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Veterans Supporting Obama Speak About the Candidate

August 27, 2008 at 3:25 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: I’m joined now by three military veterans.

Retired Navy Rear Admiral James Arden Barnett, Jr., served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Maura Sullivan, who served as a logistics officer for the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq in 2005.

And Westley Moore, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. While on active duty, he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star medal.

Welcome to you all.

Admiral, after watching a film like that — we’re at a political event, at a political convention — how do you connect your experience as a military officer with the political decision that you’re making by being here?

REAR ADM. JAMES ARDEN BARNETT (Ret.), U.S. Navy: You know, after that moving film, it convicts me even more that we need to make sure that we provide to these young men and women the best possible judgment in their commander-in-chief. And that’s why I’m here.

Barack Obama again and again has shown his strategic foresight and vision and his ability to use that information available to make the right decision. If we’re going to send men and women around the world and into combat, we must have someone who can make those hard decisions and use good judgment.

GWEN IFILL: Westley Moore, as we were watching that, I was thinking to myself that the entire evening seemed to be a build-up of Democrats saying, “We are — we do have the bona fides to defend the military.” Why do Democrats have to make that case?

CAPT. WESTLEY MOORE, U.S. Army Reserve: I think Democrats have to make that case because traditionally Republicans have always tried to beat Democrats to the punch in terms of being the party that really solidly is behind the military and behind the soldiers.

I think this year, as the admiral said, I think this year Barack Obama has such a solid argument, because he’s shown such a vision towards not only how to take care of the troops once we’re overseas fighting, but then also how to take care of the troops when we come back home.

And I think there’s a real argument this year — this year in particular — for the Democrats to say that we are the party to actually go forth and really create a solid foundation for how to take care of our troops and their families.

Trusting a deeper understanding

GWEN IFILL: Maura Sullivan, we have heard speaker after speaker tonight talk about a tougher and smarter foreign policy. What is it about -- you're all wearing Veterans for Obama buttons -- what is it about Barack Obama, about this candidate that you think would make him tougher or smarter than a Republican with as much experience as John McCain has?

MAURA SULLIVAN, Former U.S. Marine Corps Officer: You know, Gwen, it's interesting. When you first join the Marine Corps, one of the first things you do is learn about our leadership traits. And there's 14 of them. We are taught justice, judgment, integrity, courage, unselfishness.

I think Barack Obama has the courage, the integrity that I saw in the greatest leaders and in the greatest Marines that I served with overseas. And he's demonstrated that he knows his people and he looks out for their welfare.

He did that as a community organizer in Chicago. And he'll take that same ability to serve as our commander-in-chief. I'm very confident in his abilities to do that.

GWEN IFILL: Admiral, there's so much discussion about this campaign, but people will have great debates about military veterans, active military are really Democrat or Republican or neither. What is your impression when you talk to folks?

REAR ADM. JAMES ARDEN BARNETT: Well, of course, we're looking in this country to have a non-political military, so the active duty cannot speak. They must support our country, and that's the way it should always be.

But as I go around the country and talk to people -- and when I was serving in the Pentagon, I know that there was much concern about the decisions that were being made by the Bush administration.

We have an opportunity now to make sure that we don't continue those failed policies. And we must, must absolutely move forward now to make sure we have the right leader in the office.

GWEN IFILL: Westley Moore, what do you hear?

CAPT. WESTLEY MOORE: I hear very similar things. And, you know, one thing I know about military folks is -- you know, even myself, for example -- I'm not someone who's going to sit there and support someone, just give blanket support because of their political party or political affiliation.

We're going to dig deeper than that. And particularly because this war for us is not just a political conversation, and, you know, just an academic -- you know, some kind of academic practice. This is personal.

These are our friends. These are our colleagues. And we've watched them -- we watch what happens to the families and our own families as we deploy.

So this decision is so important. And I think that you're finding a lot of military personnel, both active and reserves, who are saying, looking at the way things have gone, it's time for a change. And it's time to elect a president who we know has the vision to bring a successful conclusion to Iraq and Afghanistan and take care of our troops as we come home.

Focusing on winning

GWEN IFILL: Maura Sullivan, part of the debate about what's going to happen next in Iraq has to do with whether a president should listen to the generals on the ground or should follow a more political path. "Precipitous withdrawal" is the term the Republicans use.

If the generals on the ground say, "We need to stay and button this up," don't you think the -- or do you think that a president should adhere to that?

MAURA SULLIVAN: I think Democrats are for success in Iraq. And I think we need to make that very, very clear in this election. I think Barack Obama wants success in Iraq.

But I think he also, when the time is appropriate, wants to exit Iraq with the same care and concern that the Bush administration, quite frankly, should have utilized going in.

GWEN IFILL: And so what do you do know? What does Barack Obama do now to make the case you're making here?

REAR ADM. JAMES ARDEN BARNETT: I think he's doing it. And this convention is all about that.

Military men and women who've been there, these young men and women who have actually been on the battlefield, are asking for a leader who can do what Barack Obama is saying, and that's quit the failed policies that we have in Iraq, understand strategic vision and not just tactical success. We have to elect him.

GWEN IFILL: And final words?

CAPT. WESTLEY MOORE: Well, I think -- final word is, I think once people really understand the vision of Barack Obama, and the holistic idea of national service and of national security and what that means, Barack Obama isn't just about securing us from enemies, you know, foreign, but also from enemies domestic.

He's talking about addressing issues such as poverty, such as education, and such as some of the -- many of the disparities that exist. So Barack Obama on so many different levels is the right president for right now.

GWEN IFILL: Well, I have to tell you all, it was an honor to be able to watch that very moving film in your company. Thank you all very much.