My Turn: Fewer veterans holding office

Published 12:08 am Monday, May 2, 2016

By Rodney Cress

At a time when the current administration has convinced themselves that America can still be safe if our military is cut to the bone, it begs to be questioned. We are still ranked No. 1 in military diversity, according to GlobalFirePower. Russia and China are at a very close No. 2 and No. 3. America has 120,000,000 personnel that are “fit” for military duty, compared to Russia with 47,000,000 and China with a strength of 619,000,000.

It is my hope that the new 2017 administration will increase substantially our military strength to ensure our freedom. This ranking isn’t just for military strength but for what the current capabilities are to include manpower, weapons, technology, air power, naval power, land power, fuel resources, logistical, financial and geographical.

Fewer elected officials have little or no military experience but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We also need members of Congress to have common sense and be able to look at the overall picture of American issues and needs. Having military experience is just a plus but that comes with necessary understanding of our national defense budget and what the items are and their capabilities. The 92nd Congress (1971-72) included 73 percent of its members who had served in the military. Today, veterans make up 20 percent of the Senate and just 18 percent of the House of Representatives.

Veterans serve in every state legislature, and of 7,383 state legislators, 1,040 have military experience — 260 state senators compared with 780 state representatives,.

One reason for the declining numbers is because of the all-volunteer force where far fewer Americans are veterans than during the post-World War II period and because there are fewer veterans among the general population. Today, veterans comprise only about 9 percent of the adult population, and after Vietnam, fewer prospective politicians looked to military service as a career path.

In order for more veterans to make their way into public office, they may have to start at a disadvantage because being deployed means they were pulled from their communities, giving them less chance of name recognition or raising funds to run for office.

As veterans of Vietnam and World War II retire from Congress, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are slowly becoming more influential on Capitol Hill.

Although only one half of one percent of the U.S. population have been on active duty since those wars began, eight House members and two senators are serving in the Reserves, and six House Members and one senator are serving in the National Guard. Military life generally builds character and leadership that could be an asset in Congress but by no means does it take away from a candidate that has never served.

Veterans are even underrepresented among congressional staffs, as vets account for approximately 3 percent of congressional staff members. But most Congressional offices have military personnel assigned to them on loan from the Department of Defense that are not included as regular staff.

I can easily vote for someone without military experience, and there are several incumbents and candidates that I personally know and have lunch or meet with often.  I respect their desire to take on the awesome task of being a public servant. They have already shown respect — or I believe will do so if elected — for those who have served in the military and assist them with veteran issues. I’m thankful for that.

Rodney Cress is a veteran and advocate for veterans issues who lives in Salisbury.

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