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Nonpartisan Group Teaches Vets How to Run for Office

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2011 – Ask most Americans what they they’d like to see in their elected officials, and they’re likely to rattle off a laundry list of characteristics: integrity, leadership experience, an ability to work cooperatively to tackle tough challenges, and perhaps most of all, a willingness to put what’s best for the country above their own self-interest.

These are the same characteristics that make America’s men and women in uniform one of the country’s most-trusted groups, polls consistently show, and why a nonprofit educational organization is encouraging more military veterans to consider running for public office.

Veterans Campaign teaches veterans how to run for federal, state or local office, Seth Lynn, a Marine Corps Reserve captain who serves as its executive director, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service.

The group has no political or ideological agenda, he emphasized. Its goal simply is to demystify the political campaigning process so the country can benefit from what he called a largely untapped source of “phenomenal leaders.”

“Military service is terrific preparation for being an elected leader,” Lynn said. It puts people in situations where success demands an ability “to put aside your differences with a group of incredibly diverse people with different backgrounds and opinions and from different parts of the country … and to do what’s best for the country.”

And veterans, particularly those who have served in combat, clearly recognize that “the enemy is the guy at the end of the battlefield, not the guy on the other side of the aisle,” Lynn said.

The Hatch Act establishes clear lines about what military members can and can’t do when it comes to partisan politics. They’re encouraged to vote, but are banned from soliciting or receiving political contributions or engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government office or while wearing a military uniform.

The result is that many veterans don’t know what’s involved in actually running for office.

“You have this great leadership experience, but at the same time, little campaign knowledge,” Lynn said. “That is where Veterans Campaign is trying to bridge the gap, to take this group of people who would make outstanding elected leaders but don’t really know much about actually getting there, and giving that extra step they need to become that next generation of outstanding leaders.”

Lynn cited the national trend, particularly since the 9/11 terror attacks, of public support for America’s military men and women. “There is a huge amount of respect and admiration nearly all Americans have for the young men and women who are going abroad and defending the country,” he said.

In many respects, the military is a self-selected group that has proven its willingness “to volunteer and go risk their lives for the United States,” Lynn said.

“And that is a terrific group of people you would want to have as leaders,” he added. “And we are beginning to see that America recognizes that and wants those type of people to be elected leaders.”

Lynn, a 2002 U.S. Naval Academy graduate who has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Okinawa, came up with the concept of Veterans Campaign two years ago at a Princeton University workshop for women considering running for public office.

That fall, Lynn helped to organize the first Veterans Campaign workshop at Princeton, followed by subsequent workshops after the organization became affiliated with George Washington University here.

The next workshop is slated for Feb. 11 and 12 at George Washington University. It will include discussions about how veterans fared during the recent elections, with several Congress members with military service sharing their own experiences, Lynn said. Another presentation will help participants “bulletproof their service record” to identify inaccuracies or inconsistencies that could hurt them at election time, he said.

The second day of training will be a “campaign boot camp” that focuses on nuts and bolts of running for office, such as how to start and finance a campaign and how to deal with the media, he said.

While lamenting the small percentage of Congress members with military experience – the lowest since World War II – Lynn said he sees change in the wind, thanks, in part, to Veterans Campaign.

“We have some incredibly talented young people who are thinking about possibly running someday,” he said. “It may take a few more [election] cycles for them to start running, but we hope to see an uptick in that.”

Ultimately, Lynn said, having more veterans in elected office will benefit the whole country.

“You really do have people who have a code of ethics that allows them to put the country before themselves,” he said. “Everybody on all sides of the political spectrum believes we need more of that in Washington right now.

“At the same time, we have a huge amount of potential for phenomenal elected leaders that we are not tapping into as much as we could,” he continued. “And we will have a much better situation in our government when we utilize and tap into this resource of phenomenal leaders.”

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