Iraq War veteran and anti-war Democratic candidate Paul Hackett attracted significant media attention roughly a year ago when he narrowly lost a congressional race in a heavily Republican Ohio district, setting the stage for a 2006 Democratic candidate onslaught of anti-war Iraq veterans. In an effort to combat the growing — and false — public perception that Iraq War veterans have lost hope for the mission, Wade Zirkle and other veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan formed Vets for Freedom and its Political Action Committee (PAC), Vets for Freedom Action Fund.
Set up in January 2006 by Zirkle, former Army National Guard Sgt. Mark Seavey and former Navy Corpsman Joe Dan Worley, Vets for Freedom was born out of the necessity, as they saw it, to present the true feelings of the troops and raise money to support their mission.
“There was a real vacuum for veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Zirkle, a decorated Iraq veteran now executive director of Vets for Freedom. “Too often, our views were being mischaracterized by the media and politicians … no one was speaking for what I felt was the vast majority of the veterans.”
What those veterans are saying through the group speaks volumes. Functionally, the primary purpose of Vets for Freedom is to support what its website calls “pro-mission, pro-troop” candidates — ones that stand in stark contrast to the likes of Hackett and John Murtha (D.-Pa). In its latest campaign commercial, for example, Connecticut veterans express gratitude to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.) for his tough stance on the War on Terror. They’ll also be going door-to-door in Connecticut and then holding a rally for the embattled senator, thanking him for his support of them and their mission.
For Vets for Freedom, that mission extends beyond Iraq. While the situation in Iraq is the basis for the anti-war backlash on the left — and, implicitly, the formation of the group — Zirkle echoes President Bush’s position that Iraq is one front in a very large war.
“We can argue all day long whether going into Iraq was the right or wrong decision, but we’re there now,” says Zirkle. “It’s certainly part of the War on Terror. Al Qaeda’s network in Iraq is very plain and simple in the fact that they call themselves ‘al Qaeda in Iraq.’”
Real Support for Troops
The money raised by Vets for Freedom Action Fund is used for contributions to pro-mission candidates who are committed to fighting the War on Terror on all fronts. The group also expresses frustration toward those who wish to pull out early, attributing much of that sentiment to political football. “I feel like the war effort has become so divisive in terms of partisan gamesmanship … that many of [the war critics] embolden the enemy,” says Zirkle.
“When you’re calling for immediate withdrawal,” says to Zirkle, “you’re admitting that the situation is unwinnable. But it’s certainly winnable, and we’re doing the right things right now.”
Vets for Freedom and its Vets for Freedom Action Fund PAC are focused on the execution of strategy and the policymakers needed to keep that goal in place. This, they believe, is the best, and perhaps only, way to support the troops. To those who say they want to support the troops by bringing them home, Zirkle responds simply, “It’s an easy thing to say, ‘We want the troops home.’ We all do.”