(CBS News) RENO, Nevada - Reaching out for the votes of military personnel, veterans and their families, President Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national convention Monday that he kept the promises he made four years ago, stating that today the U.S. is "safer and stronger and more respected in the world."
And though the White House said the president's speech was "official" and not a "campaign" address, Mr. Obama leveled veiled but unmistakable criticism at Mitt Romney's policies and lack of a foreign policy record. Romney addresses the VFW tomorrow.
Mr. Obama began his speech paying homage to four military personnel and veterans who lost their lives in the movie theater shootings three days ago.
"I stand before you as our hearts still ache over the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado," said the president.
He singled out four individuals:
-Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress: "An Air Force reservist, 29 years old, a cyber specialist who loved sports, the kind of guy, said a friend, who'd help anybody."
-Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer: "27 years old, who like his father and grandfather before him joined the Navy and who is remembered as an outstanding shipmate."
-Rebecca Wingo: "32 years old, a veteran of the Air Force, fluent in Chinese, who served as a translator, a mother, whose life will be an inspiration to her two little girls."
-And Jonathan Blunk from Reno: "Just 26 years old but a veteran of three Navy tours, whose family and friends will always know that in that theater he gave his own life to save another."
Mr. Obama received a respectful though not thunderous reception from what VFW communications director Jerry Newberry said was 5,000 delegates in the audience at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. "Hail to the Chief" was played as he took the stage and he was accorded a standing ovation.
He was quick to refer back to his appearance before the VFW in 2008 as a presidential candidate.
"I pledged to take the fight to our enemies and renew our leadership in the world," he said. "As president, that's what I've done."
He said he delivered on his pledges to bring an honorable end the U.S. war in Iraq, to wind down American engagement in Afghanistan and to forever end the threat posed by Osama bin Laden.
"You don't just have my words, you have my deeds, you have my track record, you have the promises I've made and the promises that I've kept," said Mr. Obama, contrasting his record with the words the convention will hear tomorrow from Romney.
Without mentioning Romney by name, Mr. Obama took a swipe at those who said his withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq was a mistake. "They would have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq indefinitely without a clear mission," said Mr. Obama.
"When you're Commander-in-Chief," he said, "you owe the troops a plan, you owe the country a plan. And that includes not just recognizing when to begin wars but also how to end them."
Mr. Obama said his policies have enabled him to launch a "new era of American leadership." He said, "we're leading from Europe to the Asia-Pacific."
He also spoke of the programs launched by his administration to keep the military strong and provide new support and assistance to America's veterans, including initiatives to end homelessness among veterans and prepare departing military personnel for the transition to civilian life and careers and jobs.
"I've got your back," said the president, "I've got your six," he added, using military parlance.
His speech to the VFW was the first event of a three-day campaign swing through five states: Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington and Louisiana.
Upon completing his 35 minute address in Reno, Mr. Obama headed to Oakland, California where he had three campaign fundraising events on his schedule, two of them with a ticket price of $35,800 per person. The third event was a fundraising rally at the Fox Theater at which 2,000 supporters were expected to pay at least $100 each.
The three events bring to 185 the number of fundraisers Mr. Obama has done since officially becoming a candidate for re-election on April 4th of last year.