In Vegas, Bush touts his Guard record |

In Vegas, Bush touts his Guard record


LAS VEGAS – President Bush told veterans Tuesday he was proud of his time in the Texas Air National Guard and sought to deflect questions about his Vietnam-era service by turning the subject to what he said were rival John Kerry’s equivocations on the war in Iraq.

“What’s critical is that the president of the United States speak clearly and consistently at this time of great threat in our world, and not change positions because of expediency or pressure,” Bush told his applauding audience in a speech to the National Guard Association of the United States.

Fighting back, Kerry said the president’s speech was full of distortions. “Why would we expect George Bush to level with us about Iraq? He never has,” the Democratic presidential candidate said.

Bush did not address questions that have been raised about his service three decades ago in the Guard or respond to accusations from Democrats that he used family ties to avoid the Vietnam War. Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, addresses the same group Thursday and has directed his allies in the national Democratic Party to make an issue of Bush’s service.

“Nineteen individuals have served both in the National Guard and as president of the United States,” Bush said, “and I’m proud to be one of them.”

The president then outlined the history of America’s citizen-soldiers and touted his efforts to improve living and work condition for today’s Guard.

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In a reoccurring theme, Bush said the Unites States is taking its battle to the enemies overseas, not on American soil.

“That’s so we don’t have to face them at home. America is a safer because of your service,” he said.

That comment affected Col. Cindy Kirkland, chief of staff for the Nevada National Guard’s Joint Task Force Headquarters in Carson City.

“He was talking to the citizen-soldier. Our heritage is to protect the homeland,” Kirkland said.

Then Bush turned to Iraq, noting as he does in almost every campaign stop that Kerry and Democratic running mate John Edwards joined most members of the Senate to give him authority in 2002 to wage war.

He said Kerry and Edwards later voted against money for the war, not mentioning that his own administration once threatened a veto of the funding measure or that Kerry had supported one version of the bill.

He noted that Kerry has both called for more money for Iraq and asserted that Bush has squandered money there that could be spent in the United States.

After casting his rival as indecisive, Bush said, “Our troops, our friends and our allies, and our enemies, must know where America stands and that America will stand firm. We cannot waver because our enemies will not waver.”

It is a major part of Bush’s re-election strategy to convince voters, especially those wary of his economic and Iraq policies, that he is the only candidate in the race steady enough to lead the nation at war.

Kerry said the troubles in Iraq prove that Bush is not that candidate. “George W. Bush keeps saying that things are getting better” in Iraq “even when we all know that’s just not true,” the Democrat said in a statement.

More than 200 protesters echoed those sentiments outside Bush’s speech site, including Bill Shettler, 67-year-old retiree who carried a sign that read: “Bush is an idiot. 1,000 lives wasted.” At a news conference for a group of families opposed to the war, Al Zappala, a 64-year-old retired Defense Department employee from Philadelphia, said his son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was the first Pennsylvania National Guard soldier to die in action since World War II.

“Sherwood was sent to Iraq under false pretenses,” he said. “This war was brought about by lies by the administration.”

The National Guard and Reserve comprise about 40 percent of the U.S. force in Iraq.

Bush holds a commanding lead over Kerry among veterans and their families. An AP-Ipsos poll last week found he was the choice of 58 percent and Kerry 38 percent.

Second Lt. Dan Thielen of Carson City, a health officer with the Guard, said the President was “more energized” than he had envisioned.

“He did not spend a lot of time slamming his opponent. He looked ahead on what he wants to do,” Thielen said. “National security is his number one duty, and he will not let up on that.”

Furthermore, Bush reminded delegates that the country should not change its position in Iraq.

“Our troops, friends and allies must know where we stand, and we must stand firm. We can’t waiver because our enemies will not waiver,” he said.

Bush also illustrated what he perceives as freedom: “Freedom is God’s gift to each man and woman in this world. This is a time for decision and firm resolve.”

Bush’s appearance Tuesday came less than a week after the White House released memos saying the president was suspended from flying fighter jets for failing to meet the standards of the Texas Air National Guard.