On Friday, I watched as the two presidential candidates squared off for their first debate. As an Iraq veteran and as the Executive Director of the nation's first and largest group for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have a vested interest in the future direction of our foreign policy.
But in a debate that bounced from fiscal responsibility to off-shore drilling and nuclear energy, one thing was notably absent: any real discussion of the overall readiness of our military or veterans' issues. And this was supposed to be the debate on national security? Over and over again, we heard about Wall Street and Main Street. Well what about Range Road?
Seven years of war have pushed our military to a breaking point. But on Friday, critical issues such as recruiting woes, equipment shortfalls, the overextension of our reserve forces, and the spiraling rate of mental health injuries went ignored. Our troops are serving multiple, extended combat tours, and suicide numbers for the Army are tragically at a historic high. Alarmingly, most experts now warn that our military might not be able to respond effectively if another conflict were to break out.
While last week's near meltdown of the financial sector made it difficult to ignore the current economic crisis, I wasn't expecting the concerns of our military or veterans' issues to fall by the wayside entirely. It took a full 40 minutes before Senators Obama and McCain even began discussing the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. How much of the remaining time was devoted to veterans' issues? About five minutes.
And the only time the issues of our troops even took center-stage was when both candidates pointed to the bracelets given to them by mothers of service members who were killed in action in Iraq. That looked like two candidates using our troops as political props yet again.
Foreign policy and national security cannot and should not sit on the backburner. Let's hope Senator Biden and Governor Palin, who will both have sons serving in Iraq by Election Day, do a better job addressing these issues tonight. Our nation's service members and veterans will be watching.
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