Obama thanks military, vows ‘nation-building' efforts 'here at home’

President Obama marked the second anniversary of the end of combat in Iraq, thanking the nation’s servicemembers and vowing to focus on “nation-building here at home” in his weekly address on Saturday.

Obama discussed his visit to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas on Friday where he said he had “a chance to thank our troops for the outstanding work they’ve done over the last decade.”

“While the war itself remains a source of controversy here at home, one thing will never be in doubt – the members of our armed forces are patriots in every sense of the word,” said the president in his address. “They met every mission and performed every task that was asked of them with precision, commitment and skill.  And now, with no Americans fighting in Iraq, it’s my privilege on behalf of a grateful nation to once again congratulate these men and women on a job well done.”

Obama said Washington’s attention should now turn to “nation-building here at home” and he pressed measures he said would help veterans return to civilian life and boost the nation’s economy. 

“My grandfather’s generation came back from World War II and helped form the backbone of the greatest middle-class in history,” he said. “They helped this country come back stronger than before.  Today’s veterans have the skills, the discipline, and the leadership skills to do the exact same thing – and it’s our job to give them that chance.

“It’s time to build a nation that lives up to the ideals that so many Americans have fought for – a nation where they can realize the dream they sacrificed to protect,” he continued. “We need to rebuild our roads and runways and ports.  We need to lay broadband lines across this country and put our veterans back to work as cops and firefighters in communities that need them.”

Obama called on the nation to “come together to make America a place where hard work is rewarded and anyone willing to put in the effort can make it if they try.”

“That’s how we can honor our troops.  That’s the welcome home they’ve earned,” he said.

Both President Obama and his GOP rival Mitt Romney have worked to court veterans and military families ahead of November’s election. The White House intends to highlight the end of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has touted their efforts on veterans’ issues.

But polls still show that Romney has an edge among veterans with a May survey showing the GOP candidate with 58 percent support to Obama’s 34.

This week the Obama campaign hit Romney for not mentioning the troops in Afghanistan during his GOP convention acceptance speech on Thursday. “In an almost 45-minute speech Romney didn’t find time to mention our troops in Afghanistan,” said campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter to reporters.

Romney’s campaign, though, said that he had addressed the troops during a speech Wednesday to the American Legion and called Obama’s attack “another attempt to politicize the war in Afghanistan, a war in which President Obama has dangerously based his decisions on political calculations, endangering our mission.”