Friday, June 29, 2007

'Our Second Call to Duty': Iowa Democratic Party Courting Veterans

The GOP has traditionally owned the military veteran vote. But if you were to ask anyone at last weekend’s Iowa Democratic Party Veterans' Caucus meeting, odds are you would get a different answer.

“As a patriotic American, I can't help but be a part of the Democratic Party,” said Joe Stutler, Army veteran and Linn Count liaison for the veterans caucus. “As a veteran, it bothers me greatly to see how our veterans and current military are treated in this country, and I would feel as if I left my brothers in arms behind in a hot zone if I didn't speak up and support them.”

Sensing Stutler is not alone, but rather, a microcosm of discontent regarding how veteran issues have been consistently ignored by politicians, the IDP formed the Armed Forces Veterans’ Caucus. One pre-Vietnam War veteran even went so far as to exclaim: “If you’re not an activist under the Bush administration, you need to be resuscitated.”

The immediate goal of the outreach group is to organize Iowa veterans and to elevate veteran issues during the presidential caucuses. "This is an historic time in our country, and I urge you to answer this 'second call to duty,'" says chairman Bob Krause. "Your country needs your involvement now as never before.”

The caucus is not only concerned about the current influx of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also wants to make sure that those veterans who served in previous wars and peace-time duties are not forgotten. To bridge the multi-generational veteran factions, the group adopted the slogan, “Never shall one generation of veterans abandon another.” A few of the Vietnam and Korean War veterans in attendance not only voiced their concerns about the current problems and travesties facing the post-9/11 veterans, but also worry that their issues will be forgotten in today’s political discourse.

Democratic presidential hopefuls also have sensed a shift in veterans’ allegiances to the GOP and have been actively targeting veterans in and out of Iowa. Last weekend's meeting was attended by representatives from the campaigns of Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards and Barack Obama. Time was allotted at the beginning of the meeting for the representatives to speak on behalf of their candidates. While the representatives from the Dodd and Edwards’ campaign went over their respective candidates' veteran talking points, Biden and Obama’s people used their experiences as military veterans to illustrate their support.

Presidential reps from Obama, Dodd, Edwards, and Biden campaigns join IDP Veterans' Caucus chair Bob Krause (center) at meeting in Riverside

Iraq War veteran Stephen Dunwoody, who is Obama’s deputy veterans outreach coordinator in Iowa, told how and why he felt personally connected to Obama. While working at a campaign stop in Davenport, Dunwoody was approached by a decorated Vietnam veteran, who saw his monthly veterans benefits cut from $2,300 to $800 a month when he was diagnosed with cancer. He wanted to talk to Obama, but given the size of the audience, Dunwoody couldn’t make any promises. Nonetheless, Obama ended up speaking to him personally and assured the veteran he would have his staff look into his predicament.

J.B. White, another Iraq veteran as well as Biden's national coordinator of veterans, summed up his support with a paraphrase from Biden: “If I had $10 and veterans needed nine of those dollars, I’m going to give them those $9.”

After all the campaign reps finished, Krause made it clear that all the Democrat hopefuls would be given an equal opportunity to submit their specific proposals to the caucus, which will publish them on its site.

The rest of the meeting was dedicated to discussing and revising the group’s charter, developing promotional and organizing efforts, and brainstorming ideas on how to boost membership. A sense of urgency pervaded the group as one of the members indicated, “We need to strike while the iron is hot.” Others, including Joe Stutler, shared this sentiment, “The rights and freedoms I knew in my youth are being eroded, and the current bunch running things seems to have forgotten about ‘We the People’,” said Stutler. “We feel an obligation to support those who sacrifice for our freedoms. Without those who served before us, us, and those who follow our boot prints, there would be no ‘We the People.’”

To learn more about or to join the IDP Veterans' Caucus, go to the group's website. The next meeting will be held in Des Moines on July 28 (go to site for details and to sign up).

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