I never thought I’d see a day when a service member was attacked for standing up for our country, but that’s exactly what I saw after Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified on Capitol Hill last week. His credibility and his allegiances were questioned, simply for saying our democracy was at risk. To me, that sounds like courage.
I served in the Army from 2001 to 2006, deploying to Iraq in the summer of 2004. I was incredibly proud to serve alongside men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the idea that America and our democracy was bigger than any one of us.
Lt. Col. Vindman and I served in Iraq at the same time — he as an infantry officer, I as a combat engineer. He was born in Ukraine; I was born in New Jersey. But we took the same oath to serve the same country, our country, and to defend the same Constitution. And in Iraq, in October 2004, we bled on the same sand. I was shot in an ambush, fracturing both hips and herniating two discs in my lower back. That same month, Lt. Col. Vindman was wounded by a roadside bomb, earning him the Purple Heart he wore at his deposition last week — the same as the one I received.
Courage, not fear of a mean tweet
I wasn’t surprised that he showed the same courage and discipline in his service in the White House as he did on the battlefield, and again when he testified before Congress. He, like so many of us, was just concerned about doing the right thing — not about a mean tweet that might be aimed his way.
To see the way he was treated for his decision to comply with Congress’ request for testimony, with the president’s allies accusing him of being disloyal to his country and even a foreign spy, was eye-opening and gut-wrenching to me and many of my fellow veterans. It helped convince me that we need to put politics aside and have a conversation about the values that make our democracy worth fighting for. It isn’t our veterans whose loyalty we should be concerned about, it’s members of Congress.
Our president attempted to use his office to coerce a foreign government for help in his political campaign, and put our national security at risk by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid that Congress, a coequal branch of government, had already approved on a broad, bipartisan basis. Now, the same members of Congress who approved that funding say it’s OK for President Donald Trump to make that aid contingent on help for his campaign. How is that loyalty to your country?
Last time I checked, “liberty and justice for all” meant no one is above the law. Last time I checked, “for the people, by the people” meant that our democracy was not for sale. The accusations against President Trump are gravely serious, and it’s high time everyone in our country found the courage to start treating them as such.
Don't tear us down for political games
Veterans have frequently been the ones speaking out about this administration’s abuses of power — from former special counsel Robert Mueller to acting acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, and now Alexander Vindman. If we sink to the level of attacking the intentions of those who served our country and put themselves in harm’s way for our democracy, then I don’t know where we go next. Everyone I served with had our country’s best interests at heart and they are to be respected, not torn down for political games. The stakes are too high, and no one knows that better than us.
National character: Vindman's Trump-Ukraine moment was dark, but also inspired gratitude and hope
That’s why I and dozens of other veterans are launching the nonpartisan Defend American Democracy project. From Washington state to Washington, D.C., men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to stand up for our democracy are standing up again to call on Congress to do its constitutional duty — to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Our members of Congress swore the same oath we did, and have the same duty to protect what our veterans have put their lives on the line to protect for 243 years: our Constitution and our democracy, not politics. We’ve done our part, now it’s time that our elected representatives find the courage to do theirs.
Alan Pitts, a retired Army sergeant, served from 2001 to 2006. Follow him on Twitter: @A_Pitts515
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Veterans stood up for US democracy, now we ask Congress to do the same