Obama To Focus On Military Issues At Fort Bliss
Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe.
EL PASO, Texas President Barack Obama will visit Fort Bliss on Friday, exactly two years since his last visit to the Army base when he highlighted the draw down of troops out of Afghanistan.
A couple days before his visit, mothers and their toddlers played by an outdoor fountain centered at a busy on-base mall. Nearby, Carly Smith sat outside a Starbucks surrounded by thick binders, paperwork and a laptop. She volunteers for a program that helps orient families new to the military.
"The military is completely different from being a civilian," Smith said. "And if you are just coming into it without any prior knowledge it's kinda scary."
Smith became a military wife herself only a year ago. The program she volunteers for helped introduce her to military life and helps her maintain a healthy relationship with her husband. But Smith's biggest concern is that looming federal budget cuts may slice into support services for military families. She hopes it's a subject Obama will touch on during his visit.
"I don't want someone in office who's going to be taking funds away from military," she said. "I mean we are still fighting this war and I don't think that all civilians really realize that because it's not in their everyday lives."
The truth is budget cuts aren’t decided by the president, they’re decided by Congress. Unless lawmakers agree on a deficit reduction plan, across-the-board budget cuts will automatically go into effect starting Jan. 2. The cuts amount to about $1.2 trillion over 10 years and would hit defense and domestic spending equally.
Public affairs officer Lt. Col. Dennis Swanson said Obama will largely focus on family well-being during today's visit.
"His focus is the health of the force," Swanson said. "He's going to be meeting with several Gold Star families and he will also be meeting with some of our soldiers who work in behavioral health."
Gold Star families are those who have lost a loved one while on duty. Those families will meet in private with the president.
Obama will also address an on-base audience of 3,000 to 5,000 people.
"Fort Bliss offers a great backdrop to talk about family issues related to the military," said Richard Pineda, a communications professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Fort Bliss is the largest military base in the country in terms of acreage -- 1.2 million acres. It's home to the 1st Armored Division, combat-ready soldiers who first went to battle during World War II. The base is embedded in the middle of El Paso, a Hispanic majority city that marks a blue corner in a red state.
"El Paso is unique because of geography," Pineda said. "We are so far away from the heart of conservative Texas, that there really is the ability to have a totally different way of thinking and have a totally different set of political roots."
Last year Obama visited El Paso to deliver a speech urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, something that's unlikely to happen before November's election.
Today the President's focus is squarely set on soldiers. In the coming weeks, his mission is to convince them that he ought to remain their Commander in Chief.
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