From the earliest days of our nation, the armed forces have included volunteers born in foreign countries—men like Revolutionary War heroes Colonel Thaddeus Kościuszko of Poland, whose statue stands at the center of my alma mater West Point; General Lafayette of France; and General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben of Prussia. Without them, the American experiment may have been stillborn.
For more than two centuries since then, the Army has provided a home for foreign-born soldiers looking to prove their dedication to their adopted country, including the thousands of men who fought at Gettysburg in the Irish Brigade and the Polish-born General John Shalikashvili, who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1990s. On 9/11, the British-born Rick Rescorla, who earned a Silver Star for valor in the battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam, gave his life leading civilians to safety.
On the long list of immigrant soldiers is also Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was born in Ukraine and came to the United States at the age of 3. Vindman began his Army career as an infantry officer, earned his Ranger Tab, and later, while leading troops in Iraq, his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. During that tour, he was wounded and was awarded a Purple Heart.
But what has made Vindman famous was that yesterday, he put on his dress blues and marched to Capitol Hill to testify that he witnessed potentially improper behavior by President Donald Trump. And for this act of duty, he was smeared as an untrustworthy foreigner.
Laura Ingraham insinuated on Fox News that Vindman was up to something nefarious: “Here we have a U.S. national-security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interest … Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle to this story?”
On CNN, former Representative Sean Duffy said, “We all have an affinity to our homeland, where we came from … He’s entitled to his opinion. He has an affinity for the Ukraine, he speaks Ukrainian, and he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free. I understand that.”
When the host, John Berman, asked, “Are you saying a decorated war veteran isn’t looking out for America first, yes or no?” Duffy replied: “I don’t know what he’s doing.”
The more I watched, the more I seethed, because I am also on that list of foreign-born military leaders, and so are my three younger brothers. We were born in Italy and moved to the United States when I was 11. We learned English as a second language, so that we, too, could be educated and pursue the American dream. Do Duffy and Ingraham believe we have an “affinity” for Italy that supersedes our dedication to the United States? Do they believe we have dual loyalty?
For the four Jason brothers, military service has been at the heart of our American experience. Among the four of us, we have more than 95 combined years of active duty and 16 combat deployments (and counting) in the Army, the Navy, and the Marines. Our combined awards include a Purple Heart and a handful of Bronze Stars and Air Medals. Two of us graduated from national military academies. One is a naval aviator. The marine has two tours in Fallujah under his belt.
I seethed over the attacks against Vindman because also on that list of foreign-born soldiers are the Iraqi interpreters I worked with on my first combat tour there. Almost all had to leave their homeland; they came to the United States as refugees to escape certain death for helping the U.S. Army. Many of them are now soldiers in the U.S. Army. Three Iraq-born infantrymen were among the soldiers in the Special Forces Task Force that I commanded in Afghanistan. One was wounded and received a Purple Heart. If anyone is putting America first, it’s these new Americans.
But on our most watched television networks, men and women who have never fought alongside heroes like Vindman, or my brothers, claim there’s something suspicious about an immigrant who uses his understanding of foreign cultures to serve America.
We have a whole class of pundits who want to “support the troops” while never having put themselves in harm’s way, and they claim to respect the professionalism and ethical standards of our military. But when one of those troops answers a constitutionally legal congressional subpoena, to provide eyewitness testimony, his loyalty is called into question by those who will not address the substance of his concerns.
I can only hope that despite the attacks against him, Vindman knows he is one of many in a long and enduring line of patriots born elsewhere, and that his many thousands of brothers- and sisters-in-arms admire his commitment to his oath of office and to the Army’s values.