate among veterans, he made it clear he doesn't think that is the case at present.
"We can all agree the system is in need of serious reform," he said.
"I respect you. I admire you," he said. "Our debt of gratitude can never be repaid."
It was Romney's third visit to Reno during this campaign. The first was at The Grove in south Reno in early February. More recently, he spoke to veterans at the Reno/Sparks Convention Center in August. His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, visited Reno-Sparks last week and Romney's wife, Ann, addressed the Douglas County Republican Central Committee in August.
The trip is not expected to be the campaign's last to Northern Nevada.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.