National Guard October 2012 : Page 26

New Battlefield By Ron Jensen A growing number of Guardsmen believe their skills and experience could be of service to the nation in another tough arena: politics ETIRED MAJ. GEN. Bill Enyart is as surprised as anyone that he’s spend-ing the autumn bouncing along the campaign trail in southern Illinois. “It absolutely was not anything that R | I’d really considered,” he says when reached by phone in between cam-paign stops. Enyart had been the Illinois adju-tant general for nearly five years and until a few months ago was planning on remaining in that post. But the Democratic candidate for the state’s 12th Congressional District dropped out of the race for health reasons and Enyart’s cell phone rattled with a text message asking if he was interested in stepping in. “I realized that I was ready to take on a new task,” he says, so he traded his military uniform for a suit and became a politician. Should he win in next month’s election, Enyart will add to a growing number of Guardsmen and former Guardsmen in Congress. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., and Rep. Adam 26 Na tional Guard

New Battlefield

Ron Jensen

A growing number of Guardsmen believe their skills and experience could be of service to the nation in another tough arena: politics<br /> <br /> RETIRED MAJ. GEN. Bill Enyart is as surprised as anyone that he’s spending the autumn bouncing along the campaign trail in southern Illinois.<br /> <br /> “It absolutely was not anything that I’d really considered,” he says when reached by phone in between campaign stops.<br /> <br /> Enyart had been the Illinois adjutant general for nearly five years and until a few months ago was planning on remaining in that post.<br /> <br /> But the Democratic candidate for the state’s 12th Congressional District dropped out of the race for health reasons and Enyart’s cell phone rattled with a text message asking if he was interested in stepping in.<br /> <br /> “I realized that I was ready to take on a new task,” he says, so he traded his military uniform for a suit and became a politician.<br /> <br /> Should he win in next month’s election, Enyart will add to a growing number of Guardsmen and former Guardsmen in Congress.<br /> <br /> Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., are all serving in the Guard and on Capitol Hill. All entered Congress in the last three years.<br /> <br /> Other current lawmakers also have served in the Guard, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the co-chair of the Senate National Guard Caucus; and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Rep. Joe Wilson. R-S.C. <br /> <br /> This increased Guard presence on Capitol Hill is occurring while the number of former military members in Congress has been declining for years. In 1969, nearly 90 percent of House and Senate seats were held by people who had served in uniform. Today, according to the Congressional Research Service, it’s only about 20 percent.<br /> <br /> Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, a member of the Illinois National Guard, is running as a Democrat to represent Illinois’ 8th Congressional District.<br /> <br /> Having experienced Guardsmen making the laws of the land is a plus, said several candidates interviewed.<br /> <br /> “I think it’s fantastic,” says Duckworth, who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004. She later served in the Department of Veterans Affairs after an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2008.<br /> <br /> In fact, she said, she doesn’t care if Republican Guardsmen are elected. <br /> <br /> “I hope we have a lot of Guard and Reserve win,” she says. “We know how to get things done.” <br /> <br /> Wounded as she was in the war, Duckworth says she will make her thoughts known if Congress begins to move toward a war footing again. She thinks the decision to invade Iraq was made without enough forethought.<br /> <br /> “If we’re going to decide to go to war again,” she says, “we need to have a real honest discussion about the cost of war. It better be for the right reasons.” <br /> <br /> Stivers, a colonel in the Ohio Guard, was elected to Congress two years ago and says being a Guardsman Has helped him serve the people of his district.<br /> <br /> “The National Guard has given me the best leadership training in the world,” he says.<br /> <br /> The “minuteman mentality” is a benefit to him as he shifts from issue to issue in Congress. Plus, he says, he recently completed two years of study at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.<br /> <br /> “I wish that every member of Congress had to get the strategic education that we get in the War College,” he says.<br /> <br /> He agrees with Duckworth about the need for more citizen-soldiers and airmen in the Congress no matter which side of the aisle has a seat for them.<br /> <br /> “I want more members of the Guard to run for Congress,” he says. “If we had more Guardsmen in office, I think we would function better in Congress.” <br /> <br /> As a noncommissioned officer, Palazzo says it would be good to have a few more NCOs serving in Congress.<br /> <br /> “If we see something wrong . . . We don’t complain about it,” he says. “We get up and do something about it.” <br /> <br /> In fact, he and others think having military veterans would be a good thing. Those who have served are often approached by colleagues for some insight into military issues.<br /> <br /> “That happens frequently,” says Stivers.<br /> <br /> “They have good hearts,” says Palazzo, “but they don’t really understand the nuances of the military. I wish more people would come and talk to me.” <br /> <br /> But it’s not only Congress where Guardsmen serve in public office. State legislatures, city councils, school boards and any other public body you can name is populated somewhere by Guardsmen, who serve their communities both in and out of uniform.<br /> <br /> Retired Brig. Gen. John Walsh, who served four years as the Montana adjutant general and also is a former NGAUS vice chair-Army, is running for lieutenant governor of the state on the ticket with Steve Bullock, the state’s attorney general.<br /> <br /> “It was a surprise to me,” he says of his decision to shed the uniform he’d worn for more than 30 years.<br /> <br /> “It’s an opportunity, however, to still serve the people of Montana,” he says.<br /> <br /> He sees it as a chance to do for the state what the chief of the National Guard Bureau does for the entire Guard.<br /> <br /> “I’m really enjoying it,” he says. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Guardsmen.”<br /> <br /> Although he never considered it before, Enyart now thinks his Guard service has been a good prelude to Congress. He led 13,000 people and had a budget of $650 million.<br /> <br /> He also sent 3,100 people to a war zone, so he knows how to take responsibility.<br /> <br /> “I’ve had to appear in front of the legislature and work across the aisle with both parties to get things accomplished,” he says.<br /> <br /> As adjutant general, he was the face of the Guard and required to do plenty of public speaking.<br /> <br /> As he talks, he seems to come to a realization about his entry into the political world.<br /> <br /> “Interestingly enough,” he says, “the last five years have been good training for it.” <br /> <br /> Ron Jensen can be contacted at 202-408- 5885 or at ron.jensen@ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> FRONT LINE Retired Maj. Gen. Bill Enyart, who is running for Congress, speaks with veterans at a veteran’s memorial in Belleville, Ill., last month.<br /> <br /> James McDonnough<br /> <br /> “If we had more Guardsmen in office, I think we would function better in Congress.”<br /> <br /> —Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio <br /> <br /> Colonel, Ohio Army National Guard

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