His values don’t reflect what we were taught.
By Richard Allen Smith, Veteran, writer, advocate
As a US Army veteran, I’m troubled by the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Republican candidates that support him, especially Rep. Lee Zeldin who I served under in the 82nd Airborne Division.
During the 14 months I served in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008, I spent part of my time helping immigrants serving in our Army apply for their US citizenship, including immigrants from South and Central America, as well as predominantly Muslim countries. The things Donald Trump has said about these brave men and their families are simply unconscionable.
During his campaign, Trump has frequently criticized veterans and servicemembers that were not immigrants as well. He cast aspersions at prisoners of war, saying “I like people who weren’t captured” in reference to Sen. John McCain. He attacked the parents of Gold Star Army Captain Humayun Khan (see image), who heroically fell in the line of duty. And he has implied that Sergeant Bowe Begdahl should be “shot,” without a trial, an idea I find unacceptable and one that Zeldin, should condemn as well.
While he says he stands up for veterans, Trump’s actions show a deep apathy, and arguably disdain, for our service to our country. His intolerance towards other groups — Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, women, the disabled, and more — shows that he simply does not possess the values that so many of us fought to defend.
I served under Zeldin in the 82nd Airborne Division as an enlisted JAG Corps soldier. Zeldin was my officer in charge prior to deploying to Afghanistan. The Army and the 82nd Airborne Division instilled in both of us the values of inclusiveness, integrity, and respect that I keep at the forefront of my life to this day. Both Trump’s record and rhetoric, as well as Zeldin’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim statements, are in direct contradiction with those values.
In my time working with Zeldin, I found him to be perhaps the most unremarkable and mediocre military officer I ever served with. I was not alone in that assessment. I share this not because I revel in criticizing my fellow soldiers. In fact, it makes me deeply uncomfortable.
But what makes me more uncomfortable is when Zeldin uses his service to promote a version of patriotism that is inconsistent with every value I learned from the military, and then uses the political platform he’s been given to support fundamentally un-American things and people who threaten the very America that we swore to defend.
Mr. Trump has demonstrated that he is willing to attack veterans and their families, fan the flames of anti-immigrant and racial hatred, and mock women. Zeldin stands with him, and even calls President Obama a “racist.” I hope Zeldin will tell voters what it is about those values we learned in the Army that he has since found to be so distasteful that he must support a candidate that stands against them in every way.