“When I hear anybody saying America is somehow weaker now than it used to be, blah blah, it’s nonsense. This is the greatest military on Earth,” said President Barack Obama Wednesday night, at the end of an hour long Town Hall hosted by CNN. The Commander-in-Chief took questions from host Jake Tapper as well as the audience, which was comprised of members of the military, about our national security and the issues facing current service members and Veterans.
Jumping right in, Tapper brought up the latest announcement that the United States was going to send more than 600 additional troops to Iraq to supply aid and support to their soldiers as they fight ISIS and attempt to regain control of Mosul.
“Can you offer us a glimpse of what goes through your mind when you make the decision to send men and women like this into places like Iraq and Syria?” Tapper asked.
“Jake, I’ve always been very mindful that when I send any of our outstanding men and women in uniform into a war theater, they’re taking a risk that they may not come back. And so there has not been a change from the time I came into office to the time that I leave office in which that is not a somber decision,” replied Obama. “I think what has changed is the nature of the missions that we’ve been trying to accomplish.”
Moving on to the human rights atrocities that are occurring in Syria, Obama said “there are going to be some bad things that happen around the world, and we have to be judicious in thinking about, is this a situation in which inserting large numbers of U.S. troops will get us a better outcome, knowing the incredible sacrifices that will be involved? And in Syria, there is not a scenario in which — absent us deploying large numbers of troops — we can stop a civil war in which both sides are deeply dug in.”
In August 2012, President Obama first declared a red line for Assad stating that if he used chemical weapons on his people the U.S. would have no tolerance and would be forced to take action. As chemical weapons continue to be used, the United States has remained uninvolved.
Donna Coates, widow of a Veteran Barry Coates, took to the microphone to tell the story of her husband who testified before Congress about being misdiagnosed at the VA, yet the doctor that misdiagnosed him is still treating other Veterans at the same facility. With tears in her eyes she said they were promised reform and accountability but the V.A. have not seen any.
“My mama’s always told me that if you stop talking about stuff and do it, then you don’t have to talk about it any longer,” she said. ” So when are we going to actually start holding these contracted doctors and the VA employees accountable? For it’s the difference between life and death.”
After ensuring he and Secretary McDonald had heard her pleas and concerns, the President said “we have actually made progress.”
“We are resourcing it,” Obama continued, “but the VA is a big ocean liner, like a lot of the federal government, and when you initiate changes, you know, you’re trying to steer it, and maybe you get it over on the right course, but you’re not going to see fully the impact of all the changes we’re making until a few years out. ”
On the topic of the latest trend of public figures, specifically in the National Football league and other sports organizations, First Lieutenant James Sutter asked the President, “As commander-in-chief, how do you feel about those NFL players choosing this typically respected time to voice their opinions?”
“I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation,” Obama replied, but added, “We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with. But that’s what freedom means in this country.”
The next topic of discussion was why President Obama is hesitant in calling Islamic Terrorists “Islamic”. President Obama defended Islam saying that no religion would justify such heinous actions.
“Do I think that if somebody uses the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ that it’s a huge deal? No,” he said.
He continued by saying, “Call these folks what they are, which is killers and terrorists.”
When combatting the issue of the dangers that come with mixing genders on the battlefield, Obama said “my instructions to the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs is not to engage in political correctness. This isn’t some symbolic issue. This is: Let’s make sure that we’re not fielding half a team. If we’ve got a whole team, let’s figure out who can do what and who can do it best.”
Before Obama took the stage for the CNN town hall, his veto on the 9/11 bill was overridden by Congress for the first time in his Presidency. Tapper took a moment to get his thoughts which he shared and expressed the dangers that come with the new legislation.
“What this legislation did was it said if a private citizen believes that having been victimized by terrorism that another country didn’t do enough to stop one of its citizens,” he said, “for example, in engaging in terrorism, then they can file a personal lawsuit, a private lawsuit in court. And the problem with that is that if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal laws, right?”
Amanda Souza, a widow of a Veteran who took his life after suffering from PTSD and mother of a service member currently serving, shared her heartbreaking story and asked President Obama what we’re doing to help Veterans who were in the same position as her husband.
“How can we ensure that our military men and women understand that it’s OK to get the help that they need and that they’re not going to risk their careers, that they are not going to be labeled? How can we enforce and ensure that especially my son’s generation that’s coming into the military as careers, that they understand that it’s OK to get the help that they need? How can we change the stereotype?”
Obama ensured her that mental health issues are a big focus among his administration. “We’re putting money behind this. We are hiring more mental health professionals. But the fact that there’s still 20 a day who are feeling hopeless means that we’ve got to do more.”
“I think part of what we also have to do is make sure that the families recognize some of the signs,” he continued. “And in some cases, you may need to help that individual get help. And that’s hard to do, because folks are proud. But it’s something that I think we all have to be thinking about.”
A veteran ended the Town Hall by asking Obama what he would do if his daughters told him they wanted to join the military.
“I would be proud of them” he said.
“But, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t sometimes get nervous about possible deployments,” he continued. “You know, your kids are your kids. And you want to keep them tucked in, in their pajamas for the rest of their lives, if you had a chance. But I’d be proud to have them serve, and I think every parent who’s seen their children enter the military are proud.”
In his final thoughts, Obama said about the military as a whole, “there’s a lot to be proud of. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got to make sure that funding for our military doesn’t dip.”
He also said proudly that the United States military “is the greatest military on Earth.”