Meet retired Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch, Republican candidate for California’s 51st district

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Retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch is one of the few politicians who can legitimately be called a “hero.” Challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. Bob Filner for California’s 51st district, Popaditch has decided to go from arugably America’s noblest profession to one often derided for being among the slimiest.

Popaditch enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school in 1986. He served as a tank commander during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and, with six years of active duty under his belt, was honorably discharged in 1992.

After a three year intermission — during which time he worked in construction and as a corrections officer in Indiana — Popaditch re-enlisted in the Marine Corps. In April 2003, when the 1st Tank Battalion pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, an AP photographer immortalized Popaditch in a famous picture of him sitting in his tank, smiling, and smoking a victory cigar while the statue fell in the background. He became known as “The Cigar Marine.”

In 2005, while serving as a tank commander in Iraq, Popaditch was hit in the head with a grenade during the Battle of Fallujah. Living to tell the tale, Popaditch lost his right eye, his right-side hearing, and his sense of smell. For his valor, he received the Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

Since leaving the service on a medical discharge as a result of his combat injuries, Popaditch has written a book — Once A Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander’s Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery — served as a veteran’s advocate, and worked with multiple organizations to improve the plight of wounded soldiers and their families.

Popaditch told The Daily Caller that he believes his participation in Congress will be a force for good. “It’s a shame that it has become a slimy profession,” he said about elective politics. “It should be about service to your nation. I want to bring honor and I want to bring integrity back.”

Popaditch is steadfastly committed to returning America back to what he believes made it great: American exceptionalism, universal opportunity, and an invigorated economy. “This nation was built by the greatest generation of Americans,” he said. “They gave prosperity to our generation and what’s happening right now is we’re not safeguarding it. We’re giving it away and we’re allowing these politicians to sell it away. I want to hand the same prosperity that I was given when I turned 18 and became of working age to this next generation.”

The best way to return the country to its perch at the top, Popaditch believes, is to rein in spending, cut taxes, maintain a strong military and secure the border. “If we can’t secure the border, anything you talk about after that is just ridiculous. And you can’t sit here and talk about amnesty when here in California we’ve got a 12% unemployment rate,” he said. “In particular, this district right here on the border has the highest unemployment rate of the entire nation, for any municipality. So the fact that my congressmen are sitting there allowing people to talk amnesty is recklessly irresponsible. That’s one of the reasons I’m in on this. We need to protect American jobs.”
So far, Popaditch says, his message has resonated well with the people in the district. “People love to talk about limited government, more prosperity for the individual, and a strong national defense that goes out and fights terrorism rather than tries to apologize to it, and a secure border that protects American jobs,” he said. “And all that leads to a safer street to raise your family. Because at the end of the day that’s what everyone’s concerned with, looking for a way to provide for your family and a safe street to raise your children and appreciation for the American life.”

Popaditch is known for his trademark black eye patch. Under the eye patch, he sports a glass eye. He has many different styles to choose from — one with a cross, one with his old unit symbol, one with a first marine division symbol and one that looks like an ordinary eye. “My favorite one is the Marine Corps symbol with the rope and anchor,” he said. “Because I’m proud of my service and I’m proud of my sacrifice to this nation. So I wear it very openly.”

In July, Imperial Valley Press, a local newspaper in the contested district, generated a lot of anger when it ran a cartoon making fun of Popadtich’s eye patch. Popaditch says he was not only completely unfazed by the depiction, but was actually somewhat flattered by it. “This is going to really sound weird, but I’m a bit complimented by it,” he said.  “Of everything that comes out of my mouth — because trust me I don’t equivocate any of my positions, they are very very cut and dry — and as tough a line I take on so many controversial things, I’m surprised that all they can make fun of is the way I look.”

Popaditch says he loves his country and is ready for the challenge at hand. “Being in this as a rookie, I didn’t know what to expect of it and what I’ve seen has been inspiring. It has renewed my faith in the system because it really is about getting out there bringing your message to the people and it’s gonna be up to the voters to decide,” he said. “I like to think that in the 51st district it is really going to be a contest of ideas.”

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