A soldier’s choice

Erin Stock

Weinberg senior John Scheler could be in a combat zone commanding 30 Marines before next winter. The 21-year-old will train for several months after he graduates in June. Then he will be deployed — perhaps to Iraq.

But before that assignment comes, Scheler and fellow Naval ROTC students — like many other civic-minded youth — will cast votes for their nation’s president.

The difference for Scheler and his 59 fellow Naval ROTC students, who sign up to serve at least four years in the armed forces in exchange for officer instruction and full-tuition scholarships, is that they are not just electing a president. They are voting for their boss.

separation of profession and politics

There is a “tradition of reticence” in the armed forces when it comes to commenting openly about politics or presidential candidates, military experts say.

But just because some soldiers — or future soldiers — are hesitant to openly criticize either candidate doesn’t mean they do not recognize their stake in electing the president.

“Being who we are, and (given) the responsibility we take on, this is not something we can afford to be apathetic about,” said Weinberg senior Michael Lee, who plans to start medical school after graduation and eventually become a doctor in the Navy. “We’re definitely planning on voting.”

The military community may feel that voting on Nov. 2 is especially crucial because it is the first presidential election during a large military operation since 1972, said history Prof. Michael Sherry.

“Their fate as members of the armed forces seems more immediately up for grabs than in most other elections,” Sherry said.

But Scheler said he is not voting based solely upon how the president’s policies will affect him as a Marine.

“The election is important to me as an American because I have certain views,” Scheler said, referencing his Catholic upbringing and conservative values. “As a Marine Corps officer, yes, (the president) affects where I might be in the world, but it won’t affect how I perform as an officer.”

Switching commanders in chief during wartime probably would not make that much of a difference in terms of a soldier’s everyday duties, said sociology Prof. Charles Moskos, who specializes in studying military-civilian relations.

On a larger scale, Naval ROTC students are not sure the election of either candidate would significantly change the mission in Iraq or where they will be sent after they graduate.

“Whether or not (Sen. John) Kerry thought it was a good idea to enter Iraq, he’s not going to leave any time soon,” said Matt McLaughlin, who plans to serve as a surface warfare officer on a ship after he graduates.

Thoughts of War

In the long run, President Bush’s leadership in the war on terror will lead to changes that will create a better world for future Americans, said McLaughlin, who plans to vote for Bush in his home state of California.

“(Bush) makes the mission pretty clear and he won’t back off,” the Medill senior said. “He has a world view that (Iraq) is a part of a greater struggle and he connects the dots … he views Iraq and Afghanistan and other smaller things as one large, one single war.”

But not all Naval ROTC students support Bush’s approach. Erin Virdone, a McCormick senior, said she is concerned with Bush’s handling of Iraq and wants to see if Kerry can do better in bringing stability to the new democracy.

“This is where it becomes difficult being in the military,” she said, “because being in the military I’m supposed to support what he does as commander in chief, but on a personal level I don’t necessarily agree with how he’s been handling things in Iraq.”

The 21-year-old, who will be an officer on a ship upon graduation, said she is somewhat wary of politics in general. She pointed to the debates — saying they have not been that useful to her.

“They spend more time trying to get each other than trying to talk about the issues,” Virdone said.

Communication senior Casey Osterkamp is voting for Bush, in part because changing leaders during wartime sends a negative message to the rest of the world, she said. The Ohio native said she would consider voting for Kerry if he outlined a plan for Iraq.

“I haven’t heard anything about how the war (Kerry) is going to lead is going to be any different from the war we’re leading now,” said Osterkamp, who will serve on a ship after graduation.

Osterkamp said she believes in less government and lower taxes. She is open to some liberal stances, such as legalizing gay marriage and strengthening gun control, but the self-identified “compassionate conservative,” said Bush provides stronger leadership than Kerry.

“People say being consistent isn’t always necessarily being right, but at least you know what you’re voting for,” she said.

Hail to the chief

McCormick senior Susan Arshonsky probably won’t decide who she is voting for until a few days before the election. The battalion commander for NU’s Naval ROTC said she does not like to talk about her personal views on each candidate.

“No matter who gets elected, you’re going to be working for him,” she said.

Lee, the ROTC senior who plans to become a Navy doctor, is divided on how to vote. While he likes Bush’s firm resolve, he said he is still not sure Bush is the best solution for Iraq.

“American policy should never be dictated by international opinion, but it should have an impact,” he said.

It is important to remember that although the military community tends to be Republican, they differ greatly on a lot of views, said Sherry, the history professor.

“ROTC students aren’t totally different from other students in that their politics and their votes are shaped by a variety of factors having to do with their family background, socioeconomic status and the like,” Sherry added. “It’d be a mistake to assume there’s a kind of unitary military vote in these matters.”

Reach Erin Stock at [email protected].