Jennifer Hickey could be on to something. The political analyst and Fox News contributor recently penned an article “Where are the veterans in office? Path from combat to Congress fading” that highlighted how rare it is to find a veteran serving in a political office — whether it be local, statewide or national.
Could it be this is the reason why we find ourselves in such political turmoil?
After World War II, a number of combat veterans took the natural step of serving in political office – especially in the hallowed halls of Congress.
And while some will argue that the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s weren’t exactly the golden years, they were decades where America experienced transformational change — not all good, but for the most part good. This was the era of massive improvements in medicine and technology, the economy was flourishing, race relations were improving and the women’s movement was growing.
Sure, it was also the time of great turmoil. We had Vietnam and the Peace Movement — and the draft. And the three didn’t mix well. But we could still have civil conversations, enjoy Archie Bunker without being offended, and we had one thing in common: We were Americans before we were some political affiliation.
And we had true leaders in Congress who often thought differently but were focused on one mission: bettering America. They were fixed on the mission but flexible on the method.
It even carried into the ’80s with Tip O’Neill and President Reagan. Reagan served in the Army Air Corps in WWII — and while he never saw combat, he had a clear understanding of mission. So when he and Tip would fight it out over the direction of the country — the lifelong politician and the veteran, they typically came to a compromise. And then shared drinks together.
There is no flexibility in those halls anymore – regardless of the party.
As Ms. Hickey states in her article, “Today, the veteran-turned-politician is a far rarer breed, at least at the national level. Stats show a steady decline in the number of veterans elected to Congress, raising concerns an important perspective increasingly is missing from the halls of Capitol Hill.”
Her concern is shared by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, who was quite clear at a recent event that perhaps what America is missing is the common sense and experience of those who served in uniform.
“At a time when everything is hair-triggered, everything is nitroglycerin, and miscalculations can lead to a lot of trouble, we need veterans’ input,” he said, referring not only to the veteran void in Congress, but also the Executive Branch and beyond.
The 2012 election marked the first time in 80 years that neither major party presidential nominee had served in the military. Two years later, the 114th Congress was sworn in with the smallest proportion of veterans on record.
This can largely be attributed to the fact that there are far fewer Americans today who are veterans. Vietnam ended the draft and the military became an all-volunteer force — made up of individuals who were passionate about serving their country on the front lines of both war and humanitarian efforts.
And with frequent deployments, today’s veteran has a slower start in building local connections that contribute to the success of an election. But give it time. No mission is impossible.
It’s not that every veteran is brilliant or that as a class they are the savior. But, every veteran has at least one thing in common, outside of boot camp, and that is an understanding of mission above self. Regardless of someone’s religious belief, their skin color, the political affiliation, or their sexuality, we learn to work together to accomplish the mission. Failure is not an option.
In my home town of Edmonds, we have one individual on our council who is a veteran. And while he and I think a bit differently on political matters, I respect him. He is a leader. He is sensible, he is respectful and he exercises, in my opinion, great judgement. He knows how to play nice with others and still move the mission of accomplishing something great in our city — like he is doing with our city’s Veterans Plaza.
And no, he’s not running for re-election and I’m not in any way indebted to him. We just happen to share a brotherhood that is rooted in training, virtues and respect.
Something today’s politicians should embrace.
Bottom line: Instead of voting for someone because of their political party, or because they are a woman, or they are gay, or black, or Hispanic, or Irish or white for that matter, why don’t we dive a bit deeper and seek and support the individual who embraces mission above self? And America, understand that today’s Veteran will likely possess one of those surface traits I mentioned – they are many religious beliefs, different political parties, different sexualities, and all skin tones. They will also have the training, virtues, and respect to back up their service in politics.
— By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs