Today’s Vets on the Hill started off with a private breakfast. The keynote speaker was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen Richard Meyer.
He retired in 2005 after 40 years of service, combat in Vietnam, and seeing the military through the beginnings of the long war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He spoke with humility about his service to his country, and reminded us of a statement he had made in 2005. “The outcome and consequences of this war will be more important than WWII.” The VFF members present heartily agreed.
And speaking of VFF members, we counted over 400 Iraq and Afghanistan vets in the room, ready to pass our message onto Congress. I was filled with pride to find that 49 of those members were from Minnesota. Only California had a bigger contingent.
The official media day started with a press conference next to Capitol Hill.
Having never been to DC before, the sight of so many famous buildings was a thrill. But the real excitement came when the press conference started with more than two dozen members of Congress. Of special note were Sen John McCain (quite possibly the next president), Sen Lieberman, an independent, and Rep Marshall, a Democrat.
Senator McCain talked about the left’s accusations that we veterans like war and want it to continue. He countered with a cold hard truth, that nobody hates war more than the veteran. Col Steve Russell, who led the battalion that captured Saddam Hussein, spoke of the false belief that you can support the troops but not the war. His analogy was a coworker who comes up to you and slugs you in the gut. He quickly says ‘nothing personal, I like you a lot, but that was for your boss’ Most of us vets in the crowd have experienced full well the slug in the gut from the anti-war crowd that quickly tells us they just hate our boss.
Next we commenced with a re-enactment of the storming of the beaches at Normandy. Over 400 men and women wearing identical tan long sleeve polo shirts roamed the halls of Congress in search of our elected leaders. We met with the supportive and disinterested, those who cleared their schedules for us and those who couldn’t be bothered to talk to combat veterans from their home districts.
For Minnesota, every congressional office was visited today. Sen Coleman welcomed us in to his office and spoke with us for more than an hour, constantly asking us what we had experienced in Iraq. Sen Klobuchar was apparently to busy to schedule an appointment with us, but we didn’t take no for an answer. 45 Minnesotan veterans walked into her office and politely asked when we could meet with our Senator. Her aide hemmed and hawed, first saying that she was in a meeting, and then saying that she didn’t know if she was available today. The charade was dropped when Sen Klobuchar herself came walking into the office. We asked for 10 minutes of her time, and then asked for 5 minutes of her time. She finally agreed to hear us out for a few minutes, but wouldn’t show us into her office. So we talked in the hallway. (She told us that as a junior Senator she didn’t have an office big enough to accommodate us. Apparently none of the several large conference rooms we had seen were available, so look for a Senate earmark to expand their office space.) We talked politely for the few minutes, she listened with the glazed eyes of those who feel they know better, and then we thanked her for her time.
I didn’t hear how the visits to Rep Ramsted, Rep Oberstar, Rep Bachmann, and Rep McCollum went, but I did see a dozen disappointed vets coming out of Rep Ellison’s office after he cancelled on them. Rep Kline gave us a great welcome, and when we overflowed his office he quickly moved us to a larger room. (Apparently the House has plenty of conference space) He thanked us for our service, and our trip today to DC. He said that for too long the only large groups on Capitol Hill were the Code Pink and the Out of Iraq Now groups. He said that our message and our presence in the capitol would strengthen his ability to fight for veterans and for victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rep Walz, my congressman, was either in a meeting or in Minnesota or unavailable. I literally got three different answers in 4 minutes time. Eventually we were told that he wasn’t in the office, but that we could meet with him back in Minnesota if we wished. We will be taking him up on that offer. Lastly we tried to meet with Rep Peterson. The very nice staffer in her office told us that she hadn’t seen him in over three weeks. She tried to find his legislative liaison for military affairs, but he was nowhere to be found either. Both were completely tied up with the AG bill, we were told. I sure hope she meant that as a figure of speech and not that some farmers have had him tied up for the last three weeks in a barn somewhere.
All in all, we accomplished the mission to take Capitol Hill by force if necessary, and get our elected leaders to listen to us. I have no way of knowing if we changed any minds, but we certainly made some people wake up to the fact that today’s combat veteran will continue to fight for our country long after we have left the combat zone. Of the 400 vets in attendance today, I would not be surprised to see a dozen or more inside the halls of Congress within a decade. And though simply being a combat veteran does not guarantee rational thought (i.e. John Kerry and Jack Murtha), today’s Iraq and Afghanistan vets have seen firsthand the importance of never letting the violence in those parts of the world spread to America.
While watching CNN in the DC airport, I was excited to see our press conference this morning. My excitement quickly turned to simmering anger, as the reporter introduced the event as ‘an early morning campaign rally for Sen McCain’.
Though we cheered for McCain, the cheering was for his support of the surge and victory in Iraq, not for his campaign for President. I’ll give CNN the benefit of the doubt on this-they’re not biased, just incompetent.