- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2019

Military veterans trying to make the jump from the battlefield to the political arena can now report to a new academic boot camp.

Syracuse University has announced plans for a new seminar program designed to put veterans through a crash course on the ins and outs of starting, running and winning a political campaign.

Run out of the university’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the “Veterans in Politics” program “is designed to act on the opportunity associated with the affinity for civic engagement and public service demonstrated by those who have served the cause of the nation’s defense,” the central New York school said in a statement.

The program will take students through an academic boot camp of sorts, putting attendees through the paces on election law, public policy, campaign finance, voter mobilization and other aspects of a modern-day political race. The month-long course will be spread out between classroom work and online courses, culminating in a “one-week intensive residency” in some aspect of campaign politics or public policy, officials added.

The first tranche of 20 to 25 enrollees will begin the course later this year, Steve Lux, director of executive education at the university’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, told Military.com. The program will be open to all veterans, regardless of political leanings, but school officials will vet potential applicants for political viewpoints deemed too extreme by the university, Mr. Lux added.

Other schools are also addressing the issue — the University of San Francisco offers a “master of arts in public leadership,” using online courses and weekend seminars tailored to veterans and military families on public policy and the ins and outs of campaigning.

After a long, steady decline in the number of veterans serving on Capitol Hill as World War II and Korean War veterans retired, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the latter which has become the longest conflict in U.S. history, have increasingly captured the political limelight in recent years.

A total of 16 veterans entered Congress for the first time in 2019 — the highest freshman class in a decade.

Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth was elected to the House in 2012, eight years after the former Army lieutenant colonel became the first female double amputee of the Iraq war after the Army Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. In 2016, she unseated Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk to win her first term in the upper chamber.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has emerged as a major policy voice on military affairs after serving two combat tours as an Army infantry officer, first in 2006 to Iraq and again in 2008 to eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province. Mr. Cotton was elected to the House in 2013, and went on to defeat Democrat Mark Pryor in 2015 to secure his Senate seat.

More recently, Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw won election to the House in 2018, replacing retiring Rep. Ted Poe in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Rep. Crenshaw was a 10-year veteran of the Navy SEAL teams, losing an eye after his unit was hit with a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2012.

Even so, the percentage of veterans in Congress still is at just 19% of the combined Congress, down from a historic high of 75% in the 1960s at the height of the Vietnam War. Roughly 96 veterans serve in the current Congress, with Republicans holding a nearly 2-1 advantage over their Democrat counterparts.

The new program at Syracuse University is looking to put that trend back on an upward swing.

“Veterans are a natural fit for public office,” said Nick Armstrong, senior director of research and policy for the university’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. “They comprise more than one-third of the federal work force and have been shown to be more likely to vote, contact public officials, volunteer, give to charity, and work with neighbors to fix problems in their community,”

Part of the lack of veteran representation in Congress is due to the lack of preparatory programs such as the Syracuse seminar, Mr. Armstrong said.

“Their military service primes [veterans] for the responsibilities that come with public office, yet programs to support such a career are few and far between,” he said in a school statement.

The decline in veteran-politicians mirrors a decline in the percentage of Americans with military service in general: The proportion of veterans among the U.S. population fell to 7% of American adults veterans in 2016, the Census Bureau reported, down from 18% in 1980.

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