Both Vice Presidential Candidates Have Marine Sons

  • Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins his son, Marine 2nd Lt. Michael J. Pence, second from left, during Michael Pence's Officer Candidate School graduation aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, March 20, 2015. Sgt Tyler S. Mitchell/Marine Corps
    Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins his son, Marine 2nd Lt. Michael J. Pence, second from left, during Michael Pence's Officer Candidate School graduation aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, March 20, 2015. Sgt Tyler S. Mitchell/Marine Corps
  • U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Nathaniel Kaine, left, receives an AKM assault rifle from a Tanzanian park ranger at the Selous Game Reserve in Matambwe, Tanzania, March 2, 2015. Lance Cpl. Lucas Hopkins/Marine Corps
    U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Nathaniel Kaine, left, receives an AKM assault rifle from a Tanzanian park ranger at the Selous Game Reserve in Matambwe, Tanzania, March 2, 2015. Lance Cpl. Lucas Hopkins/Marine Corps

In a presidential race filled with sharp contrasts, both party's tickets have at least one thing in common: Both Democratic vice presidential pick Tim Kaine and Republican running mate Mike Pence have sons who are junior Marine officers.

Pence's son Michael, 23, is a newly minted second lieutenant currently in entry-level flight school, assigned to Training Command, Marine Aviation Training Support Group-21, out of Pensacola, Florida, Training Command spokesman Capt. Joshua Pena told Military.com.

Kaine's son Nathaniel, 26, is an infantry officer and foreign security force adviser assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, out of Camp Lejeune, II Marine Expeditionary Force spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz said.

In July 2015, 1st Lt. Kaine returned from a deployment in support of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Africa, where, among other things, he helped to train Tanzanian troops in counter-trafficking operations. Kaine distinguished himself from his early days in the Marine Corps, selected as one of five honor graduates in his class at The Basic School in 2013.

In some ways, having a vice president with military children will be a continuum from the past eight years. Current Vice President Joe Biden's son was a major and JAG officer in the Army National Guard who deployed to Iraq in 2008. Biden's son Hunter briefly served in the Navy Reserve before being discharged over a positive drug test.

But it does mean the presidential ticket, regardless of the the outcome of November's election, will have a closer connection to the military than most Americans do.

A 2011 Pew Research Center poll found a widening gap between the American public and the service members who protect them. Only a third of 18- to 29-year-olds had an immediate family member who had served in the military, the poll found, and only about half of 30- to 49-year-olds did.

The study also found that having an immediate family member in the military dramatically influenced views on the military and the country, making them, among other things, more familiar with the challenges that troops face.

Is it possible that having a son in the Marine Corps, the branch frequently sent first into a new conflict, could make a future administration more circumspect about deploying troops and more in tune with the needs of the fighting forces?

There are a lot of factors in play, Michael Noonan, director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Military.com.

"At a time that less than one percent of the populace serves, it shows a strong commitment to service on the part of the sons," he said.

But it's also unclear, he said, what the future leadership dynamic will be between the elected president and vice president. Right now, he said, it's too early to say what the impact might be.

"It's a net positive … but I don't know if it's a decisive thing or not," Noonan said. "It shows well for both their families and, I think, to the American people."

Veteran Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who received the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan in 2009, told Military.com he had difficulty feeling optimism about either presidential ticket, regardless of the Marine Corps connection.

"At least we know their children, the next generation, is on the right path," he said.

But Meyer said he did believe it was vital for a future administration to have direct personal experience with military service.

"I think our country will never turn around," he said, "until the leader has been there and had some skin in the game."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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