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GOP convention starts with a focus on national security, Benghazi

The Republican convention kicks off Monday with a spate of military and veterans speakers laying out party nominee Donald Trump's national security plans to "Make America Safe Again."

The presentation won't be aimed solely at service members and their families, but likely will be the day that shows troops what priorities and goals the controversial business mogul will focus on as commander in chief.

It will also be an opportunity for several rising stars within the party's defense community to display their credentials to a national audience.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a National Guard lieutenant colonel who led a combat combat support battalion in Iraq, and Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, a 22-year Navy SEAL who led special operations personnel in Iraq, will deliver prime time speeches Monday touting their credentials and praising Trump's plans to rebuild the military.

Party operatives have also dubbed Monday as "Benghazi Day" at the convention, with plenty of attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her oversight role in the 2012 attack on a American diplomatic compound in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Among the speakers expected to criticize her response as secretary of state in the tragedy are Pat Smith, the mother of a U.S. foreign service officer killed in the attack, Marine Corps veterans John Tiegen and Mark Geist, who as security contractors were involved in the fight.

Trump has made rebuilding the military a key point of his regular stump speeches, often noting that the armed forces "don't win anything anymore."

Campaign officials said in a statement that as president, Trump will "listen to and learn from our nation's heroes who have put themselves in harm's way and pursue a national security strategy and foreign policy that will strengthen our military and make America safe again."

It's unlikely that officials will outline clearer how Trump will pay for the massive expansion in shipbuilding, new aircraft purchases and end-strength increases that he has promised in recent months.

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said the goal of the week is not to detail new specifics for the candidate's plans but to help the American public "better understand the breadth of the man himself" as well as highlight "the failed policies of the (President Barack) Obama and Clinton administration."

That will include immigration, border security and the recent violence against law enforcement in cities across America, as well as international terrorism and threats.

The biggest headliner on the convention's national security day may not have anything to say about security at all. Would-be first lady Melania Trump is scheduled to address the crowd in what will be her biggest national address yet, offering a more personal view of the candidate and giving voters a look at what her role might be in a Trump White House.

Other celebrities are also scheduled throughout the day, including Duck Dynasty personality Willie Robertson, actor Scott Baio, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Trump is not scheduled to address the convention until Thursday, but campaign officials have been coy about exactly when he will arrive in Cleveland and whether his role could include other appearances earlier in the week.

When asked how tightly scripted Trump's remarks would be, Manafort hinted at convention surprises to come and said that "Donald Trump will be Donald Trump."

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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