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Navy SEAL-turned-lawmaker: Trump is a friend of the military

Navy veteran Rep. Ryan Zinke believes national defense and veterans topics are bipartisan issues — just not in this presidential campaign.

"Our troops and veterans are proud, they love our country and serve the red, white and blue, not just one party," the Montana Republican told Military Times. "But they see how the fabric of the country is being stretched right now. … The status quo is not working, and the corruption and cronyism of [Hillary] Clinton is not going to fix that."

Zinke, whose speech Monday closed the Republican convention's national security program, said he's supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump not just because of criticism of Clinton's policies and past but also because he sees the controversial businessman as a friend of the military.

The Navy SEAL-turned-congressman, who served 23 years, is part of a growing collection of Republican veterans the party will rely on past the weeklong Cleveland event to carry the message of Trump as a credible, inspiring president.

In his remarks Monday, Zinke laid out that message, a mix of blistering criticism for President Obama and Clinton and praise of Trump.

"Donald Trump isn't afraid to talk about radical Islamic terrorism, and he won't be afraid to destroy it," he said. "We need a commander in chief who will support our troops rather than abandon them in Benghazi. We need a commander in chief who will put veterans in front of the line rather than let them die in line."

Before the speech, Zinke acknowledged that as a nonpolitician, Trump faces more challenges in managing the military and taking over national security responsibilities than other seasoned bureaucrats might.

But he said he is impressed with the national security staff he has put together so far, and said as an outsider Trump can better root out Pentagon waste while still aggressively targeting terrorist threats.

"There is a lot of frustration among veterans, with rules of engagement, getting troops the right equipment and training," he said. "Donald Trump understands to be successful, troops need the right support. And troops see that."

Zinke deferred on his possible role in a Trump administration but said he is confident that prominent conservative defense names would happily join the Republican nominee's administration, dismissing reports of divisions within the party.

And he also said he sees promise in the rising number of veterans winning political office, saying it helps raise the level of focus on defense issues, regardless of the candidate's party affiliation.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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