Veterans In Their Own Words: What It Means To Defend Our Country Against All Enemies, Foreign And Domestic

02/10/2017 01:19 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2017

Donald Trump has been the president of the United States of America for less than one month. As of Feb. 9, nine out of 35 nominees to top cabinet positions have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Since his inauguration, Trump has taken no fewer than 20 presidential actions, one of which has unleashed great controversy, as it is essentially a Muslim travel ban ― although this particular executive order is now in limbo. Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued their unanimous per curium opinion upholding a lower court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) to enjoin the enforcement of this executive order. The TRO was issued in response to a lawsuit brought by the Attorney Generals of Minnesota and Washington who requested that the travel ban be found unconstitutional. The Administration, however, continues to argue that the ban should stay in place and that the President has absolute power to issue the travel ban, as it relates to national security.

While the judicial and executive branches of our government engage in the dance that is the American democratic checks and balances of power, real lives are on the line. An Iranian infant, for instance, had been denied a life-saving heart surgery until the temporary hold on the ban. While the courts deliberate on the constitutionality of the ban, families are separated. While the courts deliberate, Iraqi and Syrian translators who sacrificed their safety and the safety of their families to help American troops may be killed, given that their Special Immigrant Visa applications are on hold. While the courts deliberate, America’s place in the world as the bastion of freedom and liberty for all, values that our troops have valiantly fought for, are at risk of being destroyed.

Below are stories from three American veterans. In their own words, they share what America and the Trump Presidency means for them and the sacrifices they have made for our country.

James Kelly, U.S. Army, served 1995 - 2002 & 2004 -2010

“The first week Trump was in office I was disappointed with the results of the election of 2016. Then the disappointment turned to anger when the executive orders started to roll out during the first week as I watched his cabinet picks start to be confirmed.

“I remember hearing rhetoric about Donald Trump draining the swamp. How is that possible with a Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) that used to be the CEO of Exxon? Wasn’t that the company that in 1998 had one of the largest oil spills in America that Time magazine rated 5th on the top 10 environmental disasters? I seem to remember also an ExxonMobil refinery exploding in Torrance, California in February of 2015. Cal/OSHA issued fines for workplace and health violations. Not to mention the same refinery had another explosion in November of 2016, and now the CEO of this company is Secretary of State. This is only the tip of the Iceberg when it comes to the problems we’re facing. Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) was pro Iraq War and proposed a national amendment to ban same sex marriage. Education Secretary (Betsy DeVos) her family contributed over 17 million to the Republican Party to get her a cabinet seat. She wants your child to be in a for-profit charter school and to steer education money away from public schools. Plus her brother founded Blackwater USA (the private security company that killed civilians in Iraq). Secretary of Health and Human services (Tom Price) opposes abortion rights, gay rights, environmental regulations and the affordable care act. He also thinks all women can afford birth control, wants to cut funding to National Public Radio, voted against the Emergency Mortgage Relief Act, and voted against the Food and Drug Administration regulating tobacco as a drug. Secretary of Transportation (Elaine Chao) is married to Mitch McConnell but it’s cool she’s in the Cabinet and he’s the Senate Majority leader, no conflict there. Secretary of Commerce (Wilbur Ross) founded International Steel Group, International Textile group, International Automotive Components group, and International Coal Group. He’s worth $2.9 billion so he can really identify with middle class Americans. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (Dr. Ben Carson) is the vegan brain surgeon that doesn’t believe in evolution. Secretary of the Interior (Ryan Zinke) is against the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulation, is anti-abortion and called Hillary Clinton the ‘anti-Christ.’ Secretary of Energy (Rick Perry) anti-abortion, anti-gay, supports the death penalty, vetoed a ban on execution of mentally retarded inmates. His family leases a hunting camp called ‘Niggerhead.’

“This just keeps going and going. The new administrations ultra-conservative agenda is pushed forward with every cabinet pick and Executive Order that paralyzes the American public by overwhelming them. It sows distrust in the media, polarizes the issues, and creates an “us versus them” mentality among the people he has sworn to serve. As a veteran who is proud to have served my country, Donald Trump’s administration does not reflect the land of the free or the country I love.”

Volker Block, U.S. Army, served 1970-1973

“Today I write to you as a sixty-six year old German immigrant, who entered America and became a citizen at age six, in 1956. I served in Vietnam in the early seventies and I’m trying to understand how any American Veteran could have voted for or continue to even support Trump as President. When Trump accepted the Purple Heart from a Veteran, he soiled it. This Draft Dodger had the opportunity to serve his country but he chose not too. When he was campaigning for President he stated, “ Hero’s don’t get captured”.  What would he know about being a hero?  NOTHING!!!!!  It makes me wonder if these Veterans are patriotic or just lazy, giving blind obedience towards Trump. Which leads me to being an immigrant from Germany. My father served Hitler in World War II. He lost everything dear to him, including his brother to the Russians and his father, mother, and sister to suicide. His losses were all due to Hitler’s campaign policies of hate for Jews, Gypsy’s and Communists.  These policies were the underlying reason for his success in becoming the Fuhrer of Germany. People believed Hitler and all the while, Germany was failing.  Hitler’s mind was similar to Trump’s, whose focus on building the wall to keep out the Mexicans and immigration policies to keep out Muslims is destructive to our nation. By fueling the hate towards these people as Hitler did with the Jews, Gypsies, and Communists, history is repeating itself again.”    

Stevie Simmons, U.S. Army, served 2007-present

“Never in my 40 years on this earth have I felt like I HAD to have a drink, but after one week, just one week of the Trump administration not only is a drink in order but a vacation would be nice. So as I’m going to crack open my beer, imagining it’s a Mai Tai, kick my feet up on my couch and change the view on my big screen to some exotic beach that I can’t find on a map. But before I do, let me say I’m pissed!

“With every executive order signed, every Presidential edition of teen tweets, every ‘alternative fact’ press conference, every Alt-Right agenda pushed forth I find myself growing more pissed.

“’Anyone but Trump?’ Was the popular slogan during the election and my answer is, ‘yes!’ Take a look around you cupcake, this is not a drill. This is not something that we can just sit back and wait to vote on or hope the next President reverses it in four to eight years. This administration is implementing laws that will have lasting effects on our children’s lives.

“Random thought: Is it me, or does it seem like this administration is positioning itself for war? The presidential national security memorandum and Gen. Mattis, possible foreign conflict? Gen. Kelly, maybe something to do with the American populous? Betsy DeVose, is the dumbing down of our youth priority? Or, an attack on the environment for profit via Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, and virtual shut down of the EPA? Is the immigration ban an attack on the Constitution? I don’t know, it’s all speculation, random ramblings.

“Meanwhile the ‘Trumppets’ on social media are turning a blind eye with sayings like, (In my whiny voice) “Everyone is saying Trump is this and Trump is that, but I don’t care”. How can any American sit back and not at least question what is going on? If you feel that there’s ‘nothing to see here, move along’ then the fruit punch must be damn good down at the ‘Peoples Temple’. These are all attacks on democracy. Do you not care about the country in which you live in? Well I do! I fought for this country, for my family, friends, the soldiers at my side, and even you. My fear and anger is not about a loss of an election that I had no fight in, it’s about losing our identity as a nation. Out of concern for my fellow man and for my country as a whole.

“Something good did come out of this week, the one thing I had hoped that a Donald Trump presidency would provide is slowly coming to fruition. One common voice against a common enemy. After all this is over we might possibly create a form of unity all over the world, or at least a mutual understanding. Or maybe I’m just a tree hugging dreamer like Bernie, but I ask what’s so wrong with dreaming a good dream after this nightmare? Ok, back to my beer, I mean Mai Tai.”

Each of these soldiers took an oath when they enlisted in the U.S. Army:

“I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Their promise to defend the Constitution should not be in opposition to their promise to obey the orders of the President. But, unfortunately, President Trump’s executive orders and other actions are doing just that. It is time that Congress uphold its Constitutional obligation to provide the checks and balances to the Executive branch. Our nation and its future depend on it.

James Kelly, 1999

*****

Barbi Appelquist was Co-Director of the California Veterans and Military Families for Hillary and serves as the Communications Director of the Truman National Security Project Los Angeles Chapter. She is also an attorney in Los Angeles and a member of 4D which supports progressive national security policy. The views expressed herein are her own. You can follower her on Twitter at @appelgardner.

CONVERSATIONS