In presidential elections, conventional wisdom suggests that veterans of the military, when presented with a choice between a candidate who has served in the armed forces and a candidate who has not, generally support the one who spent time sacrificing life and limb for their country. This was the case for many years in this country, and those who were thought to have avoided military service in any way were chastised in the mainstream media (e.g., Bill Clinton).
However, in the 2004 campaign, when Republican incumbent George W. Bush beat Democrat Senator John Kerry for a second term in office, that mold was broken. A group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched a series of ads that called into question Kerry’s decorated service record in Vietnam, and many feel Kerry’s failure to counter those attacks effectively cost him the election.
This year’s campaign for president features two Democratic candidates who have no military record (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama) and a Republican candidate who not only served in Vietnam and has a long family lineage of military service, but who was also a prisoner of war, tortured and held captive by the Viet Cong (John McCain). The natural assumption is that many current young veterans who have served in our five-year conflict in Iraq would gravitate toward McCain.
But that hasn’t necessarily proven to be the case, and we found a group of young veterans who understand what conventional wisdom suggests and are actively campaigning against it. This week, in the crucial Democratic primary state of Pennsylvania , where the April 22 primary could decide a Democratic candidate, we followed two young men who are Iraq war veterans and are a part of an organization called Veterans for Obama.
Manny Arevalo, 24, is the deputy director of operations for Veterans for Obama’s statewide Pennsylvania outreach, based in Philadelphia. Phil Nelson, 25, is a representative for the group’s outreach in Harrisburg, a new recruit to the cause who joined in January after spending five years in the army. Both were members of the 82nd Airborne unit, stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and now find themselves working the telephone lines, speaking at local events and meeting people at Obama rallies, all in the hope of letting people know that they are veterans of the Iraq war and feel very strongly about the potential presidency of Senator Obama.
It’s Obama’s position of “setting a deadline to get out of Iraq, and for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people to take over,” that interests Nelson. He served one tour in Iraq, moved to a tour in Afghanistan, then went back to Iraq for a second tour. He suffered from the U.S. military’s stop-loss policy, which delayed his departure from the military for one year. “It was hard on me,” he confessed, “but it’s really hard on families, too.”
Arevalo was drawn into Obama’s camp in much the same way, seeing Obama as a candidate he felt could best end the war in Iraq. Both are doing what they can not only to address issues for veterans by their candidate, but also to show others that there are veterans who do indeed support the candidate who himself is not a veteran. “This [election season] has shown that veterans’ issues can’t be pigeonholed into one platform,” Arevalo told us. “There are veterans who are teachers, who need health care and who have concerns that extend beyond the war. And we are here to show that Obama is the best candidate to address all their concerns.”
When MTV News held “Choose or Lose Presents Clinton & Obama Answer Young Veterans” last month, it was clear that there are many issues on the minds of our newly created class of Iraqi war veterans, and Arevalo and Nelson have put their thoughts into action.
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