Veterans Are Essential Leaders for Alabama

By Bill Holtzclaw

If something makes you look up, look down. If something makes you look down, look up.

I was introduced to this little jingle during a patrol class at Jungle Warfare Training in Okinawa, Japan in 1988. “The Gunny”, our Chief Instructor, was a seasoned Marine Gunnery Sergeant who learned this jingle the hard way in the jungles of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. At first I thought, “Yeah, I’ll use this about as much as I’ve used the Algebra I was taught in high school.” But The Gunny had a way of bringing it home. Members of his platoon had lost limbs and worse, their life, to booby traps while patrolling in Vietnam. I recall him sharing that the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) soldiers were experts at setting booby traps and knew that if a Marine or soldier on patrol could become distracted they would wander into and trip a booby trap. Distraction was –and is—the key.

Thankfully in the legislature no one is setting booby traps that will result in the loss of a limb or life, but the saying – If something makes you look up, look down – certainly applies. And after all these years, I find myself still using my jungle warfare training, just in a different type of jungle. Every legislative session there are some intentional “booby traps” of another nature set and I find myself navigating through the distractions as well as the legislative process. I hope readers are not too surprised, but, yes, some of the intentional distractions are not only set by the members across the aisle, but also from within the same political party. Friendly fire, so to speak. To overcome these distractions I work hard to focus on the mission at hand. I know focused, short-term tactical decisions achieve the long-term strategic objective. I didn’t learn that in business school. I learned it while serving in the Marine Corps. Fellow service members know this as Mission Focus and Mission Objective.

These are but a few of the traits that Veterans bring to the table. Veterans possess many unique skills that set them apart. The lessons, experiences, trials and tribulations of your time in service translate into a unique perspective for the city hall, state house and even the U.S. Capitol. A perspective that is missing from many debates as the number of elected officials with military service is now at an all-time low.

Whether you served 3 years or 30 years, our community and country needs those that have worn the uniform to continue their service in the political arena. Make no mistake, working in politics can be both grueling and frustrating, but the rewards of making a difference for the people you represent simply cannot be matched. It is the strategic equivalent of securing the high ground. So I ask Veterans to please consider service in the political arena: If not you, then who?

Additionally, I would like to challenge Alabamians to find out who around them in their everyday lives are Veterans. Many of us think of Veterans as members of our father’s generation or our grandfather’s generation. It is important for civilians and older veterans alike to recognize the new faces of the new generation of veterans and start talking about their experiences. If we begin to recognize Veterans who are our neighbors, the older guys in our college class, the single moms or dads, the homeless guy we pass everyday on the street, the young guy in the break room at work, etc., then we as a state can begin to gain a better understanding of the challenges all Veterans face.

I want to thank the many Veterans organizations, volunteers, and professionals that are diligently working to support our veterans, old and new, and their families across the Tennessee Valley. From The Semper Fi Community Task Force to Still Serving Veterans to the VA Clinics, and so many other organizations working as a team with the single mission of supporting our Veterans. No doubt there is much work to be done and our challenges are demanding – from increased suicide rates among Veterans to assisting homeless Veterans – but we must remain vigilant and continue to support and help those who served us.

Semper Fi – Bill

Senator Bill Holtzclaw represents Madison and Limestone counties in the Alabama Senate and served for twenty years in the U.S. Marine Corps, which included combat tours in Iraq and Somalia. Follow him on Twitter for the latest legislative updates: @billholtzclaw