Sometimes the halls of Congress are not as glamorous as some of us might think. While you can see the Capitol dome from the steps of the Longworth House Office Building and bump into a few Washington, D.C., scions while grabbing a cup of coffee, you might also end up in an office where the view is of bare plywood and the warning beeps of a backhoe make it hard to conduct an interview.
Not so glamorous, but it’s definitely easier to navigate than Iraq’s “Ambush Alley.” Freshman Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania’s 8th District ran convoys along that road before soldiering on to the House of Representatives and his D.C. basement office. He is the only Iraq War veteran serving in Congress.
While serving with the 82nd Airborne Division from 2003 to 2004, Captain Patrick Murphy earned the Bronze Star as a JAG (Judge Advocate General’s Corps) attorney for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Wait — combat teams in Iraq have lawyers?
“I was responsible for about 1.5 million Iraqis under the jurisdiction of two courthouses. So I’d have to lead convoys up to courthouses, green zones or the airport and make sure we could implement justice there,” the 33-year-old congressman said.
While prosecuting criminals and training the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, Murphy decided that not only were things in Iraq not going according to plan, but that a viable plan didn’t exist. “Nineteen of my fellow paratroopers didn’t come home. I just knew we needed a change,” Murphy said. “But I never thought when I was in Iraq, in the 120-degree heat, that I would run for Congress.”
But back home in Pennsylvania, it became apparent to Murphy that civilian agitation for change in Iraq wasn’t working. Inspired in part by meeting President Bill Clinton as a college student, he decided to run himself. He won by just more than 1,500 votes in a district with more registered Republicans than Democrats, and became the youngest Dem in Congress.
Goal number one? To get our troops out of Iraq. As soon as Murphy was in office, the House leadership made sure he was involved in a war budget that included timelines for withdrawal.
“And now I’m getting criticized by our vice president because I believe in timelines and he says I’m unpatriotic,” Murphy said. “I’m not going to back down from anyone, not even the White House. I believe that people understand what is really going on. And it’s time to start bringing our troops home and refocusing on Osama bin Laden, who was the cause of the attacks back on 9/11. But he’s not in Iraq. He’s in Afghanistan.”
Murphy credits what he learned during his 2002 deployment to Bosnia — after the breakdown of Yugoslavia resulted in years of war and genocide — with helping him formulate a strong criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq plans.
“We got a coalition of countries together [in Bosnia] and did what was necessary to protect our forces,” he said. “We spent $6 billion. Fast forward to Iraq, where we’ve spent $450 billion without listening to military experts. It isn’t going to work.”
He’s not just fighting to end the war; Murphy has also been trying to improve things on the home front for active-duty troops, veterans and their families. He recently co-sponsored a new version of the GI Bill, which pays for vets to go to school, with Senator Hillary Clinton.
“I have a special bond with our troops and that’s why when I wake up every single morning, they are my motivation to make sure we change things and make it better for them,” he said.
That bond, and the fact that he is the only veteran of the war who can guide what’s going on in Washington these days, have made him somewhat of an at-large representative for active-duty soldiers and Marines from far beyond his district.
After an interview with MTV News, the congressman got ready for one of the most difficult aspects of his job: attending a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for another young soldier from his district.