September 5, 2010
Enlisted Marine's Candidacy Unique, ImportantBy Kieran Michael Lalor
Marine Corps sergeant Jesse Kelly led a squad of infantry Marines during the initial invasion of Iraq, received the Combat Action Ribbon, and brought all the Marines under his charge home alive.
In late August, the six-foot-eight Leatherneck scored a major upset in Arizona's 8th Congressional District GOP primary. He beat fellow Iraq vet and former state senator Tim Paton who was heavily favored and backed by the Republican establishment in Arizona and Washington.
Now the twenty-nine-year-old Kelly, who manages projects for his family construction business, faces Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is seeking a third term.
Few Enlisted Combat Vets in Congress
Because Kelly was an enlisted serviceman rather than an officer, his presence in Congress would have a profound impact on national security matters.
Consider that barely twenty percent of our leaders in Congress spent time in uniform and the number of combat veterans is even smaller. According to a report by the House Armed Services Committee, only five percent of House members served in combat zones, and even fewer saw actual combat.
Also quite rare is the member of Congress who served as an enlisted man. Only about forty percent of the veterans in Congress were enlisted despite the fact that eighty-five percent of our military are enlisted rather than commissioned officers.
Thus, the rarest of all members of Congress is the combat enlisted man, who makes up only six percent of the veterans in the House and a microscopic 1.3 percent of the entire body.
In short, those who actually fight our wars are severely underrepresented in Congress.
Jesse Kelly would be the first enlisted veteran of the War on Terror to serve in Congress. For a variety of reasons, it is in the national interest to have in the House a critical mass of enlisted men who have had some trigger time during the ongoing war with radical Islam.
While generals and colonels craft the overall strategy of any conflict, the execution is done primarily by privates, corporals, and sergeants of the infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Because they operate where the metal hits the meat, enlisted men of the combat arms have valuable insights into equipment, tactics, and policies.
Moreover, much of the War on Terror is a counterinsurgency operation, which by its nature is decentralized. As a result, patrols are often commanded by corporals and sergeants, known as Non-Commissioned Officers or NCOs. Thus, many if not most life-or-death combat decisions are made by NCOs, not commissioned officers.
Perspective Needed in Policy Debates
The debate over the Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan highlights the desperate need for enlisted combat veterans of the War on Terror in Congress. Someone with a worm's-eye view that the impact-restrictive rules have on morale and a small unit's ability to accomplish the mission would be invaluable when questioning the Pentagon brass about the wisdom of current and future rules.
Likewise, most of the heated debate over the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals serving openly centers on how a policy change would impact unit cohesion and combat effectiveness. In other words, how would repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell" affect the enlisted men's ability to take the fight to the enemy. It would be wise to have a few enlisted combat vets in Congress when these issues are debated.
The enlisted combat veteran's voice is also desperately needed on veterans' issues. For example, the skill set developed and perfected by combat troops has little application in the civilian world. There are no help-wanted postings seeking SAW gunners, mortarmen, or tankers.
In fact, the non-combat soldier who worked stateside as a clerk for a colonel has a better chance at civilian employment than the combat grunt because the clerk is more likely to have obtained skills that matter on a civilian résumé. Adding insult to injury, the clerk, not the rifleman, is likely to have a security clearance, which can be an invaluable tool when veterans are seeking employment in the defense and law enforcement sectors.
This issue and others like it have not been raised, much less addressed because of the dearth of combat enlisted men in Congress.
The Democrat reaction to Jesse Kelly's primary win speaks volumes about the strength of his campaign. The incumbent started running attack ads against Kelly within hours of his primary victory and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen targeted Kelly by name as the sort of rock-ribbed Tea Party candidate the Dems would have to beat to hold the House. If they didn't think the upstart Devil Dog was a big-time threat, they'd be ignoring, not attacking.
Kelly's surprising fundraising prowess, charisma, and ability to bluntly tell it like it is as only a Marine sergeant can have turned his once-long-shot campaign into a contender. Because national security is the most sacred responsibility of the federal government, combat enlisted men like Jesse Kelly must be well-represented in Congress.
Kieran Michael Lalor is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Founder of Iraq Veterans For Congress Political Action Committee.