The son of Mexican immigrants, he didn’t see many options when he graduated from high school. But he knew that if he joined the Army, ‘‘I'd have the GI Bill. ... It’s something that I had to do to get ahead in life.’’
But supporters urged him to make more of his veteran status, he says, telling him, ‘‘That’s your credibility right there.’’
The youngest candidate in his district, he says his Iraq tour came in handy when questions arose about his youth or his experience.
‘‘Well, for one thing, I'm the only person (in the race) that’s ever had an AK-47 shot at them in anger,’’ says Cardenas, whose stint in the National Guard won’t end until nearly two weeks after the Nov. 6 election.
Cardenas was among the first graduates from one of Lynn’s boot camps in 2009. The program has since blossomed into the George Washington University Center for Second Service, of which Lynn is now director.
Lynn says nearly 60 veterans have won their primaries for the U.S. House and Senate. Not all are recent veterans.
Another of Lynn’s alumni is Blair Milo. At 29, she has been an anti-submarine warfare officer and lived aboard Iraqi oil platforms in the North Arabian Gulf; at the Pentagon, she worked on the program to develop the Navy’s latest stealth destroyer. She’s still a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves.
In 2010, the ROTC graduate from Purdue University was home in La Porte, Ind., on ‘‘terminal leave’’ and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. The local newspaper was full of stories about the city’s fiscal crisis.
Milo wrote a series of guest columns, offering solutions. Before she knew it, she'd been recruited to run for mayor. Challenging the two-term Democratic incumbent, she won.
The city of 22,000 continues to borrow money to meet its obligations, but Milo says things are improving. She’s focusing her efforts on economic development and has even invited residents to join her for a weekly 5k run. About 250 people now participate in Fitness Friday.
‘‘I like my job — MOST days,’’ Milo says.
It’s important, Lynn says, for vet-candidates to make it clear that they won’t be fixated simply on military issues.
After more than two decades in the Army, those issues are certainly close to Steve Wilkins’ heart. But the retired lieutenant colonel says that’s not why he’s seeking to unseat Rep. Renee Ellmers, a tea party favorite, in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District.
Wilkins, who served as Gen. David Petraeus’ logistics chief during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, says there’s a tendency to see military people as all moving in ‘‘lockstep.’’ In his 22 years of service, he found that there was room for disagreement and discussion.
But at the end of the day, the Democratic nominee says, ‘‘there has to be some kind of compromise.’’
‘‘I've been distressed at looking at the political environment right now, how divisive it is and how our political leaders, particularly in the Congress, just don’t seem to be getting anything done,’’ Wilkins says. ‘‘There’s more of a focus on waiting each other out to see who can have a stronger upper hand before doing anything.
‘‘And I just don’t think that’s in the spirit of our democracy,’’ he says. ‘‘Things have got to get done to advance the football down the field.’’
In that respect, Wilkins says, government could stand a little more military discipline.
Allen G. Breed is a national writer, based in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at features(at)ap.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/(hash)!/AllenGBreed
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Part of the occasional series Coming Home, about veterans’ adjustment to civilian life.