NORFOLK, Va. - Flanked by some heavy weight GOP hitters, presidential hopeful John McCain held a national security roundtable at the National Maritime Center in Norfolk, Va., Friday morning.
He was surrounded by the likes of Sens. Sam Brownback , R-Kan., John Warner, R-Va, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, Former Secys of the Navy William Ball and John Lehman.
Central Battle Ground
The group of men talked about the threat posed by Iran and radical Islamic extremist, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the need to increase the size of America's armed forces.
"The central battle ground is Iraq," McCain said. "We also have problems in Afghanistan that are significant… I continue to worry about Iran continuously denounces Israel."
Touting his expansive military experience, McCain told the audience that he sympathizes with troops that have been deployed to military action two, even three times in a row.
"We need to expand the Army and Marine Corps. and the Navy," he said. "I understand I think very well that this is a tremendous burden."
He said, "There seems to be this kind of line of thinking out there that we can't recruit and maintain highly qualified men and women, but we have to relieve the burden on them."
According to McCain one of failings of the Clinton administration and of Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was the fact that they did not increase the size of each branch of the US military.
In April, General David Petraeus will testify before Congress - giving lawmakers a progress update on Iraq. McCain hopes that Petraeus will say the number of troops in the war torn region can be reduced.
Ultimately he thinks the nation should trust the advice of its military leaders, "When troops should be withdrawn from Iraq is when Gen. Patreaus says it's warranted," said McCain.
Uniting The Party
Now that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has withdrawn from the race, McCain knows he faces a different more formidable opponent - bringing the Republican Party together.
"I hope that by the speech that I gave yesterday , I outlined a few of our differences, we'll keep this process in motion to unite the party," he said. "The best way of succeeding is to unite the party. We need to reenergize our party…"
When asked about Bush's comments that conservatives should get behind the nominee who leads the pack, McCain said he hadn't heard the President's comments and wondered if Bush mentioned his name. The President hasn't, but McCain said he respects "anything the president says."
Throughout the roundtable, McCain's colleagues spoke fondly of their friend's experience, explaining why he should be the next President.
He has a "big picture mentality" that "comes with age and experience and an enormously productive life in public service," said Keating.
"McCain really becomes the leader and his first stop is here in Virginia," said Brownback. "He's coming right here to his roots, his base, he's saying I remember you."
McCain was quick to recognize that former Governor Mike Huckabee is still chasing the nomination for the presidency.
And the fact that Huckabee picked up some momentum after his Super Tuesday wins is not lost on the former POW.
"Huckabee is a viable candidate and continues to show strength," McCain said. "I think that we are pleased with the events that have happened as part of the campaign, but we still have a ways to go and will continue campaigning."
McCain now heads to Kansas where he'll stump before tomorrow's Republican caucuses.