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A 'Volatile' Veterans Day In A Divided Nation: Iraq War Vet Shares National Security Concerns06:34
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An American flag adorns a grave site at Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day Nov. 11, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Americans observed Veterans Day to honor those who had served in the U.S. military. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
An American flag adorns a grave site at Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day Nov. 11, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. Americans observed Veterans Day to honor those who had served in the U.S. military. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For Iraq War veteran Paul Rieckhoff, this year marks the most “volatile” Veterans Day in his lifetime.

President Trump’s time in office has been divisive and damaging to the country, says Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and host of the podcast “Angry Americans.” The impact on national security concerns him the most as a veteran.

“When our enemies see us divided, when they see the president firing the senior leadership at the Pentagon, when they see a refusal to create a transfer of power that's peaceful, our enemies are celebrating,” he says. “And every time Americans are fighting — whether it's on Twitter or in the streets — our enemies are celebrating.”

Veterans also want to talk about the issues of homelessness and suicide, but right now, they know they need to focus on the crisis the U.S. faces and help bring the country forward, he says.

Trump’s refusal to concede the election is terrible for the troops’ morale, he says. While many service members support Trump, Rieckhoff says most free-thinking veterans on both sides of the aisle are concerned and outraged.

People who serve in the military learn the importance of discipline and following precedent, he says. When the commander in chief doesn’t uphold these values, it impacts morale and distracts the troops in addition to undermining national security.

The president creates what service members call the command climate — and Trump has made it “very dangerous,” Rieckhoff says. And if Trump’s presidency was a football game, he thinks the election was only the third quarter.

“We're looking at another fourth quarter and maybe multiple overtimes before we can get through what I think is the battle of our time,” he says. “It's a battle for the soul of our country and for the future for our children.”

Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week and removed several other senior Pentagon officials. Few things could disrupt national security more than firing the head of the Department of Defense, Rieckhoff says, especially since this marks Trump’s fourth time ousting his defense secretary.

Despite Trump’s refusal to concede, President-elect Joe Biden is making plans to occupy the White House come January. Biden needs to prioritize defeating COVID-19, which is killing thousands of veterans, Rieckhoff says.

The U.S. is at war against the virus, he says, and Biden needs to step up as a leader to “galvanize the country.”

“We've never been unified and united against that virus. Joe Biden has an opportunity to do that,” he says. “It's a moral priority, but it also can be the fight that unites this country when we need it most.”


Alex Ashlock produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on November 11, 2020.

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