WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE -- Vice President Mike Pence vowed the Trump administration would "rebuild the military" and seek the biggest increases in defense spending since the Reagan era.
"I can't think of a better place to celebrate Armed Forces Day here at Wright-Patt," Pence told the crowd after the audience of mostly airmen who gave him a standing ovation. ".... In fact, today the research and development and testing that happens here ensures the unquestioned dominance of the United States Air Force in the skies across the world."
Pence cited a $21 billion boost in military spending President Donald Trump signed into law recently, the largest increase in nearly a decade, and vowed the administration was committed to bigger defense budgets.
"...We will rebuild our military, restore the arsenal of democracy, and we will once again as a nation give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the resources and training you deserve to accomplish your mission and come home safe," he said. In the proposed fiscal year 2018 defense budget scheduled to be unveiled within days, "we're going to propose the largest in increase in defense spending since the days of Ronald Reagan," he said.
Democrats have criticized a Trump and Republican push to boost the military without cutting wasteful defense spending while the president's administration proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, among other areas.
"If Trump and Pence truly want to rebuild our nation's military, they should start by keeping their promises to our veterans. Trump promised -- with great fanfare -- that he would set up a 24-7 veterans hotline at the VA, so that their voices would be heard," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a statement Saturday to this newspaper. "But after more than 100 days in office, the Trump administration has shown no interest in fulfilling this basic commitment."
Trump was in Saudi Arabia as Pence appeared at Wright-Patterson where the vice president told airmen because of the U.S. military "ISIS is on the run, and we will not rest, we will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source so you can eliminate the threat to our nation and to our allies in the years ahead."
Pence's stop at Wright-Patterson was the second visit on a three-state tour through Pennsylvania, Ohio and his home state of Indiana over the weekend.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, listened to the vice president's remarks in the audience.
Turner said he urged Pence to visit the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson to see the work it does in intelligence gathering, particularly in determining the missile capabilities of North Korea and Iran.
"I think it's really important that he came to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base because we're not merely a dot on the way to Indiana," said Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "He knows the importance of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the contributions that we make here."
Ready for Pence's visit
Logan Cole, a 17-year-old victim in the West Liberty-Salem High School shooting in January, met behind the scenes with Pence at the Miami Valley base.
The vice president and his wife, Karen, also toured a C-17 that served as a backdrop for his speech and he spoke to crew members aboard the jet.
Pence stopped at a display showing how wounded troops were transported and treated on aeromedical evacuations.
Capt. Stacey Blurton, 41, of Dayton, said it was "very humbling" to meet the vice president.
"I don't ever get an opportunity to do anything like this," the Air Force nurse said.
Airmen began to file in for Pence's address hours before he took the podium.
"Wright-Patterson is a premier Air Force Base, premier military installation so I think with the heritage of the Air Force and everything that this base in Dayton in particular has meant to the history of the U.S. Air Force, I don't think there's any better place for him to be," said Capt. Alex Bilchak, 38, New Albany, Ohio, and a member of the 445th Airlift Wing's aeromedical evacuation squadron.
Staff Sgt. Chelsea Eldridge, 29, also a reserve airmen, considered it "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"My supervisor asked me if I wanted to do this opportunity I said, 'Yes most definitely,'" said Eldridge, of Economy, Ind..
Pence was scheduled to speak at the commencement of Grove City College earlier in the day in Pennsylvania.
On Sunday, the former Indiana governor was set to deliver the commencement address in his home state at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.