We are the less than 1%. That’s how many Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
For better or for worse, since doing away with the draft, fewer and fewer have served in the military. As a result, as past generations of veterans pass away, fewer and fewer will know what it means to be a veteran. Perhaps nowhere is that loss of experience more detrimental than it is in the halls of power.
As older political leaders retire, having served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the eras in-between, many are being replaced by men and women with no military experience. Many of those elected are outstanding public servants. However, the fewer lawmakers that have personal experience in war and as a veteran, the they understand matters of war and veteran's life.
How often has the loudest military saber-rattling come from those politicians who never served a day in their lives? How often have we seen a non-veteran use high rhetoric full of empty promises in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion? Perhaps those who have lived through military experiences will have unique qualifications in helping make decisions about the military – and decisions weighing the true costs of war against the potential benefits.
VoteVets.org was formed for this reason, and this is why I chose to be a part of the organization. As a former Marine and candidate for Congress, I strongly believed that I could add to the discussion in Washington. I also knew that as a rookie candidate, I needed help. That’s where VoteVets came in – helping me financially, strategically, and with connections I needed. I ended up a little short in my race, by VoteVets helped me run a fantastic race and add to our dialogue.
The 2012 election cycle is full of great veterans running for office – from Tammy Duckworth and Brendan Mullen running for Congress, to former-Rep. Patrick Murphy running for attorney general in his home state of Pennsylvania, and many more.
Tammy’s story is particularly interesting. Serving in Iraq, Tammy lost both of her legs when her Blackhawk went down. When she returned home, Tammy committed herself to helping other veterans – particularly those who were wounded. She served in the veterans department in her state of Illinois, and then was appointed as an assistant secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The next time Congress debates military action, Tammy’s voice is one I want there on the floor. Perhaps no one could speak with more authority – and convince her colleagues to think long and hard about the vote they will cast. In the same vein, when it comes to taking care of our veterans, I can’t think of a more persuasive advocate to sit in Congress, and save important veterans programs from indiscriminate cuts than her.
If you know a veteran, please thank him or her for their service today. Consider making a donation to the many fine veterans' charities out there. Read and listen to the stories veterans have to tell. And as you listen, think about how those voices are ones so desperately needed in the corridors of power.
Photo Credit: Obama-Biden