Candidates’ Wives Bid for Military Votes

The Denver Post

August 27, 2008 – Michelle Obama, Jill Biden and Colorado First Lady Jeannie Ritter teamed up today trying to win military families and war veterans – including wounded Army Sgt. Ian Newland – away from Sen. John McCain.

They made their push at an early morning community service project where Obama, with her daughters, helped prepare 1,000 care packages for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their service work was part of a campaign blitz on foreign policy, security, and military affairs that targets Americans concerned about the wars. Veterans opposed to the war in Iraq were planning to march later Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention.

“We need to be doing more for troops and their families,” Obama said, flanked by Ritter and Biden, north of the convention in central Denver’s Curtis Park.

“Troops have to know that we’re making the same commitment to our country that they’ve made,” she told several hundred blue-shirted volunteers.

War vets, relatives and the volunteers had set up assembly lines where they stuffed packages with movies, peanuts, socks to send to soldiers. Children wrote letters: “Praying for your safe return.”

A Denver resident, Newland, 28, was injured in Baghdad on Dec. 4, 2006, when an Iraqi fighter lobbed a grenade into his Humvee. It exploded, sending shrapnel into his limbs and head.

Now in his dress-green uniform with bronze stars and Purple Heart, Newland limped and held a crutch at the project – organized by the 100,000-strong Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA).

He and other veterans said neither Barack Obama nor McCain — despite his own war experience – has come up with the specifics, such as how many new veterans treatment centers they would open, how education programs would be set up, and how they might create a bridge between military medical and Veterans Administration care.

“What we need from our leader is to show us as a nation how to love our troops,” IAVA president Paul Rieckhoff said.

“We haven’t seen the specifics yet. Who is going to lead on veterans? You can’t just tinker around the edges like the Bush Administration has been doing.”

After talking with Biden and Ritter, Michelle Obama encountered Newland, who has enrolled in college courses, privately helps homeless Iraq veterans and plans to continue his military service if possible.

He told her about Jim, 23, a two-tour Iraq war veteran he met while giving out sandwiches four weeks ago in Denver’s Civic Center Park. A landlord evicted Jim. He needed mental help. He hadn’t been able to receive any treatment because his military health records apparently hadn’t reached Veterans Administration doctors.

She listened intently.

“She seemed shocked… the look in her eyes. You could tell,” Newland said. “She told me ‘Barack and his guys are really going to work on this.’ “

He’s always leaned Republican, he said, but now was re-evaluating who – McCain or Obama – might get things done more quickly.

“Democrat or Republican – it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “Our war veterans need better care.” 

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