Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Vets on the Hill, Part 1

Vets for Freedom hosted our Vets on the Hill event Tuesday morning, featuring Presidential Candidate and Senator (Sen.) John McCain. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham also attended, along with other leading pro-war Congressmen and Women.

The VFF event was extremely well-organized, pulled together by an excellent staff led by Pete Hegseth, VFF Executive Director. VFF covered the travel expenses for over 400 Iraqi and Afghanistan vets, most of whom arrived in DC Monday night and reported for VFF duty at 0530 Tuesday morning. We were addressed by Hegseth, his key staff, and Georgetown Men’s Basketball Head Coach John Thompson III and Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.

Hegseth and Thompson both made humorous references to Hegseth’s Basketball career under Thompson at Princeton, during which Hegseth never played in a game. Thompson said his goal was always to help his young men achieve their goals, and since Hegseth’s was to serve in the Army, Thompson made sure that happened by keeping him on the bench.

General Myers gave an excellent talk about courage and sacrifice, and was the first of many speakers Tuesday who said that, as we served our country in war overseas, so the country needed us to continue to serve, in the war for public opinion and policy here at home.

At 0700, we were bused to Senate Park for the outdoor event, to feature McCain, Lieberman, and other congress people and participants in the VFF Heroes Tour, which stopped in DC yesterday and concludes in NYC today.

Numerous mainstream media outlets covered the outdoor event, as did Amie Parnes for Politico:

Several hundred veterans stood in the cold drizzle Tuesday morning for a man they called their hero.

“You can have your Tiger Woods,” David Bellavia, a former Army staff sergeant, told the crowd of pro-Iraq veterans. “We’ve got Senator McCain.” 

Milbloggers and their readers should be very familiar with Bellavia, a Silver Star decorated combat Vet who’s just published a gritty account of his combat experiences in House by House. His reference played off an earlier description of what it means to be a hero, and how often our society views sports figures as heroes and ignores those who risk all in service to their country. I found it astonishing, and gratifying, that John McCain waited patiently as both Pete Hegseth, VFF Executive Director, and Bellavia, gave short speeches before Hegseth introduced McCain. Bellavia is running for Congress, as are several other VFF members, and many people (including Hegseth) are suggesting Bellavia should receive a Medal of Honor.

Just as a quick aside, as Hegseth was amplifying on the Vets for Freedom mission and members, he momentarily could not come up with what was missing from his description of VFF members as Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines. By the time he recovered and added, “Sailors,” McCain had grimaced and made a gesture towards himself, much to the amusement of the Vets assembled.

Parnes summarized McCain’s brief remarks:

John McCain, (R-Ariz.) the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, did not disappoint. At a pit stop at the Vets for Freedom rally outside the Capitol before appearing on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain, called Army Gen. David Petraeus "one of [America's] greatest generals."

He also thanked the veterans. 

“I just wanna say what you know so well,” McCain said. “No one detests war more than a veteran. But the veteran also knows the consequences of defeat means greater sacrifice and greater numbers who are wounded and killed. You know better than any the consequences of defeat.” 

The 480 some VFF members present clearly appreciate the very pro-victory and pro-military stance McCain has always demonstrated, by Sen. Lieberman, who followed McCain, got us all fired up. As Parnes reported:

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), who have both endorsed McCain's candidacy and  joined him on stage, echoed his sentiments. 

“Do not underestimate the contribution you have made on the political battlefield at home,” Lieberman said. “Do we want al Qaeda and Iran to win a victory in Iraq?” 

“No!” the vets screamed.

He followed that by asking if we wanted to win, and the response was deafening. That’s why we took the hill yesterday, to advocate Congress to let us do just that.

But Lindsay Graham got the biggest response with this one liner:

“You want to know who wants you to come home more than anybody?” Graham continued. “Al Qaeda because you’re kicking their ass.” 

Just before the outdoor event concluded, Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, a fellow POW with McCain at the Hanoi Hilton, took his lkarge brimmed cowboy hat off and saluted those of us in attendance.

Then we headed on up the Hill to take the message to Congress: Let Us Win. More on that in Part Two, along with some photos.

(Thanks to Rich Lowry at The Corner, who linked to Politico’s Greg Pollowitz’s link to Parnes.)

Blackfive noted the VFF event yesterday, linking to This Ain't Hell, where Jonn Lilyea summarizes the event with video of the speeches, and plenty of good photos. (Better than the one’s I got standing in the front row. Beer to anyone who can find me.)

Newsbusters Kevin Mooney posts an interview with Hegseth.

Other blog coverage:

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