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Fewer veterans, but they still seek to serve

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From page A12 | November 11, 2012 | Leave Comment

The issue: Take time Sunday to honor our nation’s military members

For someone to symbolize this Veterans Day, you couldn’t go far wrong choosing Tammy Duckworth, who was elected to Congress on Tuesday to represent Chicago’s northwestern suburbs.

Duckworth will become the first female veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan to serve in Congress. She was a captain in the National Guard and a helicopter pilot when she was shot down in Iraq in 2004, losing both legs and the partial use of her right arm.

SHE IS NOT UNIQUE serving in Congress after being badly wounded in wartime. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was tortured by the North Vietnamese after he broke both legs and an arm. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia lost both legs and his forearm to a grenade in Vietnam.

What is unique about Duckworth is simply that she’s a veteran. Once veterans dominated Congress; from the 1960s to the mid-1970s, veterans made up about three-quarters of the U.S. House, according to political science associate professor Jeremy Teigen of Ramapo College in New Jersey. He told the military newspaper Stars & Stripes that number is down to 25 percent and falling.

In fact, after World War II, it was hard for a nonveteran to get elected; military service was practically a prerequisite for political office. But with the end of the draft, the advent of the all-volunteer army and the concept of a leaner military, the percentage of Americans who have served has fallen precipitously. Less than 1 percent of the population has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans groups were hoping this election would arrest a 32-year slide in the number of former military members in Congress. It might have happened. Some House vote counts are still incomplete that could add two more members, but the Associated Press says 16 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were elected Tuesday, nine of them first-time officeholders.

MOST OF THE congressional vets are Republicans, but anyone who expects them to march in lockstep on the issues is badly out of touch with our modern military. They are as opinionated and diverse as the democracy they chose to defend.

Veterans Day asks little of us other than we take a moment to observe the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th month to mark the moment in 1918 when the armistice brought an end to the blood and carnage of World War I.

Our veterans have given so much more.

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