Reno-Sparks Convention Center
11:05 A.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Commander Schmidt, for that wonderful introduction and for your steadfast devotion to our country.
I want to thank all of our distinguished guests with us today, including HUD Secretary Ben Carson, VA Secretary David Shulkin, and former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. Where is Bob Gates? Bob Gates has been so great. I tell you, he started off saying bad things about me, and then he said great things, and now I like him. (Laughter.) Thank you, Bob.
It’s a great honor to be back here with all of my friends at the American Legion and your national convention. I want to thank Governor Sandoval for being here. Dean Heller is here, someplace — or will shortly be here. He’s caught the first flight out. So I want to thank Dean Heller, Senator, for being here.
The American Legion embodies the spirit of patriotism that is the true source of our strength and the best hope for our future. You love our country, you cherish our values, and you definitely defend our great American flag. No doubt about that. (Applause.) Above all else, you believe in America, just like America believes in you. (Applause.)
Today, we are here to honor you for the sacrifices you have made to defend our nation and preserve our way of life. But we’re also here for another reason: We are here to hold you up as an example of strength, courage, and resolve that our country will need to overcome the many challenges that we face. We are here to draw inspiration from you as we seek to renew the bonds of loyalty that bind us together as one people and one nation.
Those who wear the nation’s uniform come from all different backgrounds and from every single walk of life. But they are all united by shared values and a shared sense of duty. They are all part of one team, with only one mission in mind. Most importantly, they’re all Americans — and they work together, they fight together, and they sacrifice together to defend our magnificent home. Thank you. (Applause.)
Now our nation must follow that same work ethic, that same devotion to a greater cause, to achieve our country’s full potential. Here with us today are veterans who have fought in every major military engagement dating all the way back to World War II.
You’ve endured bitter winters, treacherous jungles, barren deserts, and stormy waters. You’ve left your families, charged into danger, faced down your enemies, and bore the scars and wounds of war.
Each of you took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. With that oath, you pledged your honor and your very lives for our great nation. Every veteran here today is part of a long, unbroken chain of American heroes. We salute your service. The American Legion not only remembers history — you help keep history alive. (Applause.) You teach young Americans to have pride in our history so that they will have confidence in our future. History and culture — so important.
For generations now, the American Legion has taught our young people the principles of “Americanism.” You emphasize the need to preserve the nation’s cultural, moral and patriotic values. You encourage the observation of patriotic holidays. You stress the need to enforce our laws, including our immigration laws. (Applause.) You teach the responsibilities of citizenship and the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance. (Applause.) True. So important. And you do it all, as your motto says, “for God and country.” (Applause.) That’s why we’re here today — for America and for God.
to fulfill our patriotic duties, we must take care of our great veterans. (Applause.) One year ago at this gathering — and I remember so many of you so well — I promised you that I would make it my priority to fix the broken VA and deliver our veterans the care they so richly deserve. (Applause.) And you see what’s been happening.
Now you have a true reformer in Secretary David Shulkin. He has done an incredible job. (Applause.) He’s working night and day to implement the 10-point reform plan that I discussed with you last year. Already, we have made incredible progress. We are publishing wait times online for every VA facility, so you know what the wait is. We’ve delivered same-day emergency mental health services at every VA medical center. (Applause.) We have opened the promised White House VA hotline. That’s a big deal. That’s a big deal.
dramatically increased the number of veterans approved to see the doctor of their choice, and signed legislation to continue that very important Choice Program that I spoke to you about last year. And I want to thank the American Legion for your help in getting this done. You have been so helpful. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Something that they’ve been trying to pass for 40 years — and we’ve passed — VA accountability legislation. (Applause.) So if somebody that works at the VA is bad to the people of the VA, disrespectful, not treating our fellow patriots well, we look at them and we say, “You’re fired.” That’s it. (Applause.) That’s it. If they don’t do a good job, they’re out. Because we want people — we have great people at the VA, but we want people that do a great job. We weren’t able to do that before. That was a hard piece of legislation to get passed. It’s been worked on for so long, we got it done. So we’re very proud of that.
Last week, I also signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. (Applause.) That’s a big thing. This legislation bears the name of one of the first members of the Legion, your past commander — a man who wrote the original draft of the first landmark GI Bill in 1944. (Applause.) And now, under this legislation, veterans can use their GI benefits at any point in their lifetime. Some difference.
in just a few moments, right here on this stage, I will sign another historic bill that the American Legion helped us deliver — the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. And you all know what that means. (Applause.) Right?
No longer will veterans be kept waiting for years to get an answer to their appeals. They will receive timely updates and they will get decisions much more quickly, in a fraction of the time. (Applause.)
the Legion, I have to say, pressed so hard for that legislation. So I want to thank you very much. I want to thank you. I want to thank you so much. You really helped. They have a lot of power. A lot of power. And they use it well. (Applause.)
When I spoke to you last year, I also promised that we would build up our military, and that’s exactly what we have done. I am proud to report that we have worked with Congress to achieve a dramatic increase in defense spending this year.
We are committed to expanding and improving a state-of-the-art missile defense system to shoot down missiles in flight, and we are getting better and better and better at it. It’s actually incredible what’s taking place. And we will develop new surveillance and long-range strike capabilities to prevent our enemies from launching them in the first place.
In every foreign policy decision — (applause) — thank you. In every foreign policy decision, we are making clear that we will always put the safety and security of our citizens first.
That is why early this week, I announced a new strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia. We will pursue an honorable and enduring outcome in Afghanistan, worthy of the tremendous sacrifice our troops have already made. We will give our men and women in uniform the tools they need and the trust they have earned to fight and to win. (Applause.)
And we have made, as you have been reading and seeing, tremendous progress in the fight against terrorism. Just over a month ago in Iraq, Mosul was liberated from the barbaric rule of ISIS.
We are stripping terrorists of their territory at a record clip, their funding, their networks, and the false allure of their ideology. And I will tell, you we’re going to start working very hard on the Internet because they’re using the Internet at a level that they should not be allowed to use the Internet. They’re recruiting from the Internet, and we are going to work under my administration very hard so that doesn’t happen. (Applause.)
No longer are we using our military to build democracies. Instead, we’re forming a coalition of nations that share the aim of stamping out extremism, defeating terrorism, and pursuing stability, prosperity, and peace.
Through the generations, America has always prevailed — not by military might alone, but also by the strength of our spirit. And we have in this country today such spirit. I see it when I meet the people backstage. They’re so proud once again. I must say much more proud than they were last year at this time. They are feeling very good about our country — very, very good about our country. (Applause.) Because our people have always had that will to endure and to overcome.
This is now the challenge of our times. We must ask ourselves who we are, what we stand for, and what together we can achieve.
If American patriots could secure our independence, carve out a home in the wilderness, and free millions from tyranny and oppression around the world, then that same spirit of strength, courage, and resolve can help us create a better future for our people today — a future like even our people have never had before in this great country. That’s what we’re aiming for. (Applause.)
We don’t have to be content with a dilapidated road system, with crumbling buildings, or rusted-out factories. We can build gleaming new highways, state-of-the-art manufacturing, and modern works of wonder — and we can do it all with American workers and American iron, aluminum and steel. We can do it ourselves. (Applause.)
We do not have to accept the economic decay of once-thriving hubs of industry where they leave and they let all those jobs go, and those companies move to other countries. We’ve stopped that flow, and companies are now coming back into the United States. And I am so proud of that. (Applause.)
We can bring new jobs to Pittsburgh and Detroit and Baltimore and help struggling communities thrive and dream and prosper.
We do not need to limit the potential of our children by trapping them in failing government schools. Every child should have the chance to explore their talents, pursue their passions, and know the joy of achieving their ambitions.
we will never tolerate crime in our cities, bloodshed in our communities, or acts of hatred or terrorism against our citizens. We will not stand for it. (Applause.)
We will always support our great law enforcement personnel — (applause) — these are great people — build bridges of trust and cooperation, and keep our families safe.
It is time to heal the wounds that divide us, and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people, with one home, and one great flag. (Applause.)
We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck, or the party of our politics. We are defined by our shared humanity, by our citizenship in this magnificent nation, and by the love that fills our hearts. (Applause.)
And I know I speak for all of you when I say: Our hearts beat for America. Our souls fill with pride every time we hear the national anthem. (Applause.) This is the spirit we need to overcome our challenges, to pursue our common destiny, and to achieve a brighter future for our people. We will win. Watch — we will win. (Applause.)
This is the future we can build together if we have the courage to act, the strength to endure, and the patriotism to join together with true affection for our fellow citizen. (Applause.)
I want to close with the story of a hero who defines this spirit of service and sacrifice, a man whose strength, patriotism and courage knows no bounds — a Vietnam veteran who threw himself on top of a grenade to protect his fellow comrades. This true American hero went on to serve in the National Guard for over 27 years. He is now a retired captain at his local fire department and owns a funeral home that memorializes our heroes. And he has worked tirelessly to bring another veterans post to Kansas City so that those who return from combat have a place to go that honors and supports them.
Some of you know this incredible patriot. He’s a friend to many in this room. He is with us here today, and he’s on stage with us right now: Medal of Honor Recipient Donald E. Ballard. (Applause.)
He’s got to say a word, right? This wasn’t in the planning. Do I have your approval?
MR. BALLARD: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Come on, Don. Get up here.
MR. BALLARD: There is no greater love than someone that loves this country, and I believe we’ve elected the right leader to lead us out to drain the swamp. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MR. BALLARD: I’m with you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Don.
MR. BALLARD: I was with you before you were elected.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. See, that’s very risky of me. That can ruin the whole day for me. (Laughter.) If he got up and said the opposite, I would be in trouble. (Laughter.) So thank you, Don. That was very risky. I didn’t know what was going to happen. (Laughter.) I had a pretty good idea.
But, Don, on behalf of the people of the United States, I want to thank you for your courageous service. You inspire us all.
Today we are reminded that the greatness of our nation is found in our people like Don. As long as we have faith in each other and confidence in our values, then there is no challenge too great for us to conquer. We are people — we are people who love. We are people with heart. We are people who adore. We are people that are great. There is no country like the United States of America. (Applause.)
We have no division too deep for us to heal, and there is no enemy too strong for us to overcome. Because in America, we never lose faith, we never forget who we are, and we never stop striving for a better future.
Together, we cannot fail. We will not fail. We will make America great again — greater than ever before. I promise. (Applause.)
So I want to thank you to the American Legion. You talk of greatness. You talk of greatness; the American Legion is greatness. Thank you very much to our servicemembers and to Don and to everybody in the room. Thank you to our great, great veterans.
May God bless you, may God Bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. It’s my honor. Thank you.
11:28 A.M. PDT