Fresh from the battlefields of the Middle East, eight young veterans took on a new fight this week: bringing their stories and struggles directly to Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for "Choose or Lose Presents Clinton & Obama Answer Young Veterans."
And the verdict?
"I think it took a lot of courage to sit down with a bunch of vets," said veteran Ryan Groves, who lost a leg while serving in Iraq.
On the whole, these young veterans came away impressed that Clinton and Obama listened to their stories and addressed their issues.
"I think it's a real honor," said veteran Jessica McDermott, who served as a medical officer in Iraq. "[Senator Clinton] is very charismatic. She took time at the end to ask personal questions, and that means a lot."
That personal connection — the chance to look the senators in the eye and raise concerns about preparing soldiers both for battle and for life at home — made a strong, positive impression on these veterans.
"[Senator Obama] struck me as a very candid person, a very honest and real person," said Max Nitze, who served as a reconnaissance infantry soldier in Iraq.
"It seemed like he really cared about the veterans," added Cristina Correa, who served as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq and Kuwait. "I'm surprised by how honest he was."
These veterans weren't there for a love-fest, however; they came to get straight answers to tough questions. They grilled the candidates on proper training and gear for our troops, the future of our operations in Iraq and the lack of support for returning vets. Both senators offered assurances of additional resources for the Department of Veterans Affairs, pledges for transitional housing for veterans and details for plans to bring troops home from Iraq.
Obama scored with these veterans by guaranteeing he would provide transitional housing for returning vets. "He kept it straight up with me, and I feel good about that," said Herold Noel, who found himself homeless after returning from Iraq.
"But he also had a plan," McDermott added. "It wasn't just, 'I'm going to give you a house.' "
Meanwhile, Clinton won the veterans over with her deep and detailed plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 60 days of taking office.
"She knows what she's doing. She gave examples," said Ernest Johnson, an Army reservist who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"She really knew what she was talking about," Correa added.
But for these weary veterans who've seen so many promises come and go unfulfilled, skepticism abounded.
"In the end, it's got to get done," Groves said after meeting with Senator Obama. "I like the guy, but it's a tough job."
"I hope [Senator Clinton] does keep her promises to families and vets. We need all the help we can get," McDermott said.
"Words and actions are two different things," Marine Chris Weimer added.
"I've heard it before," Noel said. "We've just got wait and see how it comes out."
Still, the platform and the opportunity to bring their issues to light is something these veterans value.
"Regardless of whether [Clinton] gets elected or not, she's a senator and she's on the Armed Services Committee," Groves said.
"I think regardless of what happens, the platform we had here today will help to spread the word about our issues," Weimer said.
After watching "Choose or Lose Presents Clinton & Obama Answer Young Veterans," head here for additional material, including profiles of the Iraq veterans featured in the show.