Thursday, July 19, 2007

Three-Star General Promotes Obama as Next Commander in Chief

Sen. Barack Obama may not have been in Iowa Wednesday, but his presence was felt during his campaign’s “Commander in Chief” Tour. “Obama has not served in the military, but it was clear, when I watched him bond with our soldiers stationed in Africa, that Obama loves the military,” retired Air Force General Scott Gration (below) told a crowd gathered at the Solon Public Library. “Barack understands how valuable our soldiers are and the sacrifices they’re making for our country. He understands that this is a force that cannot be squandered and must be used at the right time to preserve our interests. That’s why Obama should be our next commander in chief.” Speaking on behalf of Obama, Gration has been on a 13-stop tour of duty in Iowa, where he’s been emphasizing Obama’s support for the troops while promoting his leadership credentials to be the next commander in chief. As an Air Force pilot, Gration flew more combat missions than any other American while commanding the operations overseeing both the northern and southern no-fly zones in Iraq. His aerial combat experience logs in at over 5,000 hours, including 983 hours of combat time over 274 missions in Iraq. Gration was also the Commander of the Task Force West during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But it was Gration’s personal relationship with the Illinois senator that convinced him that Obama was the best choice to lead the United States Armed Forces. Upon retirement from the Air Force, Obama asked Gration to accompany him on a trip to Africa and Gration agreed.

While in Africa, Gration and Obama went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela had been incarcerated for 18 years. “Mandala went in as an angry young man, but he took that time to learn and prepared to one day lead his country,” said Gration. “During his imprisonment, Mandela had an opportunity to think big about what he wanted his country to be and think big about what kind of nation he wanted it to be, which reminds me of a little poem my father once told me: Two men looking out from bars/One saw mud/ And the other saw stars.”

“Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama both see stars,” said Gration. "You can’t be around Obama for more than two seconds without seeing a guy who’s looking up. Here’s somebody who has a vision, hope, a dream for what America can be. Similar to Mandela, here’s somebody who has used his time and experiences abroad, serving as a community organizer, a constitutional law professor, and a state and federal legislator to help prepare himself to be our next commander in chief.”

Before taking questions form the audience, Gration ended his initial remarks with a final pitch for Obama’s candidacy: “He’s the kind of guy who can relate to people and is not afraid to say what’s right and needs to be said. Obama is not afraid to take on the issues, similar to when he had the courage to speak out in 2002 against the war in Iraq, which was not a popular thing to do at the time.”

Gration was followed by Seamus Ahem (below), a Marine from the Quad Cities and veteran of the Iraq War, where he took part in the Phantom Fury siege of Fallujah. Ahem first met Obama, who at the time was an Illinois senator campaigning at a small gathering in Rock Island. When he found out Ahem was a Marine and was going over to Iraq, Obama looked him in the eye and said, “While you’re over in Iraq, let me know if there’s anything you need.”

Ahem didn’t think much of the Senator’s gesture at the time, but while in Iraq, he was surprised when he received a personal e-mail from Obama asking if he was okay and if there was anything he needed. Ahem exchanged e-mail correspondence with Obama on six or seven occasions. “I could see from the e-mail exchanges how genuine Obama was,” said Ahem. Upon returning to Iowa, Ahem met up with Obama again, only this time he took him up on his offer and asked him for a letter of recommendation for law school, which Obama supplied.

During the question and answer session, Gration touched on the mental crisis facing the veterans upon their return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “After the Gulf War in ’92, we started to see that soldiers and their families were suffering emotionally. It’s about time we’re reaching out to these people, who are suffering from wounds you can’t see and often times last longer than the physical wounds,” said Gration. “Obama understands this and that’s why, as a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, he’ reaching out to our veterans to help make those programs work, so they won't have to suffer in silence like those folks who came back from Vietnam."

When asked whether or not he thought our military mission in Iraq was clearly defined, Gration said he didn’t think so. “I’m happy about all the debates that are going on in Washington. It’s helping force the issue of clearly defining our mission and what it is we need to accomplish in Iraq,” said Gration. “An unstable Middle East is not in the best interest of America. It’s in our best interest to have forces in the region to help stabilize the situation and support future diplomatic efforts.”

The session ended with a question about the divisiveness of party politics in the United States and how Obama would address this concern. “Unfortunately, we have branded ourselves into a huge corner. We are seriously divided against ourselves and we’re not even in a civil war,” said Gration. “Obama is somebody who understands this and would rather talk about things that unite us, not divide us. He’s into finding consensus in the ground above us, where these boundaries do not exist. Of all the presidential candidates, I think Obama’s the one who will make America united again and help blur those lines separating states into red and blue states.”


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