Former SEALs find beachhead in public office
Four elected in first wave, more victories sought
Navy SEALs, the most glorified warriors in the war on Islamic terrorists, are not a political force in America, but unprecedented victories in this year’s elections have put former frogmen on a political beachhead.
Fifteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the first wave of former SEAL politicians has arrived. Four secured significant elected offices on Nov. 8. Colleagues promise to use the new beachhead to bring more into the arena.
“The teammates I know who are running for public office are fired up to make a difference in politics,” said Brandon Webb, a former SEAL who runs the network Force12 Media and news website SOFREP.
The pathfinder is Rep. Ryan K. Zinke, a Montana Republican and former member of SEAL Team 6 who served in the state Senate. He won election to the U.S. House in 2014 and was re-elected easily last week.
Before Mr. Zinke’s 2014 victory, the last Navy special warfare veteran elected was Jesse Ventura in 1998 as Minnesota governor, and before that Bob Kerrey in 1989 as a U.S. senator from Nebraska, according to a review.
The fact that four won elected office in one day suggests they are capitalizing on the fame that goes with being terrorist-hunting SEALs, the cadre that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
For Mr. Zinke, the influx was always his aim.
“I started SEAL PAC to help elect like-minded veterans to Congress, but it’s not just Congress,” he said. “I would like to see more veterans running for state and local legislatures as well as for governor.”
Mr. Zinke, a retired commander, has a new comrade. Former SEAL Scott W. Taylor, a sniper in Iraq, won a House seat from Virginia Beach, where East Coast SEALs train. The Virginia state delegate defeated Rep. J. Randy Forbes in the Republican primary. Mr. Forbes had switched to compete in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District after a redrawing of the lines in his 4th District created a Democratic majority there.
Another former SEAL, scholarwarrior Eric Greitens, was elected governor of Missouri in his first bid for public office.
Meanwhile, former SEAL Frank Hoagland won an Ohio state Senate seat despite running a campaign on a shoestring budget against a wellfinanced Democrat. The retired chief petty officer benefited from a big turnout of rural voters in southeastern Ohio, where presidential exit polls showed support for Donald Trump.
The four share a common story: They are conservative Republicans. They survived the arduous training and dangerous counterterrorism missions that won the hearts of Americans. And they found a higher calling in public service.
“We’re diverse in the SEAL teams themselves,” Mr. Taylor told The Washington Times. “We have people who are warrior-diplomats who are great politicians, and we also have ones who break glass and are kick-the-door kind of guys. It spans the gamut.”
Mr. Taylor found himself in Iraq in the early stages of the U.S.-led military campaign. He practiced diplomatwarrior skills as a security consultant during the Arab Spring in the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Yemen, home to various rebel groups, Iranian surrogates and an al Qaeda franchise.
“If you can negotiate in the Arabian Desert with armed tribesmen, in Arabic and AK-47s, you can definitely do it here,” said the former petty officer 2nd class. “We’re able to see clearly in chaos. We are used to making clear, measured and great decisions under pressure and stress, and we’re just not bothered by that. You’re in the middle of the desert … and you make decisions that are life and death. This is easy.”
Mr. Taylor, 37, has been a persistent critic of President Obama. He co-founded the political action committee Special Operations OpSec, which charges that the president politicized the killing of bin Laden and released too many tactical details of the mission.
Mr. Webb stays close to the warrior community through his SOFREP website, founded by special operations forces veterans to inform the public about national security.
“Men like my friend Congressman Zinke have served in some of the worst places on the planet and know what it’s like to make hard decisions under pressure,” he said. “We’ve all come home and seen the veterans administration in disrepair, and how poorly many career politicians understand the nature of how our failed foreign policy has played out in Syria, the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Africa. We have tough decisions to make, and I’m glad these guys are stepping up to provide much-needed perspective and leadership where there is little currently.”
Rep. Ryan K. Zinke, a Montana Republican and former member of SEAL Team 6 won election to the U.S. House in 2014 and was re-elected easily on Nov. 8.