Lt. Eddie Quan and I worked our way through a crowd of thousands of local Iraqi citizens who had shown up to vote in the first real election this town had seen in decades. Eddie and I pushed our chain of command to allow us, Alpha Battery, to hold a community vote to select the members of the new Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC). Many units simply hand selected the people they wanted on the NAC, and we did not feel that this was right. Like many of my fellow soldiers we were still under the belief that our mission in Baghdad was to bring the opportunity for "freedom" to the Iraqi people, and elections were a critical part of that.
Eddie and I witnessed dump trucks so crowded with locals that people hung onto the sides as they came riding into the Teacher College where our soldiers were hosted the elections. Iraqi's were playing drums, singing songs, and celebrating as if their national soccer team was playing in the World Cup. They were willing to deal with the incredible heat, the lack of power for the air-conditioners in the gymnasium where we held the vote, and even the fact that we postponed this election night by one week. The week prior we were not prepared and had to cancel the event because we never in our wildest imagination expected this type of turn-out.
It was an overwhelming experience to be in charge of this event, providing security to my fellow soldiers, trying to coach the candidates to say something other than just their name or tribe, and working to keep straight the ballots in a language I could not read or speak. At the same time, many of us soaked in what was a unique and inspiring event.
We will never forget that day in Baghdad. No matter where members of Alpha Battery now stand on the War in Iraq, many of us agree that this was like nothing we had ever witnessed during elections here in the United States. Today that changes.
Today, I guarantee that every one of those soldiers who made it home alive will take the time to cast their ballots.
Numerous Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are returning home to find a newly found passion for politics as we have seen first hand how America's policies affect other nations. We have also seen first hand how Washington has failed to care for our injured friends returning, the families of those who sacrificed, and the veterans who have come before us. It is this driving force that makes veterans and military families a crucial community that candidates can not ignore.
I would like to applaud some Congressional candidates who have made a real effort to reach into and engage this community. I believe the benefit of their work will pay off and the results will speak for themselves.
Jim Esch (Nebraska - 02) launched a website focused on those veterans supporting him and pledging his support to them with a comprehensive Veteran policy.
Betsy Markey (Colorado - 04) put her support of our men and women in uniform front and center on her website and dedicated an entire section to her pledge and policy.
Bobby Bright (Alabama - 02) ended his campaign with a district wide "American First" Truck Tour which featured the support he has received from veteran groups and his promise to support him.
These are just a few of the candidates who showed their commitment to upholding the Sacred Trust our nation shares with its veterans, and there are plenty of other examples. The Democratic Party must hold these examples high, and shine a light on folks like Ashwin Madia , Eric Massa , John Buccieri , and other veterans running on our ticket.
Election 2008 and beyond offers us a chance to engage this community, and it can not end November 5th.
Go out and vote today, but please remember moving forward to push the candidates you are supporting to reach out to the veterans and military families in their communities. They will be a critical piece of our majority, and will stay on board once they see how we respect and honor their service.