“I know all the Democratic candidates running for president know we need to fulfill our obligations to our veterans, and this is something we need to take out on the campaign trail,” said Harkin. “This administration has cut back on veterans’ benefits, health care, and they have short-changed our veterans just about every term. We’ve had to fight tooth and nail for veterans just to get the money they need through appropriations.”
Boswell, a decorated Army veteran who served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War as an assault helicopter pilot, echoed Harkin’s sentiments. “Our returning National Guardsmen have been serving one, two and three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when they return, they don’t receive the same treatment as our active duty members, and that’s not right,” said Boswell. “They should receive the same benefits and our presidential candidates should be hearing this from you.”
Boswell warns Iowa veterans that we do not have one combat-ready brigade stationed in the continental United States
While speaking at the Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus Presidential Extravaganza at the Four Mile Community Center in Des Moines, Harkin and Boswell reiterated that veterans’ issues should be non-partisan and the government has a sacred contract with its veterans that must be upheld. “When it comes to serving our veterans, it’s up to our leaders to fulfill its end of the contract,” said Boswell. “A deal’s a deal.”
Quoting our first commander-in-chief, George Washington, Harkin helped illustrate the same point. “George Washington believed in a militia, a non-standing army. In order for America to be able to defend itself from future adversaries, we would need to be able to call upon the militia to take up arms and defend our country,” said Harkin. “Their willingness to do so will rest in large measure upon how the country treated those who took up arms before them.”
All of the Democratic presidential candidates had been invited to speak at the forum, but only Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., confirmed and spoke at the event. All of the other candidates, except Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, sent high-level surrogates to speak on their behalf.
The goals of the presidential extravaganza was to raise money for soldiers wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to raise awareness of veterans issues on the campaign trail. The event grossed $450, which will be donated to soldiers and families at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and Clinics throughout Iowa. “We did something important yesterday -- far beyond measuring the numbers that were in attendance. Simply put, we elevated veterans’ issues in both Iowa and the nation,” said Bob Krause, chair of the IDP Veterans’ Caucus. “You may not have noticed, but several of the candidates issued national position papers on veterans’ issues yesterday. That was an actual consequence of our Presidential Extravaganza.”
Hoping to capture the non-partisanship nature of veterans’ issues, the event was open to all veterans regardless of their political affiliation. "From the day you put on the uniform, you learn to take care of your fellow soldier. This is no different. Black, white, Hispanic, Republican, Democrat, Independent; we are all in this together. You may or may not like our politics, but you cannot deny that we are comrades in arms," Krause said.
“When I appear before veterans groups, I try to the best of my ability to make veterans’ issues non-partisan,” said Harkin. “We’ve made a sacred contract with veterans, and this contract should be honored by both parties.”
Early on, however, the tone of the event did shift when Harkin broke the partisan ice with a one-line quip. “Dick Cheney just had his sixth grandchild; that’s one more grandchild than deferments he had during the Vietnam War,” said Harkin, before setting his sights on GOP candidate, Mitt Romney. “Then there’s what Romney said the other day when equating the fact that running a father’s campaign is the same as serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. I see today he said he misspoke, which in real plain English folks is saying I really screwed up.”
Harkin expressed his concerns about the current administration’s ideology and how foreign policy decisions not only affect Americans, but the soldiers who are defending these policies.
“When power is used indiscriminately -- without conscience and without thinking about the consequences of that power and what that power is going to be ultimately used for, that’s what gets us into trouble,” Harkin said. “We ill serve our present troops who are in the field by continually putting them into harms way for purposes that are ill-defined.”
Before surrendering the microphone, Boswell and Harkin hoped to plant seeds in the veterans’ minds as they hit the campaign trail. They seized the opportunity to express some of their concerns. “Something else you should bring up to these candidates is that in the continental United States we do not have one combat-ready brigade. We have Code 1s deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but we don’t have any here,” warned Boswell. “One of the reasons for not having any C1s is that we’ve lost the backbone of the Army. Having already served one to three tours, many of our E-5 and E-6 sergeants are leaving the military, and it’s going to take years to fix this problem. They’re walking out because of the strain it’s putting on their families.”
“I’m concerned because the Army is falling back on recruiting, so what are they doing?” Harkin asked. “They’re scaling back requirements while seducing potential recruits with more money and other monetary inducements. I’m concerned that we will have a military that is made up of only the lower economic parts of our country, and I don’t think that’s good for our country. I think the sons of people like Mitt Romney, Harkin, Biden, and everybody else ought to be serving too.”