The attack on the U.S. Capitol and brazen assault on our democracy on Jan. 6 was a shocking wake up call for America. As veterans and civilians who have served at the highest levels of defending our nation, it was outright heartbreaking to learn of the numbers of veterans who were involved. It is no secret extremists have targeted members of the military for recruitment, exploiting the experience and legitimacy they bring. While we are concerned about any veteran involvement in the riot, the unlawful and disloyal acts of a few will not define us.
The hard-earned trust we have from society for our life choices of service is an honor we do not take lightly, and we accept the responsibility that comes with being America’s defenders. Today, we deploy our voices in support of Operation Protect Democracy, a national initiative to fight corruption by reforming our electoral system.
The origin of this effort began during the 2020 election through the Count Every Hero campaign, a cross-partisan commitment to ensuring every service member’s right to vote is protected and their votes tallied. Our military service members and their families face unique challenges to participating in elections, sending their ballots from all over the world. Applying the momentum from Count Every Hero, Operation Protect Democracy is about counting every American through electoral reform.
We were successful in our work last fall because we remained fiercely nonpartisan and true to our service oath. We commit to this approach again, which could not be more perfectly aligned to our oath.
When we raised our right hands to recite a pledge to “support and defend the Constitution,” people typically home in on “defend” and have knowledge of what that means by virtue of what a military does. Nevertheless, “support” is the word we say first, which is about understanding the Constitution and why we all have a civic duty, especially exercising our greatest right to vote.
We are coming at this topic — reforming our electoral system — from our oath. And in order to do that in a way that truly avoids political infighting, we are operating off of a set of shared principles as we always do. We believe in these principles first, regardless of our private political leanings, which of course we all have. Operation Protect Democracy is organized around the following six principles and we stand for: secure elections free of foreign interference; equal access to the polls for all eligible voters; accountability of elected officials; all American voters directing our country’s future, not only an elite few; transparency and effective oversight of the electoral system; and civic literacy to build an informed, engaged and expanded electorate.
When legislation embodies these principles, such as major tenets of the For the People Act which is in committee with the Senate right now, we support it.
To be clear, this is a civics conversation, an effort that transcends partisan politics. We must recognize democracy is under pressure around the world, and our system is not immune to such threats. We must take care of it and remain resolute to our principles.
If you have ever worn our nation’s uniform or are someone who has served our nation in any role, join us and continue what we believe is an ongoing duty to be engaged citizens. If you are an American who believes in democracy, we need you by our side too. We are a coalition of veterans and citizens dedicated to protecting democracy and fighting corruption by reforming our electoral system.
Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.