Republicans and Democrats are vying to expand the number of veterans serving in Congress, as the rate of ex-service members holding federal office has hit its lowest level in decades.
Veterans, who make up 17% of Congress, said getting people with military experience in office helps not only strengthen lawmakers’ understanding of complex national-security issues, but may heal some of the deep partisan divides.
“It’s good to encourage veterans to run because they bring leadership qualities, a sense of service before self, generally,” said Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado Democrat and a former Army Ranger. “But also one of the biggest values is that veterans tend not to fight each other, tend not to throw stones at each other and say bad things about each other.”
Currently, 91 veterans are serving in the 117th Congress, including 63 Republicans and 28 Democrats.
That number has been in decline since the 1970s, when the draft ended and the armed forces transitioned into an all-volunteer force. In 1973, almost 3 out of 4 members of Congress had some military service experience.
Today, there are roughly 1.3 million active-duty personnel, which equates to less than 1% of the U.S. population.
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Mr. Crow is part of the bipartisan For Country Caucus, which aims to “break through political dysfunction” to promote policies that put country over political party.
The caucus is currently chaired by Rep. Jared Golden, Maine Democrat and a Marine Corps veteran, and Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska Republican and a 29-year Air Force veteran.
The caucus was formed in 2018, after the midterms garnered the largest number of first-year military veterans to hold seats in Congress in more than a decade.
That cycle, Democrats spent heavily on recruiting candidates who were veterans or had national security experience, which helped the party flip key seats in several swing districts.
This year, Republicans are pursuing a similar plan with the party recruiting and shaping its top candidates to tout their military experience in hopes of gaining the majority in the lower chamber.
Some of the GOP’s most-watched candidates include Jennifer-Ruth Green, an Air Force veteran who served in the Iraq War and is running in Indiana’s 1st District; Wesley Hunt, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, running in Texas’ 38th District; and Jennifer Kiggans, a former Navy helicopter pilot running in Virginia’s 2nd District.
Ms. Kiggans will face Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, a 20-year Navy veteran, in a matchup of their military credentials in November.
Ms. Green said having shared military experience goes beyond party lines, in hopes of unifying a starkly divided Congress.
“As a military leader, I can bring unity because I don’t care to be the smartest person in the room. I just care that we have the best ideas and make sound decisions because of that, and I understand the human cost of war,” Ms. Green said.
Rep. Mike Garcia, California Republican and a former Navy fighter pilot, said veterans often run for Congress for their love of the country, rather than to be a partisan flamethrower.
“Voters appreciate that they know where veterans come from and know that our intentions are pure,” Mr. Garcia said. “We’re pragmatic. We’re not irrational. We’re not flame-throwing to make headlines, but out here doing our jobs because of our interest in national security and the interest of our families.”
Sen. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrat and a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, said military experience is also vital for understanding complex national security issues and foreign affairs.
He welcomed the campaigns of veterans around the country to run for Congress.
“The military experience brings a unique perspective, given the fact that we deal with a lot of foreign policy and defense-related issues,” Mr. Peters said. “People bringing that experience is a very positive thing.”