Sen. Tom Cotton predicts that more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will serve in Congress over the next decade, which he said is a positive step toward bringing a frontline perspective to Washington about the costs of war.
The Arkansas Republican, who joined the Army as an infantry officer after 9/11, said veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet at the point in their lives where they will be running for the House and Senate, but that that will change in the coming years.
"I think in the next eight-10 years as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get into their late 30s, get into their late 40s, you'll see many more of them running for office as you've already seen a lot of them running for office at the local level, at the state level, which is sort of the farm team for Congress," Cotton said Tuesday night at an event hosted by Independent Journal Review.
"I think that'll be a good thing because I think it provides good insight into the costs of war and also provides real experience into what the Department of Defense and Depart of Veterans Affairs do having had the frontline experiences dealing with those departments."
Congress has 102 veterans, 82 in the House and 20 in the Senate. That's only about 19 percent of Congress. In the early 1970s, nearly three-quarters of lawmakers were veterans.
Cotton says he believes this is part of a "generational quirk" that's a result of the timing of when the country has fought wars. Vietnam veterans are aging out of the workforce and, as a result, political service, and smaller conflicts like Grenada, Lebanon, Panama and the first Gulf War did not produce a large number of veterans.
The 9/11 veterans are just beginning to reach a point in their life where they'll start to think about serving, the senator said.
Several veterans will be on ballots across the country in November. One, Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL and Virginia state House delegate, ousted eight-term GOP Rep. Randy Forbes in a primary upset this month.
Another, James Zumwalt, is running to take the seat of Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who is retiring at the end of this Congress.
Zumwalt, who was an explosive ordnance disposal technician during two tours in Iraq, said he joined the Navy and decided to become a bomb defuser after he heard about how roadside bombs were injuring and killing American forces. After he got out of the military in 2010, he worked at the Pentagon, then later as a legislative adviser for Miller, where he got his first taste of Capitol Hill.
While he doesn't have experience in politics at a local level, he said he is running for Congress now because he saw the need for more veterans to be in decision-making positions in Washington.
"I think the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans, they're waking up to the fact that our liberties aren't just threatened abroad in the Middle East, but frankly right here at home on Capitol Hill and the White House," Zumwalt told the Washington Examiner.
"I didn't fight for freedoms in Iraq just to have them voted away back home by career politicians," he added. "My decision to run for Congress is very much like walking down to defuse an IED in Iraq — it's not for my personal well being, but it's for what the republic needs right now."
He urged more veterans to run for Congress because their service gives them a unique viewpoint and intimate understanding of the complex threats facing the country today, something lawmakers who didn't serve are trying to get up to speed on.
"The stakes are too high for veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to wait their time. They have to serve now, and I think that's kind of what's happening," he said.