- - Monday, January 27, 2014

It’s amazing how some politicians are quick to support the troops in patriotic-themed photo ops, impassioned speeches and effusive press releases — only to forget about the very same people used as political props once they emerge as political rivals.

A case in point is Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, and Army Maj. Richard Ojeda, a decorated combat veteran and Mountain State war hero, together at the State of the Union in 2013.

Just one year ago, the two seemed like father and son as the senator hosted the major as his special guest. To the casual observer, a photo posted on Army.mil of Mr. Manchin in a crisp business suit and Maj. Ojeda in his camouflage Army combat uniform grinning broadly before an American flag, evokes memories of a deservedly proud Vice President Joe Biden with his Army officer son, Beau.

The senator lavished praise on the major at the time, proudly noting that “Major Ojeda is one of the most well-loved and active members of his community. He served this nation in uniform in both Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to serve through the organization he started, Logan Empowerment and Development.

His work and dedication to the Logan community is an inspiration to us all, and that is why I am so proud to invite Richard to represent West Virginia as my guest.”

The major was grateful and returned the favor. In the story from March 5, he was quoted saying, “Senator Manchin has been watching what we’ve been doing and he’s kept up on the things we have accomplished. It’s an honor to be invited to something like this. It’s something I would have never thought I would have ever got the opportunity to do.”

Mr. Manchin honored Maj. Ojeda as a West Virginia “favorite son” and even though they aren’t related by blood, all outward appearances suggested at least a mutual fan club, on the way to BFF (“best friends forever”) status.

What just happened when Maj. Ojeda stepped up last week to challenge Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, in the party primary?

From Mr. Manchin’s perspective, it’s now apparently “Major who?”

According to a story published in Politico, a Capitol Hill publication, on Jan. 24, it seems Team Manchin and his staff have developed something resembling selective amnesia, claiming that the senator didn’t know Maj. Ojeda before that night a year ago and hasn’t talked to him since.

Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said, “I know that [Manchin] supports Nick Rahall 1,000 percent, thinks he’s the best person to represent the district and thinks that his years of experience make him invaluable for his constituents.”

Nice. This sort of thing doesn’t just happen in West Virginia.

The White House had its own version in 2010, when President Obama and company stood proudly behind the military service of Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania Democrat, a retired Navy vice admiral.

Having personally served with then-Commodore Sestak in the late 1990s when I was a Navy lieutenant based in Naples, Italy, and he commanded Destroyer Squadron 14 deployed to the Mediterranean, his reputation as a razor-sharp, tough-minded warrior was well-deserved. With a doctorate from Harvard, tireless work ethic and boundless drive, he was a force to be reckoned with.

Team Obama learned that lesson the hard way, and tried to forget Adm. Sestak once he no longer served their agenda.

In a clumsy attempt to protect then-Sen. Arlen Specter, who bizarrely crossed party lines to run as a Democrat after nearly 30 years in the Senate as a Republican, someone in the White House allegedly offered Mr. Sestak an obscure political appointment in exchange for backing out of the Democratic primary. Adm. Sestak exposed the offer, which he called “an impeachable offense.” He beat Specter 54 percent to 46 percent, but lost to Republican Pat Toomey, a former House member, in the general election.

What are key lessons here?

First, all Americans ought to look carefully at policies and voting records of politicians more than their patriotic photo ops and speeches. If the president and members of Congress are consistently pushing massive cuts to defense budgets, steep reductions in benefits for the military and veterans, while simultaneously purging 200 senior military officers, their actions reveal true intentions. Forget about the flattering pics.

Second, politicians should stop using the military and veterans as mere political props. Nothing ever good becomes of it, and they just might live to regret it.

And third, don’t mess with Mr. Sestak.

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009.

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