We Need to Elect Veterans; Two “Running to Serve”

By Sue Fulton

The U.S. Congress has a 9% approval rating. Whatever your political leanings, you’re probably disgusted with how our elected representatives are working (or NOT working, as the case may be). Meanwhile, although the country has been at war for over a decade, the number of veterans in Congress has sunk to the lowest level since World War II. A cohort of energetic, courageous, responsible individuals, who have proven their dedication to service and country, are missing in action from the nation’s most important deliberative body. 

I get that most military people don’t see politics as a particularly honorable profession. And both custom and regulation limit the ability of active-duty military members’ political involvement. There isn’t much current research about the political involvement of active military, though on this topic, Major Jim Golby notes that “low levels of participation among members of the military… is consistent with the research of… Heidi Urben, who finds that – with the exception of voting – members of the Army participate in domestic politics at very low rates.”

However, it behooves current and former military members to get involved. When Congress is deciding when and how to go to war, we need veterans in the conversation.

But how do we get there, when it’s so difficult to unseat incumbents?

Former Army officer Donna McAleer is running for Utah's 1st District.

Former Army officer Donna McAleer is giving it a shot in Utah’s 1st District. After graduating West Point, and serving in Germany, she worked in both corporate and nonprofit sectors while maintaining her connections with the Army and the Academy.  President of her West Point class, she was the second woman graduate to serve on the Board of the Academy’s alumni organization. And for several years, she was a vocal “straight ally” fighting alongside Knights Out (West Point LGBT alumni) for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She talks about what drove her to run:

“Previously, I coached a high school girls’ volleyball team. But the role models these young athletes looked up to – celebrities and rock stars – didn’t portray the American values I saw every day in the Army. That’s why I wrote the book [the award-winning Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Grey Line], and that’s why I decided to run for office: for the next generation.”

McAleer’s campaign slogan, “Not Left. Not Right. Forward” is meant to define her moderate views and her intention to avoid the rancor and deep divisions between current party leaders.

“My oath to my country didn’t end when I hung up my uniform,” she says, echoing the sentiments of many other veterans. “I am running to serve my constituents; to honor our commitments to our service members and veterans, to strengthen the economy and our national security. In the military, the focus is on mission, not on self. We need the same focus in Congress: on the mission of serving the citizens of this country.”

Tammy Duckworth, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot, is running for Illinois's 8th District. Photo courtesy of alumni.gwu.edu

Tammy Duckworth was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot serving in Iraq when her helicopter was hit by an RPG. She lost both legs and the use of her right arm. While still at Walter Reed, she began advocating for other veterans to get the care they needed, which led to an appointment as Director of Illinois’ Department of Veterans’ Affairs. After pioneering work implementing programs for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and homelessness, she was tapped by President Obama to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Now Duckworth is running for Congress in Illinois’s 8th District. Like McAleer, she too talks about “running to serve”:

“Right now, I’m living in what I call my “bonus time.” I should have died in a dusty field in Iraq when my helicopter was shot down, but my buddies saved my life. That experience allows me to be more fearless. I am running to serve – to be worthy of this second chance I’ve been given… I believe that we need more Members of Congress who understand what it means to be a servant to the public.”

Both McAleer and Duckworth supported repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and take their Army values to heart in their policy positions.


“What matters in the military are the desire and ability to serve, willingness to learn, commitment to accomplish the mission, courage, and integrity. These attributes are independent of sexual orientation. I’m proud that I supported fellow West Point grads in support of repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’; repeal made our military stronger.”


I am proud that our Armed Forces will never again discharge patriotic Americans because of their sexual orientation. Members of my family have served our country during every period of conflict since the Revolution, and so have gay and lesbian Americans. Women can also trace their service to the heroic Molly Pitcher. It’s taken far too long, but today America is stronger because now all who can do the job and love their country may serve in our nation’s military.

I’ve focused in this blog on two friends of mine. There are many more veterans running this fall, often against entrenched incumbents. They need your help, and your support. Do your research, find the ones who match your ideals and beliefs, and write a check.

Write a check? Yes, because that’s how you get elected in this country in 2012. We have to learn how to write $50, $100, and $250 checks to support those who will fight in Congress for our beliefs. It felt weird the first time I did it, while in my first civilian job – what, this isn’t even tax-deductible? But I’ve learned that this is every bit as important as voting. Get active. Get involved.

Congress in the coming years should have, not a record low number of veterans, but record highs. We can make that happen.




About Sue Fulton

Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton is a 1980 West Point graduate; former Army Captain; Executive Director of Knights Out; and Founding Board Member and Communications Director of OutServe.

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