July 13, 2008 – If you had access to the bookings calendar of the Bell County Expo Center and turned the pages to Aug. 11, you might read something like this: McCain and Obama need seating for about 6,000. In reality, the booking has been penciled in, with staff awaiting confirmation of a town hall forum put on by a consortium of military groups.
The consortium’s managing director and spokeswoman, Carissa Picard, is excited that Sen. John McCain has accepted the invitation to speak at the forum, and holds out hope Sen. Barack Obama will do the same.
The gathering would give military men and women, their families and their communities the chance to get some questions answered, Picard said.
“CBS has agreed to broadcast the meeting live to the nation on Monday, Aug. 11,” she said.
“We believe this needs to happen. We have questions that millions of Americans want answered.
“Millions of Americans will be affected if our troops don’t get the care that they need when returning from active duty. It’s not just soldiers that will suffer if they don’t receive better care when they come back. It’s their friends, their families, it’s society in general.”
Picard believes that by getting these questions answered by the presumptive candidates Americans will be offered a better chance of knowing who to vote for in November.
“Fort Hood is not just Texas, it’s made up of people from all over the country. Fort Hood is a base that houses people from all over this country and after this war many will return to their home states,” she said.
One glitch is the fact that Obama has not committed to a meeting.
“We started organizing this in early June and gave some possible dates,” Picard said. “The Democratic Party will not commit though. We have asked to suggest a possible date and have yet to get an answer.”
The consortium has not lost hope that he will accept an invitation in the future.
“The people of Fort Hood are not just returned servicemen in Bell County,” said Sam Murphey, Democrat candidate for the Texas House of Representatives, Dist. 55. “These people are our friends and our neighbors. They need answers and the rest of America deserves answers to questions the military has to ask. Fort Hood is the largest operating military establishment in the free world.
“I would be happy to urge Sen. Obama to come here,” said Murphey, who is a Vietnam veteran.
Ralph Sheffield, Republican candidate for the same Dist. 55 seat, said, “I think it’s a fantastic deal. I think it would be great to see McCain here in our backyard.”
Sheffield said he thinks it would be a good forum for the general public to see the differences between the Republicans and Democrats and where they stand on the war.
Picard is not only the spokesman for the consortium of veterans groups but is a military wife whose husband is serving in Iraq. She wants the opportunity to ask questions of the person who will lead the country.
“The men that serve our country and their families and friends need to know what is going to happen. So often we dismiss the military with a ‘they signed up for it,’ mentality,” she said. “They did sign up for the military but their family members didn’t and they deserve to know that if anything happens to their loved ones that they will be cared for. Society should want that, too, because when these men and women return they are put back in society. They become our community again.
“These are the men and the women who will go and will leave their families and risk losing their families. That will put their physical and mental health at risk at the direction of either one of these men. They should honor these soldiers by showing up and answering their questions,” Picard said.
“There are so many unanswered questions here. There needs to be a dialogue here. It’s such an important conversation to have.”
Picard stresses that this is to be a town-hall gathering – not a debate. “We don’t want this to be an attack on either candidate,” she said. “We just want answers for Americans.”