Pence expresses support for military, cadets at VMI

The vice president visited next- door VMI in an event that was closed to the public

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Pence greeted VMI cadets before his speech. Photo by Jin Ni, ’22.

SOPHIE KIDD, GRACE MAMON

Vice President Mike Pence spoke to Virginia Military Institute cadets about honor, military spending and President Donald Trump’s dedication to soldiers on Sept. 10.

Pence’s speech comes a week after The Atlantic reported that, on multiple occasions, Trump made negative comments regarding fallen soldiers, calling them “losers” and “suckers” for dying in combat. The White House denied these claims.

Pence arrived at Cameron Hall at 3 p.m., an hour after his scheduled appearance. The event was closed to the public, and VMI cadets in attendance were socially distanced and required to wear masks.

Before walking on stage, Pence removed his mask and received notable applause from the audience.

Pence began his speech by praising current cadets and the former cadets who died in the 9/11 attacks and in the subsequent wars in the middle east.

“I want to say thank you to those 12 looking on from eternity. I want to say thank you to all those who put on the uniform from VMI and have served in this generation of heroes,” Pence said.

The vice president then spoke about the growth of the military under Trump.

“President Donald Trump signed the largest increase in our national defense since the day of Ronald Reagan,” he said. “We’ve rebuilt our military.”

The Associated Press reported that these claims, which have previously been echoed by Trump, are false. In 2010, Congress approved a $834.3 billion budget, while the budget for the 2020 fiscal year is $721.5 billion.

Pence also said that under Trump, the military is more equipped than ever before. But PolitiFact reported that most weapons and infrastructure are the same as they were under former President Barack Obama.

Pence then boasted of sweeping improvements to the Department of Veterans Affairs because of the Trump administration’s expansion of the Veteran’s Care Act.

The act allows veterans to seek treatment at private hospitals if wait times at VA hospitals are too long or if they live far from a VA hospital. Obama signed the act into effect in 2014.

In 2018, Trump signed the VA MISSION Act, which marginally expanded the existing private care act.

The program was originally written by the late Senator John McCain, who served as a navy veteran and was taken as a prisoner of war for five years. Following McCain’s death in 2018, Trump called him a “loser” and opposed lowering the flags in his honor, reported The Atlantic.

“But I’ve seen this President, again and again, embrace families and speak of their heroic fallen. And I can tell you, President Donald Trump reveres and honors the members of our armed forces and their families,” Pence said.

But not everyone agreed.

Protestors outside of Cameron Hall before the event said they thought that the current administration did not support the military and that Pence, who has no military background, was using his speech at VMI as a campaign event.

Michael Gilmore, a retired veteran, held a sign that said “VMI   ≠ suckers and losers.”He said he was bothered by the way the president treated John McCain.

“When Trump said people who died were suckers and losers, that just made my stomach turn,” Gilmore said. “A lot of these guys are going to be active duty. We wanted to let them know that they are not suckers and losers.”

Michelle Watkins, chair for the Rockbridge County Democrats, and Rene Hasey joined him.

Hasey, who comes from a military family, said Trump’s comments on the military show “he has no understanding of the American spirit.” Pence appearing at VMI so close to the election was no more than a photo-op, she said.

“He’ll be up there speaking with these guys behind him,” Hasey said. “It’s really disappointing that VMI allowed it.”

Watkins agreed saying that it was not an “appropriate event for anyone involved.”

But VMI cadets themselves seemed to enjoy Pence’s talk, as thunderous applause broke out several times during the speech.

Anna Armfield, a first class cadet who will be commissioning in the Navy after graduation, said after the event that Pence’s speech was “motivating.”

“He had some really good advice for us, and I took that to heart,” Armfield said. “What he said really hit home for me.”

She said she agrees with Pence’s comments that the current administration has the military’s best interests at heart.

“I believe they’re out for the best,” she said. In his parting comments, Pence told cadets to embrace humility, orientation to authority and show self-control.

“So long as America produces men and women like the cadets at VMI, “ Pence said, “I know the best days of America are yet to come.”