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This is Our Story

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 19/02/2016 Barbi Appelquist

This past Saturday, February 13, I sat in a standing-room only Dougie J's Café, a burger joint off of the Las Vegas Strip. The walls were lined with framed military uniforms, one for each branch of the Armed Forces, and "Veterans for Hillary" posters. I sat with my daughter and more than 100 veterans and military family members as we talked about why Hillary Clinton is our choice for the next President of the United States. We sat with decorated combat veterans, including Nathan Fletcher, a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and former California Assemblymember: "We need to tell our story about why Hillary Clinton is the right choice for veterans and their families."
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This is my family's story. I am an Army brat, born and raised as the middle child to a U.S. Army soldier. My parents grew up in neighboring poor and working-class farming towns in the Ozarks. I moved around the world my entire childhood, attending eight schools before my 16th birthday, including a U.S. Department of Defense school on the HQ-EUCOM base, Patch Barracks, in West Germany at the end of the Cold War. When my father finished his 20 years of service, he had a hard time adjusting to civilian life. His marriage had ended in divorce and he was unable to finish law school, eventually declaring bankruptcy with two children in college and another finishing high school. Luckily, he was able to find a job working with the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego processing home loans, eventually moving to Phoenix when offices were consolidated in the mid-1990's due to budget cuts. My father died, a veteran working for veterans. He was also receiving care at the doomed Phoenix VA for his chronic diabetes and complications from alcoholism.
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It was with the memory of my father that my 8-year old daughter and I packed up our car with posters, buttons, markers, walking shoes, crackers, and juice boxes for the more than 4.5 hour drive to Las Vegas. We stopped in Barstow to meet up with a Navy family from San Diego, an Army family from Anaheim, and a Marine Corps family from Oceanside. Together, in a convoy, our team drove the remaining 162 miles to Las Vegas, to join our team of Veterans and Military Families for Hillary. Similar convoys were happening in Northern California for a group of volunteers headed to Reno.
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We joined the convoy in Nevada to share my experience of what Hillary Clinton had done for military families, from providing support as First Lady in 1995 to Iraq War service members and veterans who suffered from Gulf War Syndrome to ensuring, as a U.S. Senator from New York, adequate resources for military families impacted by post-9/11 deployments.
In the eyes of most military families, a President's most important role is as Commander-in-Chief. "One of the reasons Hillary Clinton is going to be an amazing Commander-in-Chief is that she understands how we are all interconnected," Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles and reservist with the U.S. Navy, declared at the February 13 event. A Commander-in-Chief is responsible for the lives of our Armed Forces and their families, during and after their service. Hillary Clinton has been a leader for decades on these issues that impact our families. She understands how everything from education to healthcare are interconnected for military families. She knows how to work across the aisle to meet the unique medical and career needs of veterans, including reservists and National Guard service members.
While in Las Vegas, I spoke with veterans who shared similar concerns. Melissa Bird, an Orange County spouse of a two-time U.S. Army war veteran, spoke to me about how her oldest daughter benefitted from Hillary's advocacy for early childhood education made available to service members children. Melissa's daughter was on the campaign trail with us, knocking on doors and sharing her story. Dmitriy Redka, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Oceanside, knocked on doors in Las Vegas for three days. He met with Joe, also a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. "At first, Joe expressed his reservations about any candidate and the political process in general. As a short, stocky biker with long hair and a beard, he seemed as a rebel. But I've come to know him as a fellow vet who has utmost concern for his fellow brothers (and sisters) in arms. Joe told me about the injustice in our society where so many vets are left on the sidelines. And he was right to contrast that those very same veterans would still have no problems taking up the arms for this great nation. It is a shame that the nation has forgotten them. I told Joe why I supported Hillary Clinton, sharing with him how Secretary Clinton has spent her life fighting for America's veterans. As a U.S. Senator, she expanded the health care coverage for Reservists and National Guard members. She also fought to expand the benefits of the Family and Medical Leave Act to the family members of wounded service members. Similarly, she worked to increase the gratuity to family members of fallen veterans from $12,000 to $100,000. Joe was pleasantly surprised to learn about her work." Unfortunately, most voters are like Joe and don't know the extent of Hillary Clinton's experience on these issues.
The voters I spoke with in Las Vegas are asking for more than a passionate plea for justice. They are asking for a President who has a plan to make change happen, as soon as she takes that oath. Hillary Clinton is that leader. She is that changemaker. She has a plan and the passion and experience to see it through. She does not wear her heart on her sleeve but she has the open arms for any child in need and bears battle scars from her decades-long fight for the ideals of freedom and liberty for all.


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