American service members are patriots not props. Politicians forget that at their peril | Aryanna Hunter

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

Standing on the worn brown carpet at the Phoenix, Ariz. Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) I raised my right hand and declared that I stood ready to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States.”

Aryanna Hunter (Capital-Star file photo)

At 18 years old I had no idea what I was in for, I just knew that I wanted to help support my country after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

A couple, short years later, on March 19, 2003, I remember standing behind about 30-40 soldiers in a 20-foot Conex shipping container.

Peering over their shoulders to catch a glimpse of a small television sitting on a metal desk then-Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush, speaking to the world and telling them that we were prepared to invade Iraq that day.

He said, “The peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you.”

Already standing in the sands of the Middle East, that felt insurmountable especially because I didn’t agree with why we were invading Iraq. 

The war in Iraq always felt like a war of political expedience.

This year as we are navigating a pandemic and still wanting to show our remembrance and honor for those who died while in service to our nation, I logged on to participate in the first of its kind virtual Memorial Day event hosted by the Veterans Breakfast Club.

I couldn’t help but think about the men and women I served with in the United States Army who made the ultimate sacrifice in those deserts a world away.

Those of us who returned home (no matter the generation or conflict) often think about why them and not us. It’s in these moments that I am often renewed in my dedication to ensure that our veterans and military are taken care of. 

While listening to Todd DePastino, a historian and executive director of Veterans Breakfast Club, recount the meaning behind Memorial Day and where it came from, I heard from him how important those who lost their lives in combat were to the American people. Today, we live in a much different time. 

Following Todd’s remarks and opening words from the executive director of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall were a plethora of western Pennsylvania elected officials recounting a far-off family member’s service to our country or a “Happy Memorial Day” said in front of an iPhone camera.  

Ahhh, there’s that political expedience again. 

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Another opportunity for said politician to talk about themselves instead of those who lost their lives in defense of our great nation. With a little bit of effort each of these politicians could have read the names of those in their communities who lost their lives in a conflict thus showing how close to home these losses are. 

This political expedience of veterans and the military is exactly what President Donald Trump has been doing since he took office.

Next month, even with the pandemic still looming, the president and commander in chief has recalled all 1,000 of West Point’s graduates to hear his self-appointed commencement speech.

This selfish act on top of his failed military parade, the banning of our transgender military members, using “his military” to help build a failed border wall, and so many other statements and failures to list.

Needless to say, the president uses the military and our veterans as his own political prop. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one.

Democrat and Republican alike, I gotta tell you, I am fed up with politicians who just show up to events because the word veteran is included or has a statement to make because they think it will further their place within this particular constituency. 

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As the 2020 campaign ramps up, I fully expect to see politicians locally and nationally utilize members of our community as political props to further their standing within the military and veteran community.

What I and I am certain many others will actually be looking for is action to go along with those words along with a healthy dose of authenticity. 

Remember this – most of us joined and learned the importance of belonging to something greater than ourselves. That is still important to us so if you lead with that, we may just follow you.

Opinion contributor Aryanna Hunter, of Pittsburgh, is an Iraq War veteran, author, advocate, and founder of What a Veteran Looks Like and MeTooMST. Her work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.