Courtesy of the Office of Tammy Duckworth

If Donald Trump had been on the battlefield with me in Iraq back in November 2004, I doubt I ever would’ve made it home.

In the Army, part of our soldier’s creed involves never leaving a fallen comrade behind. The only reason I am alive today is that, after a rocket-propelled grenade exploded in the Black Hawk helicopter I was co-piloting, my buddies embodied that creed. They thought I was dead but still risked their own safety to bring my body back home to my family. Only when they got me to a rescue aircraft did they realize that I was still breathing. Then they ignored their own injuries, refusing care until the medic tended to me first.

My crewmates were heroes that afternoon. Yet apparently, in Trump’s eyes, each of us in that aircraft must have been a “loser” because our helicopter got shot down by the enemy. Had we been killed, he very well might call us “suckers,” too. After all, those are the terms that, according to The Atlantic’s reporting, the commander in chief has used to describe members of the armed forces who have been killed, captured, or shot down in battle. He also told his staff that “nobody wants to see” wounded warriors like me who lost limbs fighting to keep other Americans safe.

Trump might not like seeing visible proof of my injuries, but I couldn’t care less. To me, the wounds and wheelchairs of those who have worn our nation’s uniform should be considered badges of honor. I’m able to serve in the Senate today because the ethos of the United States military is the exact opposite of the craven, me-first mentality that he has shown every hour of every day of his gold-plated, privileged life.

Tammy Duckworth and Sherrod Brown
Senator Tammy Duckworth speaking with Senator Sherrod Brown in August, 2020 (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty)

From all he’s said, from all he’s done, it’s impossible for me to believe that, like my crewmates, Trump would have risked his own life to save mine or that of any other American in that dusty field in 2004. But Trump never would have been in Iraq with us that day, because he fundamentally cannot fathom the notion of sacrificing for your nation. He can’t comprehend the true meaning of courage or the idea of fighting for something greater than himself, his bank account, or his poll numbers. The Atlantic’s story is only more evidence that he isn’t able to grasp what the military is all about. He doesn’t understand service, so he doesn’t understand America’s service members: the heroes who have allowed him to sleep soundly high up in that gilded Fifth Avenue tower.

When he deploys military personnel and uses tear gas to clear his way for a crude photo op, when he talks loosely about “my generals” and “my military,” when he treats weapons of war as political props in a July Fourth parade, he’s using our nation’s armed services to boost his own ego. When Trump embraces a convicted war criminal rejected by those who served alongside him, he is undermining both the military justice system and the good order and discipline that undergird our military’s strength.

A commander in chief who cares nothing about fundamental decency damages troop morale and, with it, troop readiness. When service members go into combat, they need to know that those to their left and their right will never leave them behind. That no matter what, their buddies will get them out, if only to bring their body home to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. If the nation’s so-called leader regards these heroes as “suckers” or “losers,” he endangers every man and woman in uniform—and our nation’s safety right along with them.

The U.S. military is the mightiest in the world because American service members uphold its values, which, in the Army, are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, integrity, and personal courage. Trump has shown active disdain for each. If the person who is supposed to be commanding our military is unable—or unwilling—to understand the importance of that military’s values, those values will begin to break down. If the person charged with leading our troops questions the value of their service, the very few Americans who might be willing to defend the nation might begin to hesitate before enlisting, unsure whether their own crew would risk their lives, as mine did, to carry their limp body back to safety. Yet in matters of both common decency and national security, Trump does not understand the damage that his attitudes can cause.

Last week, I introduced a resolution honoring our troops, veterans, and Gold Star families and condemning Trump’s egregious comments. Republicans blocked it within moments, somehow deciding they’d rather protect Trump than affirm that the Senate will always respect the service members and military families who place the mission first time after time.

In 1976, then-Army Chief of Staff General Frederick C. Weyand wrote that “the American Army really is a people’s Army in the sense that it belongs to the American people. … When the Army is committed the American people are committed … [The] Army is not so much an arm of the Executive Branch as it is an arm of the American people.” The same sentiment holds true for every military branch. Each one belongs to the American people and is made up of their mothers and fathers, siblings and spouses, all of whom have dedicated their lives to serving the nation they love on behalf of the people they love. It is my sincere hope—and my sincere belief—that other Americans understand the nature of troops’ sacrifice far better than the president does.

The latest revelations have only strengthened my own resolve to keep honoring the heroes who saved me. I will take advantage of my second chance—using every extra moment I have, every extra breath I get to breathe—to look out for our current and former troops.

When Trump mocks our service members, he’s also mocking every American in every part of this country. When he derides wounded warriors, he’s letting his own personal insecurities endanger our national security. When he makes fun of those who have fallen in battle, he’s just showing that the word sacrifice is so foreign to him, it might as well be in another language—and that service will never mean anything to him other than someone else serving him. This man is not fit to be commander in chief for another four minutes, let alone another four years.

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