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Hail to Whom? Democratic Candidates Have Little Military Experience

As the Democratic candidates for president continue to roll in, it's hard to miss the increase in gender, racial, and intellectual diversity. Less prominent, however, is the shared lack of experience in the armed forces among almost all candidates.

Many of the candidates currently running are career politicians who have never enlisted. Choosing among such outspoken advocates of progressive values is exciting, but the fact that whoever wins the election will become commander in chief is massively important as well.

After all, the presidency is the highest position of the most well-funded military force in the world.

Although the field grows daily, of the sixteen candidates competing in the primaries, only two have had previous military experience. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana had a seven month deployment in Afghanistan and continues to serve as a lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve.

Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman for Hawaii’s second district, is the only other veteran. Gabbard served in a field medical unit of the Hawaii Army National Guard in Iraq and was also deployed in Kuwait.

The only withdrawn candidate is also the one who had the most experience in combat and in commanding people in combat. Richard Ojeda was previously an army major and served as a West Virginia state senator until 2019.

It would hardly be a surprise if the general public was not aware of these nominees. Gabbard and Buttigieg are getting significantly less attention than politicians like Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, or Bernie Sanders. These candidates are highly qualified for many other facets of the presidency, but commanding the military is one of the most vital functions of the executive branch. Previous experience is especially important as we move further into tense international relations.

31 of our 45 past presidents have had military experience. This is an overwhelming majority, although the succession of such presidents is even more interesting. There are only two periods in American history during which there have been successive non-veteran presidents. The first was from 1913 until 1945. The second is right now, as both Barack Obama and Donald Trump never served in the armed forces. With the current roster of candidates, it's unlikely that the next president will be a veteran.

President Trump has used or threatened to use the armed forces in various capacities throughout his time in office. Most recently, he mentioned using military forces and funds in order to build his wall, despite claiming that Mexico will be responsible. In a highly criticized move, he sent troops to the US-Mexico border for further security. Whether his actions are justifiable or not, this demonstrates the type of power handed to the president when he or she takes office.

The United States is entering its 18th year occupying Afghanistan, continuing to intervene in the Syrian Civil War, and due to President Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, is constantly teetering on the edge of conflict with multiple foreign powers. There is also a major lack of support for veterans, particularly in how they cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and unemployment following their deployment.

Previous service is not the only unofficial qualification for president, nor is it more important than an understanding of the economy or views on social justice. However, it is equally as important. The armed forces remain deeply embedded in American political, social, and economic culture, and the increasingly tense situation America finds itself in makes the prospect of an experienced commander in chief more important than ever.