This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 12, 2016.
First, let me say that I do not write this letter on behalf of all combat veterans, nor do I write it on behalf of veterans in general. Just like I would not presume all Americans thought, or felt like I do, I know that my brothers and sisters in arms also have different thoughts, opinions, and concerns. That said, although I only write on behalf of myself, I believe that I am not alone in my perspective – I believe there are Americans, both Veteran and non-Veteran, who have the same concerns, questions, and ideas that I have, so if I have been able to represent them – wonderful. However, I felt the need to write this of my own accord.
Second, I am a registered Republican. It appears you will be the Republican nominee. Congratulations for this auspicious honor. What a privilege it must be to run for the highest office in the country, and have the possible opportunity to lead our great Nation. I am humbled by your desire to serve this Nation and its people, and hope, that if elected, you can continue to build upon our Nation’s grand traditions and inspire its evolution and innovation.
That is the reason for this letter. I find myself in a quandary. I am a Republican, though truth be told I am probably 50% Democrat as well. I am socially, fairly liberal, but fiscally conservative. 11 combat tours taught me there are no absolutes for thinking humans, so to state, I am all party line would be absolutely untrue. I know, however, that I cannot vote for the likely Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. This letter is not to bash her, but I cannot in good conscience support a career politician who I believe lies and panders to whomever she needs to in order to be elected.
Unfortunately, I also am not comfortable voting for you, as I don’t really understand who you are and what you stand for, and what you think your presidency looks like. I am not comfortable voting for someone, just to vote against someone else – I don’t believe you run away from something, I believe you run toward something – or you don’t run. So, my rationale for the letter – I need you to convince me; an American who has served our Nation during combat; who has led America’s treasure – its sons and daughters – against its defined enemies; who swore to defend the constitution; and who has sacrificed most of my adult life in service (a sacrifice I am very proud of) why I should vote for you other than the fact that you aren’t Secretary Clinton and you will make America great again.
Let’s start there – what does that even mean? Do you really believe that in eight years of a president’s term, he has so weakened us that our Nation is no longer great? I am not a fan of our current leader, but I know that one person, no matter how toxic, does not weaken a Nation as diverse and as powerful as ours. I don’t apologize and I know our Nation has done some “not great” things, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great Nation. We were, and always will be, an experiment in what great can be, and what it can look like. We will falter with issues like slavery and we will succeed by putting men on the moon. We are not great one day and not great another, and your presidency will not make us greater, nor did our current president weaken us.
As a nation, we evolve. We learn sometimes painful lessons. We adapt as situations change. We fail and we triumph. We do not, however, ebb and flow in our greatness. Our mere existence proves our greatness. We were never expected to succeed as we have, we are great. That doesn’t mean we have to be better than anyone, or worse – we can be great on our own. I believe my children are great, but not in comparison to your children, or anyone else’s children. I just think they are great, for very tangible reasons, but not because of comparative analysis. My belief that my country is great is the same – I have very tangible reasons I think it is incredible, and none of them are tied to the shortcomings of any other country.
So, do you really mean you don’t think America is great now? That two terms of a president diminished our greatness? Do you really believe that you can make America great, or do you believe you can help lead us through another evolution in our history?
This brings me to my next question: who are you as a leader? I have watched you for some time, read your books, and really tried to observe you through this difficult process – and the truth is – I don’t know you any better as a leader than if I heard of you yesterday. I believe this is actually your intent. I don’t think you want folks to know who you are as a leader, but I don’t know why, and this really confuses me. For example, you recently said, that the way you act now during primaries is not how you will act during the general election. You in fact said that you would be more “Presidential”. Why wouldn’t you be who you are all the time?
As a young leader in the Army, I realized that those you led had to know you three-way: first, they had to know who you were as a person – what you liked, what you didn’t, that your yes meant yes and your no meant no, that you had interests beyond the Army, and even that you had a first name (even if they couldn’t use it). Second, they had to know you as a Warrior – that you would dig a fighting position with them, do physical training with them, private and suffer with them, shoot, and know and do what they did. You didn’t have to do it as well, or even half as well, you just had to show them you would; finally, they needed to know you by your rank or position – you were a platoon leader, an officer, etc.
My thought was, and still is, if you have the first two, the last one comes naturally and you don’t have to even think about it. However, if you are missing either of the first two, they will still follow you because of the last reason, but it will only be out of obedience, not from leadership. They will follow because they have to, not because they want to. The men I followed in the Army, some of whom you will command, men like GEN Allyn, GEN Nicholson, MG Clarke, and MG Becker, I followed because I knew who they were and that they were Warriors. They were never one person in one setting and another person when the conditions changed. Their actions changed, but they were always the same men. So, Mr. Trump, who are you as a leader? You want to lead our Nation, shouldn’t we know who you are all the time?