NORFOLK, VAWith more than 5,400 jubilant Marines and sailors cheering him on, President Bush landed on the deck of the U.S.S. Harry S Truman in a Navy jet Monday to preside over a historic veterans'-benefits-cutting ceremony.
"Your brave and selfless service to your country will not soon be forgotten," Bush told the recently returned Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers. "At least, not for another five or ten years."
After congratulating the soldiers on their victory over Saddam Hussein, Bush announced that the new budget passed by the Senate includes a $14.6 billion reduction in veterans' benefits. He then held aloft a pair of oversized scissors and snipped a ribbon bearing the words "Veteran's Benefits."
"No one knows the meaning of the word 'sacrifice' quite like our men and women in uniform," Bush said. "Whether sacrificing their lives or their health coverage, these brave Americans are willing to do whatever it takes to help this nation, and for this I salute them."
As the ship lay at anchor in the Atlantic Ocean, Bush, holding a helmet emblazoned with "Prez-1" along the side, expressed his gratitude to the troops for the hardships they endured in the Persian Gulf, and for the hardships they would be enduring at home in the future.
"When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country, and I am honored to be your Commander-In-Chief," Bush said. "I am equally honored that you are stoically accepting Congress' elimination of a large percentage of the benefits you were promised upon enlisting so that I can finance a massive tax cut."
The speech was brought to a temporary halt as the troops' enthusiastic cheers drowned out the public-address system. Bush then raised his hands to silence the crowd, his face turning somber.
"You have shown the world the skill and might of the American armed forces," Bush said. "You have exhibited a willingness to do what your country has asked of you. In return, I would like to personally show my gratitude by guaranteeing that your pension will not completely dry up until you turn 40."
As a ray of sunlight broke through the clouds, Bush explained that the cuts were necessary to ensure that the servicemen who received aid were those who really needed it and not the parasites looking to take advantage of a bloated bureaucracy and veterans' welfare state.
"This is a battle to root out waste in the dispensation of veterans' funds," Bush said. "And, as you know all too well, casualties are inevitable in a battle. If some of you are cut off from compensation payments for injuries, take comfort in the knowledge that your sacrifice was not in vain, for you have helped liberate billions of tax dollars for our country's taxpayers."
Upon the conclusion of the president's speech, the troops once again rose to thunderous applause. After posing for photographs with various officers and enlisted men on board, the president returned to his jet and departed.
Reactions to the speech were overwhelmingly positive.
"We all stand behind our Commander-In-Chief," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Henry Williams, 23, of Norfolk, VA. "When he started this war, President Bush called upon Americans to support its troops. Now, he's calling upon his troops to accept six-month waits for hospital visits and pauper's funerals. In these times of economic crisis and uncertainty, it is our duty to stand behind our president, whether or not he is standing behind us."