Obama kicks off 9/11 anniversary commemorations by honoring veterans

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

In Minneapolis today, President Barack Obama gave the first in a series of speeches marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The president spoke before a crowd of 6,000 veterans at the American Legion's national convention.

In his remarks, Obama called for Americans to honor the solemn anniversary by performing national service, and repeatedly praised the nobility of the 5 million Americans who have served in the U.S. military since 9/11. He called these soldiers and their families members of the "9/11 generation." Obama also expressed humble gratitude for the sacrifice of more than 6,200 American servicemen and women who have been killed in conflict since 9/11.

"In a decade of war, they have borne an extraordinary burden, with more than two million of our service members deploying to the warzones," Obama said in his speech at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  "Hundreds of thousands have deployed again and again, year after year.  Never before has our nation asked so much of our all-volunteer force—that 1 percent of Americans who wears the uniform."

Watch highlights from the speech via ABC News here:

Obama also expressed the need for the United States to shift its focus from war-fighting abroad to nation-building at home. The president has echoed the same theme in several other recent high-profile addresses, including the speech announcing the decision to draw down surged U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the announcement authorizing only a limited U.S. military role in the NATO intervention in Libya, and in a White House awards ceremony to honor a living veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

He also reprised his call for a restored sense of national unity--a major theme of his breakout keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. And since presidential appeals for unity almost always include a  swipe at the sowers of dissension on the other side of the aisle, Obama also obliquely evoked the lingering bitterness in Washington over last month's debt ceiling battle, and vowed that future confrontations over federal budget cuts will not be fought on the backs of American veterans.

The president then circled around to what is certain to be a key theme of his 2012 re-election bid: the effort to jumpstart the U.S. economy. This marks, he argued, "the final area where America must meet its obligations to our veterans, indeed, where we need each other: ... the task of renewing our nation's economic strength." After praising the accomplishment of U.S. troops in killing Osama bin Laden in May, the president announced that "it's time to focus on nation building here at home.  And our veterans, especially our 9/11 generation veterans, have the skills and the dedication to help lead the way."

To that end, Obama announced programs to help unemployed veterans find jobs in the private sector and to mandate the Veterans Administration to make it easier for veterans to get medical coverage for ailments attributed to their service, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and once-stigmatized post-combat psychological ailments that have led to an epidemic of military suicides.

Obama will be spending the bulk of the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks making a series of similarly themed remarks. But that's not the only way that his administration is marking the occasion. As the New York Times notes today, the White House has also promulgated detailed guidelines for commemorating the occasion to U.S. federal officials and embassies abroad.

The White House guidelines instruct U.S. government offices "to honor the memory of those who died on American soil but also to recall that Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have since carried out attacks elsewhere in the world, from Mumbai to Manila," the New York Times' Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt wrote.

One set of White House guidelines "is framed for overseas allies and their citizens and was sent to American embassies and consulates around the globe," their report continues. "The other includes themes for Americans here and underscores the importance of national service and what the government has done to prevent another major attack in the United States. That single-page document was issued to all federal agencies, officials said."