Three current service members looking for ways to continue paying it forward as civilians joined a group discussion last week exploring whether politics might be the right fit.
Colby, a Navy lieutenant; Katie, a Marine captain; and Chase, an Air Force Reserve captain (their full names are being withheld), all said they saw pluses and minuses in the zero-sum game of garnering support, influence and votes.
All said they see politics as a possible vehicle for advancing the commitment to service imbued by the military into another field, but they also have concerns that their values might be compromised in the process. All three also said they know it could get ugly.
"To me, the most important thing is to wake up in the morning and be able to look at myself in the mirror," Katie said of a career in politics. "If there's too much moral compromise involved, I'm not going to do it."
The venue for airing their thoughts was a group session last Thursday evening run by "Answering The Call," a program of the New Politics Leadership Academy (NPLA) that encourages those with experience in national service -- the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or government -- to consider running for office at the federal, state or local level.
New Politics has been instrumental in helping to elect veterans, including Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, a former Marine who is now among the crowded field running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
New Politics has also aided Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-New Jersey, a Navy veteran; Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, a Marine veteran; and Rep. Max Rose, D-New York, an Army veteran.
The group, a tax-exempt "527" political organization -- named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service Code for groups created to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates -- is gearing up for the 2020 election cycle.
While New Politics is a 527 group, its sister organization NPLA, which runs Answering The Call, is a non-profit 501 (c) (3).
Veteran involvement begins with the payment of a $50 fee to attend five "Answering The Call" sessions, at which attendees are encouraged "to reflect on the values that compelled them to serve in the first place, and explore if they now feel called to serve their community through politics," according to promotional material.
Thursday's "Answering The Call" session was up front in stressing that the program is not a primer for running a campaign, raising money, choosing staff, polling, shaping a message on issues, or the other basics of running for office. The political nitty-gritty will be left to those who go on to connect with the New Politics.
Kevin Deibler, an Air Force major and now a congressional defense fellow, led the session and set the tone: "Why are we here and where are we going?" The session itself was off the record, but Colby, Katie and Chase agreed to talk afterward.
Colby, a helicopter pilot, said he joined the Navy "because I wanted to participate in the defense of the country. And when I leave, I still desire to represent what's best to help the country."
He said he does not want to become one of those who complain about what's wrong with government but never commit to doing anything about it.
Katie said representing constituents and advocating for their interests is a challenge and wondered whether she'd have regrets if she didn't take on that challenge. But, she added, "I'm not sure I'm ready to make a decision."
According to Chase, the "best way to have a positive impact [is] to go into lawmaking" through elective office. But first, he wants to "build up my background" and have a financial cushion and another career -- in case he loses.
"Answering The Call" is part of New Politics' plan to build on the successes of the 2018 election cycle. The current Congress has six female veterans, the most in history, and the 19 freshman veterans elected was the most in 10 years.
The total number of veterans in Congress is 96 -- 30 Democrats and 66 Republicans; the total number is down by six because of older veterans retiring.
The 116th Congress began in January with veterans totaling about 18 percent of the 535 members of the House and Senate, compared to the 1970s, when about two-thirds of the members of Congress were veterans.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct a service member's affiliation, to correct an organization name and to clarify the tax status of Answering the Call.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.