In the military, core values are a matter of life and death. Each service branch has their own set and they are ingrained--usually, from day one--in those who serve. In the Navy, I learned that honor, courage, and commitment were key to every single thing I did in every facet of my life. I also learned that if I strayed from those values, I could be putting my country, the mission, my unit, my shipmates, and my own life at risk.
I've long admired Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth for her drive, determination, and clear adherence to the core values inherent in so many combat veterans but clearly absent in her opponent, incumbent Senator Mark Kirk.
It seems silly that a veteran would make things up about their record. We all know that journalists, political operatives, and fellow veterans are going to be paying attention to a high profile U.S. Senate race. Yet, it has happened time and again. Specifically, it keeps happening time and again in the case of Sen. Mark Kirk.
Sen. Kirk has repeatedly lied about his record. He claimed to have fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom--that was a lie. He claimed to have been awarded "U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year"--that was a lie. And he said he deployed to Afghanistan--which is true, but he only spent three weeks there, as opposed to a full 6, 9, or 12+ month deployment. Misrepresenting yourself after being called out over and over again for half-truths is bad business. Much of this came out in 2010, but just this week it was discovered that his website was inaccurate again.
When I separated from the Navy after 12 honorable years, I took the values with me. I've never misremembered my record. I've never made up combat experience. I also generally don't talk about the things that I did on my deployments. I certainly never made things up about my occupation in the military. Tammy Duckworth doesn't do that either. In fact, she is well-known for taking a veteran to task over abuse of the benefits system. She did this because she values integrity.
And the thing is, I'm not some shining example. The norm for veterans is humility in service--the very definition of service is self-sacrifice, and putting others before yourself. You needn't look further than Boston-area Congressman Seth Moulton. When he ran for congress, he didn't mention that he was decorated for valor. Twice.
So why in the world does Senator Mark Kirk do it and get away with it? His repeated lies, not only about his service but foreign policy as a whole topic, are directly in conflict with the military's core values. I was but a lowly enlisted man and last I checked, officers are to be held to a higher standard. For what it's worth, senators should be, too.
In my mind, my fellow veterans from Illinois have an obligation. Do we want someone who lacks character deciding whether or not to take our country to war? Do we want a man who lacks integrity weighing intelligence to decide on matters of homeland security? Do we want someone who lacks the courage to give an honest account of his military service considering how we can best take care of the bravest among us returning home from war? I know I don't.
This is the year to right this wrong. Illinois veterans need to show every single one of the more than 40,000 new Sailors graduating each year from Navy Boot Camp, located in a suburb of Chicago, that we not only appreciate their willingness to serve, but that in return, we will hold accountable those who disregard the core values that keep them alive and the mission accomplished.
I hate to see my home state struggling with this. For me, there is only one choice. Congresswoman Duckworth is a war hero. We all know her story, and it is clear that she embodies the core values we expect to see in those who serve, whether in uniform or on the floor of the United States Senate.
In short, she's the kind of legislator the great state of Illinois--and its veterans--deserve.
Shawn VanDiver was born in Springfield, Illinois and attended Navy Boot Camp at Great Lakes, Illinois in February 2001. He currently resides in San Diego, CA but has maintained a lifelong love of the Land of Lincoln.