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Veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan Become a Force in Politics

Representative Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the war in Iraq, speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Representative Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the war in Iraq, speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan Become a Force in Politics
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Today, Tammy Duckworth is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a candidate for the Senate.

Eleven years ago, she was an Army soldier flying Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq.

On the day after Veterans Day 2004, a grenade struck her helicopter. The blast destroyed her legs and severely damaged an arm. Those injuries and her experience as a soldier made her want to become involved in politics, she says.

“So I got this second chance at life, and I see my time now as a bonus. And that’s really allowed me to speak up without fear. And stand up for what I believe in – for what we all believe in. After all, what are the folks who don’t agree with me and my political adversaries going to do – blow me up?”

Duckworth is part of a small but growing force in U.S. politics: veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress includes 25 lawmakers out of 535 who are veterans of America’s two most recent wars.

In the history of veterans in Congress, that number is both small and large. In 1971, veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War made up over 70 percent of Congress.

Since then, the overall number of veterans in Congress has declined.

One reason is that a lower percentage of Americans – only about 2 percent -- serve in the military. In addition, most American voters no longer consider military service to be a requirement to hold elected office.

But soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly running for office and winning seats. They include four female veterans. Among them is Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

“And I stand here before you today because my buddies didn’t leave me behind. They literally lifted me up and carried me off the battlefield and saved my life. After everything they did to save me, I really feel that I owe them.”

Vets in Congress

Congress has the highest number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to serve in national office, says the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Matt Miller is the chief policy officer for the organization, as well as a veteran himself. Miller says veterans want to bring some of the leadership and cooperation skills they learned in the military to politics.

But he notes that military culture is not partisan – in other words, soldiers do not usually express a strong political point of view.

“The only left and right in the military is the person to your left and right. And that all that you hope for, that when light turns green, and there’s action that needs to be taken, that they have your back.”

Miller says that veterans who become politicians are concerned about soldiers after they return from service. He says top issues include veterans’ health and benefits, and the ability for veterans to continue their education.

They also advise the president and military leaders on conflicts, including those in Syria and Afghanistan.

“What I think they’re advocating for is getting the job done. And whatever that takes in getting the job done with the best-trained, best-equipped military possible. So I think that is where their heart would lie.”

For example, Miller says, leaving U.S. troops in Afghanistan longer allows the military to “get the job done.”

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly reported this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

grenade – n. a small bomb

adversaries - n. enemies or opponents

buddiesn. people who do some activity with you

partisanadj. strongly supporting one leader, group, or cause over another

We want to hear from you. What role do you think former soldiers can play in politics?