As Americans across the country await the outcome of the presidential election, their appetites whetted by nearly two years of campaigning, few groups have more at stake than the U.S. military.
For soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, the election of a new American president also means getting a new boss whose decisions will affect their lives in very direct ways, including decisions that could put their lives in jeopardy.
“Not all Americans know what the military life is like or why some of us volunteer for it,” a Marine lance corporal who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Promises of pay raises and an increase in benefits have influenced the vote of some military personnel, the lance corporal said. But, the Marine added, “this will not affect my decision a whole lot.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., have expressed different views on military issues, especially on the conduct of the war in Iraq.
According to John McCain’s “Country First” campaign, the troops are needed in Iraq until peace and security can be sustained by a new democratic Iraqi government. Sen. McCain would also increase pay for military personnel and would offer bonuses and tax relief programs for those who are deployed. He would also increase the benefits for veterans and their families.
On the other hand, Barack Obama’s “Change” campaign wants to implement a rebuilding of the military for 21st century tasks, remove the troops in Iraq responsibly, increase stability in Iraq and provide better health care and family benefits to veterans. Despite their differences – and similarities – there’s little reason in this election cycle to assume that the military holds a common view of how the race should turn out.
Although “most [military personnel] seem to associate and affiliate with the Republican Party,” the Marine lance corporal said, “this upcoming election may see a new force of military Democrats being more vocal and supportive to the Obama-Biden slate.”
“Civilians have no idea what it feels like to be in the military,” a former Army ROTC corporal at the University of Tennessee at Martin said. “Neither can they stereotype a whole group of people as if we do not have individual minds,” said the former ROTC corporal.
Junior Kendra Hill is an outspoken Republican. She is black and comes from a military family. “I am a fiscal conservative. Socially I am liberal, but I identify with the Republican Party because of my family history within the oil industry,” Hill said.
Even though she is a Republican, she openly supports Sen. Obama. “This election is different. For this election, Obama has a plan to make some changes in America, a government reformation. He is the candidate of my choice because he is more effective and his campaign was conducted more securely than his opponent,” Hill added.
According to USA Today, a fall 2007 mid- primary campaigning analysis found that military personnel shifted their donations. In the 2004 election, Democrats received 23 percent of the contributions from military workers; Republicans got 77 percent. This year, 40 percent of their donations have gone to Democrats running for Congress and president. Republicans got 59 percent.
Sen. Obama led the candidates with 44 contributions worth $27,000, while Sen. McCain received $18,500 from 32 donors who listed the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy or National Guard as an employer.
According to reports, the shift could be related to the fatality rate in the prolonged war in Iraq. It could also be related to the increase of a young and diverse group of minorities enlisting in America’s armed forces.
For some African-Americans in the military, the decision about how to cast their votes in the presidential election was informed by Gen. Colin Powell’s endorsement of Sen. Obama.
“I feel as though Gen. Powell empowers black Republicans,” Hill said. “Gen. Powell is a reputable military officer and Republican. His public endorsement for a Democratic nominee, Sen. Obama, who has not served in the armed forces like his opponent, has made it easier for some Republicans to openly support Sen. Obama.”
Hill added, “I am black and I come from a military family. I can relate to Gen. Powell and respect his support of Sen. Obama. It made it easy for me to openly support Sen. Obama.”
“I really want America to look past color” the Marine lance corporal said. “Race should not be an issue even though I am sad to say that I am sure it will play a part.”
Additional reporting by Chable Bracken and Victoria Thomas