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Honoring Dual Duties: Legislators and Service Members

By Casie Vinall
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2003 – The nation's citizen-soldiers wear two hats. While maintaining civilian jobs, these men and women also serve in the armed forces.

The National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Meeting and Exhibition in San Francisco recently recognized members of the reserves and National Guard among its legislative ranks.

Matt Rexroad, a senior consultant in California's Assembly Minority Office, was one such citizen-soldier recognized at the conference.

Rexroad was activated Jan. 14, traveled to Kuwait in February, and served between Iraq and Kuwait, returning July 25.

Rexroad was assigned to the 1st Reconnaissance Company, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and said the force continues to serve in Babylon and near Baghdad. He said the Marines from his unit that are still over there are "in (his) prayers every day."

He signed up for the Marine Corps when he was in graduate school. For the next 13 years, Rexroad served mainly as a force reconnaissance operator in military intelligence.

"I always thought the Marine Corps would be a good challenge," he said. "They sent me to some of the most elite training programs in the world as a reconnaissance Marine -- military free-fall school, all kinds of things, and I loved it."

Rexroad has been serving in both civilian and military spheres. He said his military duties have overshadowed his other responsibilities as a husband and city council member.

"This whole experience was very costly to me," Rexroad said. "I lost thousands and thousands of dollars, and I've been married for two years. I've been gone about eight months of that time with the Marine Corps. I'm in a situation now where I've missed more votes as a city council member than I've cast.

"So it's been very painful for my wife and for me professionally," he continued, "but at the same time, hopefully I made a difference in Iraq."

Massachusetts state Rep. Brian Golden of Boston was another citizen soldier honored. Golden has been serving in the Army for 10 years. After graduating from law school, he went into the Judge Advocate General Corps in September 1993. After completing a three-year active duty tour in 1996, Golden became a reservist.

Golden was mobilized and deployed in December 2001. He served in Bosnia until June 2002, returned to the states, and immediately faced re-election.

He explained that some service members deployed to Bosnia ended up supporting operations in the Afghanistan theater, and Bosnia slots had to be backfilled with other reserve component members. Golden describes the transition from overseas military service to re-election as "brutal."

"There was nothing good about it, except the ultimate result a win," he said. "It is not the optimal way to live, and you couldn't do that multiple times in life."

Living in Eagle Base, Bosnia, Golden described the environment as a "very, very tight operation" with little movement within the area.

"You live for six months basically in a cage," he said. "It's not a terrible lifestyle within the cage, but your whole world revolves around a two-square mile setting with concertina wire and chain-link fences."

Coming out of that rigid lifestyle back into the civilian world, he said, involves a "readjustment period (that) can be somewhat difficult," Golden said. However, he added, he has kept perspective on the situation. "Bosnia is nothing compared to what these men and women are going through now in Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom," he noted.

When U.S. forces mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Golden was again called to active duty in March 2003 to serve in the Army Operations Center in the Pentagon.

As a legislator for the past five years, Golden has seen the importance of having legislators with military experience. He said his civilian job is enhanced by his military experience, by the "substantive good you accomplish on something like a peacekeeping mission in a country that was torn apart by genocidal war," he said.

This service is an "inherent good" according to Golden. Additionally, he said military experience is beneficial, since legislators "are making decisions, a lot of decisions, about policy that affects reservists and their families very directly."

As an Army lawyer, Golden said he is often called upon to discuss re-employment rights and the protections for reservists coming off active duty and returning, or attempting to return, to the civilian jobs.

"I had to make the case in the post-9-11 world," he said, "there was extraordinary dislocation in so many people's lives and that the chaos of 9-11 impacted lots of people," he said. Golden said that while he was only affected "in a marginal sense," the attacks affected all Americans.

"Whether you have to deal with the added inconvenience of having to stand in long lines at airports or go through security checks in courthouses, you name it," he said, "the average civilian is affected in a lot of different ways by what happened on 9-11. And I'm no different, but the military status has meant I'm impacted in a few additional ways."

During his absence, Golden was not able to vote, since an absentee vote in his legislature is not an option.

"You have to be there to push the button yourself on the House floor when there's an up or down formal roll-call vote," he said, "and I could not do that for six months."

"This wasn't ideal to be gone for six months," Golden said. Absent for 25 percent of his two year term, Golden agrees this is not an ideal situation. However, he said, "life is full of inconveniences and imperfections."

Golden considers his being away from the legislature a "small price to pay," stating that everyone, from "a plumber, a teacher, a nurse, a cop, a firefighter and a mechanic," is vital to the reserves.

Keeping in touch with home was difficult, he said. However, Golden said he bought "thousands of first class stamps and I wrote notes every night before I went to bed" in Bosnia.

"I wrote notes to stay in touch with people," he said, making an effort to "do the best (I) could, albeit from half a world away."

Golden only had 10 weeks to put together his re-election campaign when he returned.

"I was in the Army, and I was in Bosnia, and I couldn't raise money to essentially defend myself," he said, "so I had to throw it together. I came back in the end of June, and the election was the second week of September, so I had just under 10 weeks to throw it together."

Honored by the conference, Golden said, "whether you're in politics or not for a living, it's always nice when people say nice things about you. But at the end of the day, this is work I've been doing long before I was ever involved in elected office and it's work that, to the best of my ability, I'll keep doing and I don't feel that any particular recognition is necessary.

"I would be quick to add that any attention paid to somebody like me for serving, should quickly, hopefully lead to thoughts of others who are serving in far more difficult and arduous and painful circumstances," he said, "because that's what I think of every day I'm here.

"I'm very happy, and honored and grateful to play the role that I play, and I'll go wherever the Army wants me to go," he said, "whether that's the basement of the Pentagon, or Bosnia, or places yet undetermined in the future And I can accept that, and I welcome it, even when it's though at times it may not be the optimal situation in one's life."

(Casie Vinall is an intern working for DefendAmerica.mil in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Reserve Maj. Brian Golden folds a flag that flew at the Pentagon on Memorial Day 2003 as part of a Memorial Day remembrance. He was among reservists and National Guardsmen honored recently at the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Meeting and Exhibition in San Francisco. In civilian life, Golden is a Massachusetts state representative. Photo courtesy of Rep. Brian Golden  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps reservist Matt Rexroad stands next to a traditional crossroads sign at Camp Commando, Kuwait. He served recently returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom, and is a senior consultant for the California's Assembly Minority Office. Rexroad was among reservists and National Guardsmen honored recently at the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Meeting and Exhibition in San Francisco. Photo Courtesy of Matt Rexroad  
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