Director, Government Affairs
You may remember several columns ago, I mentioned that the AUSA Government Affairs Directorate was about to publish its sixth edition of the "Once a Soldier…Always a Soldier" book.
Indeed, it has been published and distributed to the members of Congress whose biographies have been added to the book.
We created the book for the 106th Congress and updated it for the 107th, 108th, 109th, 110th, and 111th Congresses. It features all the members of Congress who served in the Army.
It is designed to honor their service in the United States Army and to recognize the important contributions made to our nation by a unique and distinguished group of American soldiers. (Oh, by the way, it also provides a great reason to go to the Hill and puts AUSA on congressional bookshelves and desks.)
Creating the original book was not an easy task.
There were 100 members of the 106th Congress who had Army service, and we contacted each office to obtain biographical information, a list of current committees on which the member served, the history of the member's Army service and any awards and decorations earned.
We also asked for a current photo, a photo from their Army days, and a quote from the member stating what their Army service meant to them.
Collecting that information required monumental effort, especially when you consider all of the requests for information or time that flood a congressional office. Some offices could not get quotes, some could not find old photos of the member in uniform, and some failed to return any of the information.
Lots of phone calls and personal follow-up visits resulted in two pages for each member. Sometimes we had to tell one office that another member had provided a great quote and that it would be a shame for their member not to have one and, pffft, a quote was faxed over.
We persevered and once the book was published, we faced another daunting task. We wanted to present one of the books to each member of Congress with an accompanying paperweight engraved with the member's name and with the AUSA logo and the words "Once a Soldier…Always a Soldier." (What better way to keep AUSA in the forefront of a member's mind than to have a paperweight that connects AUSA, his Army service and holds papers down, in the middle of a congressional desk?)
After we managed to schedule appointments with congressional offices, Gen. Sullivan, Lt. Gen. Stroup and Lt. Gen. Rhame fanned out on the Hill to make the presentations. Those first hundred visits were the hard part.
When the 107th Congress was elected, the number of members with Army service went down to 94. One new senator and eight new House members had served in the Army.
The 108th Congress produced only 90 members with Army service – 17 in the Senate and 73 in the House. The 109th Congress had 84 members with Army service – 15 in the Senate and 69 in the House. The 110th Congress had only 80 members with Army service – 15 in the Senate and 65 in the House.
The 111th Congress has only 74 members with Army service – 12 in the Senate and 62 in the House. Of those, six were new to Congress and all six were House members.
So, this year we needed six new appointments to present books. Because of the new ethics regulations, the paperweights are no longer presented. It was fascinating to see the diversity of the new members and the differences in their Army experience. To a man, they were interested to see which of their colleagues shared their Army experience.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., dropped out of high school at age 17 to serve in the Army from 1972 to 1974 and in the Army Reserve from 1975 to 1979 during which time he obtained his high school diploma and used the GI Bill to attend college.
He later transferred to the Marine Corps Reserve and served in both Gulf Wars. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Parker Griffith, R-Ala., served in the Army Reserve from 1970 to 1973 as a medical doctor. His quote says it all: "During my time in the Army Reserve, I was afforded the opportunity to see first-hand the brotherhood, camaraderie and cooperation it takes to get through the toughest times. It was an education you cannot get in any classroom and has shaped the way I have lived my life."
Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., graduated from West Point and served in the Army from 1987 to 1990 and in the Army Reserve from 1990-2002. He said, "I will always be proud to have served in the United States Army – particularly in the 101st Airborne which has such a rich tradition."
Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho., served in the Army from 1970-1972. His quote said in part, "I was so fortunate to have served this nation in the U.S. Army, where I learned that no individual accomplishment or need is more important than those of your comrades and your team. I am humbled to have this opportunity to carry the ideals I learned in the military to the halls of Congress."
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., served in the Army Medical Corps in 1973 and 1974, most of the time in Korea. He serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee and he said, "Having served in the medical battalion of the military, I feel this has made me a better public servant to East Tennesseans and to my country."
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., served on active duty from 2000 to 2004 at Fort Hood, Texas, and also taught law at West Point. His quote was: "The people with whom I served were the finest I’ve ever met. My time in Congress will be dedicated to giving military members and their spouses all that they deserve in the service of our country."
A late addition to Congress who will be in the next edition of the book is Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who has spent almost 30 years in the Massachusetts National Guard.
His office has just received an AUSA welcome packet which includes a "Once a Soldier" book so that he can quickly find his fellow members who have worn Army green.
Every story of our Army brethren on the Hill is different, but the common thread is a desire to serve our great nation and an appreciation for what they gained as they gave of themselves to serve.
From medical doctor to attorney, from small businessman to state legislator, these great Americans have at least two things in common – a love of country and a willingness to wear the green uniform.
As each new Congress arrives, AUSA will continue to forge links between itself and the new members with Army service and inform them that there are others on the Hill who were "Once a Soldier…Always a Soldier."
Now for a shameless plug – you can purchase a copy of "Once a Soldier…Always a Soldier" on line at www.ausa.org in the e-store. Each purchase helps the government affairs budget turn a bit less red and get closer to green … uh, I mean black ink.