Reuters correspondent Margot Roosevelt touted over the weekend that “Weary Warriors Favor Obama.” According to the latest Reuters-Ipsos poll, “If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population.”
Under the heading “Fading Cool Factor,” Roosevelt summarized that many veterans sound like Obama did in the last election cycle, pessimistic about the wars Bush started:
The GOP's heated rhetoric, aimed at the party's traditional hawks, might be expected to resonate with veterans. Yet in interviews in South Carolina, a military-friendly red state, many former soldiers expressed anger at the toll of a decade of war, questioned the legitimacy of George W. Bush's Iraq invasion, and worried that the surge in Afghanistan won't make a difference in the long run.
"We looked real cool going into Iraq waving our guns," said [Mack] McDowell, 50, who retired from the 82d Airborne Division in November with a Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars. "But people lost their lives, and it made no sense."
Now he worries. "I really don't like the direction we are going, how we seem to come closer daily towards a war with Iran."
This is how it began, underlining how Obama is winning over the real rock ‘em-sock ‘em military:
Mack McDowell likes to spend time at the local knife and gun show "drooling over firearms," as he puts it. Retired after 30 years in the U.S. Army, he has lined his study with books on war, framed battalion patches from his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a John Wayne poster, and an 1861 Springfield rifle from an ancestor who fought in the Civil War.
But when it comes to the 2012 presidential election, Master Sergeant McDowell is no hawk.
In South Carolina's January primary, the one-time Reagan supporter voted for Ron Paul "because of his unchanging stand against overseas involvement." In November, McDowell plans to vote for the candidate least likely to wage "knee-jerk reaction wars."
Later, the stories get very heavy:
For combat veterans such as McDowell, who enlisted at 19, the statistics are starkly personal.
With his direct gaze, erect posture and fondness for war mementos, he may seem to fit the stereotype of a battle-hardened sergeant. But this father of five shudders at the memory of the young Vietnamese-American at Fort Jackson, whose fear of deployment was brushed off by an officer. The soldier tried to commit suicide by shoving a pencil up his nose into his brain.
He chokes up when he recalls "the geek-faced kid" from Oklahoma who was brought in to fix office computers in McDowell's Iraq bomb dismantling unit. The young man, with no combat training, was sent into the field to hack into terrorists' laptops. Within weeks he suffered a mental breakdown. Returning stateside, he shot his two children to death and killed himself.
"It was sheer terror," McDowell said of the improvised explosive devices that guerrillas hid along roadways. "They'd strap gasoline cans to IEDs. Our soldiers burned alive. You'd hear them screaming, and you couldn't do anything."
Now he is "watching the primaries very closely to see who will be the least careless with soldiers and their families."