Monday, June 25, 2007

Keeping Real Time with J.B. White, Veterans for Biden New National Coordinator

Iraq War veteran J.B. White doesn’t waste any time when it comes to explaining why he and other Veterans for Biden support Sen. Joe Biden for president. “The thing about Veterans for Biden is not only do we support Biden, but we believe in him as well. We believe that he’s the one who can get his Iraq plan implemented,” said White. “There’s a big difference between having a viable plan and being able to implement the plan. Biden’s position in the Senate and his experience with foreign affairs make us feel he’s the one who can get it done.”

White, a native of McComb, Miss., was appointed National Coordinator of Veterans for Biden last week. The former Marine and Army National Guard member will work out of Biden’s Iowa campaign headquarters in Clive, where he’s been the past three weeks organizing the new outreach group.

Armed with a desire to protect and fight for his country, White initially joined the Marines just prior to the Gulf War in 1991. White’s basic training on Paris Island began two days before President George H.W. Bush’s Jan. 15 bombing deadline. “I joined the Marines with the intent of going to fight in Kuwait. We had no idea back then that the war would be over before I finished basic training.” White finished his six-year contract of the Marines but chose not to re-enlist. “I’m not a big fan of peace-time military service.”

Then along came the war in Iraq, and White joined the Army National Guard in 2002 with the intent of completing Officer Candidate School. Before he had a chance to begin OCS, his Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. Consequently, White didn’t have a trained MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), so he was assigned one based on his civilian experience as an English teacher. “Since I didn’t really have a trained specialty while in Iraq, I became a jack-of-all-trades. Primarily, I was involved with convoys and security logistics.”

After White’s deployment to Iraq, where he served with the 168th Engineering Group from February of 2003 to March of 2004, he returned home to serve his fellow veterans. White was named director of Hope for New Veterans, a pilot program in New York City. The program was designed to help troops adjust to civilian life upon their return by providing them with housing and resources to help minimize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

When he found out that Biden was running for president, White knew his next calling. “I’ve known about Joe Biden since I was 21 years old and always thought he would make a great president,” said White, who is no stranger to politics. Before re-enlisting in 2002, White was a graduate student studying political science at the University of Southern Mississippi . Seven months later, White was tabbed national coordinator of Veterans for Biden’s campaign.

Since he’s been part of Veterans for Biden, White’s convictions behind supporting Biden have strengthened through discussions among other people involved with Veterans for Biden. “When we hear Senator Biden speak about Iraq and other issues, we identify with him. Having been on the ground in Iraq, we can identify with what he’s saying,” said White. “When I hear others talk about Iraq, it’s like they’re talking about it in the abstract, as if they’ve never really been there and that they’re reading a script about Iraq.”

One of the main reasons White supports Biden is his plan in Iraq. “Biden’s plan is the best way to get our troops out in a responsible manner. We do have to worry about what we leave behind. His plan has bipartisan support and, having been on the ground in Iraq, I feel his plan if far better than any other plans I’ve heard pitched.”

Another reason White is supporting Biden, a reason that separates him from some of his Democratic rivals, is Biden’s "‘yes" vote in the Senate supporting the Iraq war supplemental funding bill. “By voting ‘no’ to fund the troops, the other Democrats are essentially doing exactly what George W. Bush does all the time, and that’s talk a good game about funding the troops but then not delivering for us.”

“Every troop in Iraq is on 'real time,' not American political time. Real time means what’s going to happen in the next five minutes,” said White. “A part of the Iraq supplemental bill was also funding for the MRAPs that will save up to two-thirds of the lives in Iraq.” MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Armored Vehicles, are new armored vehicles capable of protecting troops against the deadliest roadside bombs in Iraq. Nicknamed the “Bull,” these vehicles have already been tested by the Pentagon and were awaiting funding approval attached to the supplemental bill.

As White noted during the interview, “Any ‘no’ vote could have delayed the production of the MRAP by a week or a month. When I go on a convoy in Iraq, I’m not thinking about the politics at home, I’m thinking about whether or not I’m going to get my ass blown off in the next five minutes. If it hadn’t been for Biden, I’m not sure if anyone would’ve mentioned the MRAP issue. Biden definitely understands the next five minutes.”

The production of MRAPs was not a new initiative but had been pointed out last fall by White’s good friend, Paul Reickhoff, author of “Chasing Ghosts,” contributor to “Huffington Post” and founder of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans for America. White indicated that many veterans have voiced their concerns about the current administration's record of ignoring their needs and how issues like these keep getting shoved under the rug -- until something like a Walter Reed incident surfaces.

When asked why he thought this might be the case, White said, “I think that everything in Iraq was going to be funded by Iraqi oil. Now that it’s not being funded by oil, we’re spending billions of dollars on this war. Now, everything is about cutting. When I was over there, the body armor issue came up. It’s been a real travesty how this administration has not only mishandled the strategic aspects of this war but the aspects dealing with the troops on a daily basis.”

It’s this travesty, along with other issues facing troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, that White hopes to tap into during the presidential campaign. White feels other veterans will be drawn to Biden’s candidacy because of he real-time issues facing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: “The bottom line is that our troops need protection in Iraq now, and if you look closely, Biden has shown the leadership to do what needs to be done now.”

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