Making the short drive home from the University of North Carolina, I voted in my first presidential election in 2000 at the school where I attended kindergarten. I recall my excitement in the belief I was making a difference as I punched the ballot and cast my vote. Fast forward to 2004, and far from the university setting, I found myself in Camp Fallujah, Iraq listening to the voting officer explain the absentee ballot process. The company commander took the “stage” and urged everyone to do his or her civic duty and take part in the election.
Service members swear an oath upon enlistment that includes the words, “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States.” This line has resulted in an unwritten code that those in uniform should not vote in elections because it might take away from our commitment to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Regardless of the outcome of an election, the oath endures. We don’t shed the uniform if the outcome of an election is not the desired one. We don’t publically state discontent with the results. We press on, serving and defending this great Nation.
As military families, we must pay attention to federal elections because the senators and congressmen chosen will decide how our tax dollars are used. More specifically, they fund the programs and services provided by DoD and the VA that support military communities.
We have made incredible sacrifices – multiple moves, family separation, back-to-back deployments, and the list goes on – to earn these benefits and programs. Without your input in the election process, who will look out for military families? Educate yourself on the candidates, find out what they’ve done in the past to support military families, and speak up for our community! Remember, if you don’t cast your vote, you forfeit your right to complain about what the elected officials are doing.
When you live a mile or two from your local polling place, voting doesn't require a lot of planning on your part. Just head over before the polls close, right? While the process isn’t as simple when you are away from your registered district or deployed overseas, you still have options to ensure your voice is heard. Tomorrow is Election Day, so if you’re a service member or military spouse and you’ve already cast your absentee ballot, well done. If not, I suggest making an effort to protect what is most important to you by planning ahead and voting in every election moving forward. You are your best advocate.
If you have questions or concerns about the voting process, I suggest you visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website or contact your Installation Voter Assistance Office.