The applause was deafening as more than 1,500 Soldiers gave a big, Texas-sized welcome to Vice President Mike Pence, who toured the installation, watched a demonstration of the new Abrams tank and conducted a roundtable session on Soldier transition assistance programs Tuesday morning.

“I want to assure you that the president and the vice president – we don’t see veteran benefits as entitlements, we see them as earned benefits that are reflection and gratitude of the American people,” Pence said during the session with Fort Hood, congressional and with Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program leaders. “From early on this administration, we have been working to expand opportunities for veterans.”

Pence said he is hoping to learn more about Fort Hood’s successful transition program to help keep their promises to veterans and expand opportunities.

The vice president stressed to the troops during his speech that President Donald Trump is their biggest advocate, one who values the commitment and sacrifice it takes to serve in the armed forces, which is one of the reasons they want to learn more about how to better serve America’s Soldiers and veterans.

“Thank you for your service. I say that on behalf of a grateful nation,” Pence said. “We all know that with service comes sacrifice. Wherever you are called to serve, wherever you are deployed, I promise you, you will carry with you the strength and pride of this nation. You will carry with you the prayers of millions of American citizens.”

Before taking the podium inside a hangar at Hood Army Airfield, Pence observed a live-fire training event involving Bradley fighting vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks (System Enhanced Package versions 2 and 3). Afterward, he spoke with the crews and their commanders, thanking them for their service.

Pence noted that the Army will soon be fielding 300 new M-1 Abrams tanks, a majority of which will be headed to Fort Hood.

After an evening arrival Monday, the vice president said he took an opportunity to visit a memorial in Killeen honoring the 13 men and women who died at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009. Recalling some of the stories of the fallen, he said “… faith gives us hope,” something needed as the fight against terror organizations continues.

“I thought it was very nice how much he emphasized the brotherhood we have in the military and how much it meant for the people we’ve lost and the people who are still here who have to carry on without them,” Spc. Christian Frazier, Company B, Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, said. “It was really heartwarming.”

The vice president said the American people stand with the troops and the president will always have their back, noting that the nation’s security depends on military strength and that American troops are that strength.

“Be vigilant, mind your mission, respect the unified chain of command, keep taking care of each other and never doubt every decision you make,” Pence said, encouraging the troops. “It matters to the American people.”

Revealing he is the son of a Korean War veteran and proud father of a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, Pence told the troops that they are the best America has to offer, saying he is more grateful for their service than they will ever know. He also took the opportunity to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the families of troops, especially during deployments.

“I thought it was a very inspirational speech and to know he has a son in the Marine Corps. He’s part of our military family,” Pvt. Ian Faust, 96th Transportation Co., 553rd Sustainment Bn., 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Bde., 1st Cav. Div., said. “It hits me real close to home because I know how proud my family is because I’m in the military.”

In closing, Pence said he has faith, as long as there are men and women with the courage to serve, step forward and stand for freedom, there will be peace in the United States.

“As long as we have heroes willing to put their lives on the line for us and for our freedom,” Pence said. “As long as we have patriots like all of you, who will protect this nation, who will defend our freedom … (we) will forge a future of securing prosperity and peace for ourselves and for generations to come.”