After years of personal sacrifice on the battlefield in the American Revolution, George Washington resigned his commission in the Army to be a gentleman farmer, a constitutional delegate and, eventually, our very first president. The idea of a civilian leader was critical to the Founding Fathers, still fearful of standing armies and would-be tyrants. In fact, Washington was also the first president of the Society of the Cincinnati, made up of former military officers who served in the Revolutionary War and inspired by the example of Roman general Cincinnatus who, following duty to country in quelling the Aequians, returned to the farm where he had toiled before crisis threatened the republic.
Since Washington, we have regularly sought national leadership from military veterans as civilians. They range widely — everyone from Andrew Jackson to Zachary Taylor to U.S. Grant to George Marshall to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet in recent times this trend has declined. What does this say of the times in which we live?
Honor, integrity, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service and courage are fundamental values defining the honorably discharged veteran. These are qualities some of us hunger for in civilian leadership today. Some observers credit veterans’ electoral victories in the 2018 congressional races to public weariness with partisan politics, including politicians who talk of war but know little of it firsthand. Some public servants, by their example, indicate our country is not one they’re willing to die for.
Military veterans are people you can count on. They’ve already sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. “Veterans have a formative experience in their 20s that makes them likely to put country ahead of party,” says Jason Mangone, a former Marine and co-author with retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and retired Navy SEAL Jeff Eggers of the book “Leaders: Myth and Reality.” Our nation’s veterans, using skills sharpened in service to the people and to the Constitution of the United States, can prove valiant keepers of all things we hold dear. They’re ideal protectors of this place we call home.
In the current election cycle, retired Air Force Capt. Gina Ortiz Jones, who served as an intelligence officer in Iraq, seeks to assume Will Hurd’s congressional post representing the rugged Texas-Mexico borderland. Col. Kim Olson, a 25-year Air Force veteran who commanded troops in combat zones including Iraq and volunteered three additional years after retirement in the Texas State Guard, is running for Congress from Texas as well. Trent Sutton, among those seeking to succeed Congressman Bill Flores here in Congressional District 17, served two decades as a Marine and completed several tours of duty in combat zones abroad.
Former Air National Guard Capt. MJ Hegar, who served three tours in Afghanistan as a combat search-and-rescue and medevac pilot, is running for the U.S. Senate. Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii, is a war veteran of two tours of duty in the Middle East and presently a major in the Army National Guard. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was a Naval Reserve intelligence officer and served in Afghanistan.
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a former Navy SEAL, served an astonishing five deployments overseas, losing an eye in an IED attack in the Helmand province, Afghanistan. He left the service with two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and a Navy Commendation Medal with Valor, among others. Tammy Duckworth, double amputee and former Army lieutenant colonel, serves in the Senate. Speaking of public service, Robert Mueller, special counsel for the Department of Justice and stoic target of political arrows from many who never served, was a Marine officer in Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his combat actions.
Republican Sen. Bob Dole and Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye both Purple Heart recipients, recuperated in the same hospital after being injured in World War II. Dole ran for president. They were members of opposing parties but steadfast friends. Sen. George McGovern, a B‑24 Liberator pilot during World War II, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1972. Navy Lt. John Kerry served in the Senate and ran for president in 2004. President Jimmy Carter was a Navy officer and submariner. Capt. John McCain was a naval aviator imprisoned in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. He served in the Senate and ran for president. In his final years he suffered attacks on his military record primarily because of his refusal to bow to party ideology and to suffer fools.
Many of us have been reassured by the military veterans continuing to represent our country, ranging from Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Marine Gen. Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis and Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, all of whom recently served in the White House, to Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient from the Iraq War who serves as a White House adviser from the National Security Council and, like the others, finds his service questioned in today’s partisan warfare.
These are examples of people in national and state leadership, but they exist all throughout our community and, again, often demonstrate leadership in various ways. We have former military personnel among us as teachers, ministers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, bankers and shop owners. These veterans deserve sound policy decisions when it comes to veterans health care and benefits that compensate battlefield injuries. They deserve a system that is streamlined and works in their best interest.
Every day at Waco’s Veterans One Stop is Veterans Day, but Wednesday there’s a veterans lunch. The Kitchen Angels outdid themselves last week. Tables groaned with pans of meat-and-tomato casserole that could have passed for lasagna/enchilada casserole. Down the way salad and chips were served by smiling volunteers. The dessert table was filled with homemade banana pudding and peach cobbler. The dining room was full of veterans and widows of veterans. Down the hall, there is a quiet room where card games and dominoes ensued.
Other veterans are not yet ready for the quiet and the dominoes. We should credit veterans, whatever their path forward, with a rare insight into the crises that imperil our republic from time to time. We should realize they, above all, have demonstrated sacrifice and dedication in grappling with such threats — and that, yes, they know something about fidelity to the Constitution, even as many of us invoke it only when it suits our political aims.