DOVER, Del. - Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden told his son and other Delaware National Guard troops on Friday that his heart was "full of love and pride" as they prepared to leave for an assignment in Iraq.
"We take comfort in the knowledge that you are the best-trained, best-prepared group of citizen soldiers that our country to this day has ever sent into harm's way," Biden told members of the 261st Signal Brigade at a ceremony outside the state Capitol.
Biden's son Beau, Delaware's attorney general, serves as a captain and a lawyer in the 261st. The unit leaves Sunday for Fort Bliss, Texas, where it will train for about six weeks before heading to Iraq.
The normally loquacious senator spoke only briefly, telling his audience at the outset that his son had advised him: "Dad, keep it short. We're in formation."
"As you serve and look out for your brothers and sisters in arms, your families here at home promise you that we'll look out for one another," Biden said.
Biden's Republican rival, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, gave a similar farewell talk in Alaska last month to the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which includes her oldest son, Track, a 19-year-old private. She told the unit that its yearlong assignment to northern Iraq would be a "defense of America, in America's cause. And it's a righteous cause."
The two candidates debated Thursday night in St. Louis. On the subject of Iraq, Palin told Biden that the timetable for troop withdrawal that he supported was "a white flag of surrender in Iraq."
Palin accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of voting against funding for U.S. troops in combat and chastised Biden for defending him, "especially with your son in the National Guard."
Biden did not immediately reply to Palin's mention of his son, but he said Obama had once voted against funding because it lacked a timetable for troop withdrawal. He then noted that McCain himself had voted against funding tied to a withdrawal timetable.
Biden did not mention the debate or the campaign at Friday's ceremony, which was similar to others he has attended, except for the heavy security presence around legislative mall and the unusually large crowd, which numbered roughly 1,000 people.
"I've come here many times before, as a Delawarean, as a United States senator. But today I come, as you prepare to deploy, as a father," he said. "Stand strong, stand together, serve honorably and come home to your families and loved ones."
While Biden received a supportive welcome, Suann Ritter of West Grove, Pa., said she was unhappy about the attention his presence drew.
"This is turning into a circus instead of what it's supposed to be, a private ceremony," said Ritter, whose husband, Sgt. Donald Ritter, is being deployed for the fourth time. She noted that other units that have deployed from Delaware have not received the same attention. "It's just not fair."
Major Gen. Frank Vavala, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, noted that Biden has attended several deployment ceremonies for National Guard units and said the fact that he is a vice presidential candidate can't be dismissed.
"Sen. Biden is the father of a soldier. He has every right to be here," Vavala said.