Opinion

America’s Veterans Deserve Pete Hegseth

Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The three of us have three things in common: we’re all Army veterans, we all served with Pete Hegseth, and we all strongly believe that Pete is the best possible pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Collectively, we’ve served with Pete in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan and are confident that the overwhelming majority of the service members that Pete has served with feel the same way.

When Pete was a Second Lieutenant, he led a platoon for a year at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he was in charge of a forty man platoon guarding the world’s most dangerous terrorists. As a First Lieutenant, Pete led an infantry platoon in combat in Iraq, as well as working with local Iraqi leaders to defeat Al Qaeda insurgents. After a promotion to Captain, Pete was a senior counterinsurgency instructor who made sure U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops understood a complex battlefield. In each theater, Pete was a leader, a war fighter, and an inspiration to the men he served with.

With Pete, what you see is what you get. At this point, most people know him from his work at FOX News, where he is a commentator and host. He has used that platform to advocate for our military and our veterans. But we know Pete from his time off-camera and before he become a national veterans leader. He loves the military, has led troops in combat, and he loves the men he served with—just like he loves our country. Like us, and so many of our generation, his life has been shaped by serving this country in foreign and dangerous places. He has walked the walk, and now he gets to talk the talk on our behalf.

We’ve all had the pleasure of watching Pete translate his battlefield service into advocacy for America’s war fighters and veterans. When he returned from Iraq, he fought to make sure the troops had the equipment, leaders, and support they needed to win. And when he came back from Afghanistan, he fought—and still fights—to make sure our veterans are properly cared for. He built two incredibly effective veterans organizations—Vets for Freedom and Concerned Veterans for America (CVA)—both of which have had an enormous impact on the policy debate around our veterans and our military.

What we love about Pete is that, whether in uniform or in Washington, he fights because he loves his country, his troops, and our veterans. He doesn’t back down and doesn’t mince words. But Pete doesn’t do it for the spotlight or a title or glory. Those things follow him, but don’t motivate him. He doesn’t care what people think about him—he only cares about fighting for what is right. He fought for victory in Iraq when it wasn’t popular and he fights for reform at the VA against entrenched Washington interests.  As Pete often says, “I’m not interested in being invited to the cocktail parties in DC, I just want to fix the VA.”

As a result of his unrelenting advocacy, Pete has critics. The stale establishment in Washington, DC—the “Swamp”—doesn’t like Pete very much, because they know he’s effective. Government unions, VA bureaucrats, and some politicians attack Pete—because they know that he has the guts and the brains to take them on. He can make the case on television, but more importantly he understands VA policy as well—or better—than anyone in America. Last year he led a bi-partisan policy task force that wrote a landmark VA reform plan that Newt Gingrich called “a historic document.” Pete doesn’t just want to make changes on the margins to claim an easy win – he wants to comprehensively reform and fix the VA.

He’s also strategic. Pete’s not looking for a fight for a fight’s sake. He understands politics, policy, and the media. At CVA, Pete built a movement of veterans willing to fight to fix the VA. He toured the country and built a grassroots army of vets. He understands that in order to change policy in Washington, DC you have to mobilize veterans—and all Americans—to demand that change and hold politicians accountable when they don’t do the right thing. We also know he has developed many Washington contacts— both Republicans and Democrats—that would be willing to work with him to advance the reforms he has helped develop. Fixing the VA will require an outside-the-box approach that takes into account how Washington works—which is exactly what Pete specializes in.

But, with all that said, skeptics will say: Pete’s only 36 years old. To which we respond: you’re damn right he is—and he has packed more into his 36 years than anyone we’ve ever met! Three overseas military deployments, a bachelors degree from Princeton, a masters from Harvard, two successful national veterans’ organizations, years on television, and a highly-acclaimed book are all accomplishments Pete can claim. We believe that Pete has not just enough experience, but the right experience. He is ready for this job and America’s vets need him.

Sometimes the man makes the moment, and sometimes the moment makes the man. With the election of Donald Trump, we have both the right man and the right moment to fix the VA. As men who know Pete Hegseth—and his heart—we urge President-Elect Trump to pick him as the next VA Secretary. He will not regret it. Pete is the right man, at the right moment, to finally put veterans first.

Captain Ziad Shehady served with Pete in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from 2004-2005, Sergeant Major Eric Geressy served with Pete in Baghdad and Samarra, Iraq from 2005-2006, and Lieutenant Colonel Chip Rankin served with Pete in Kabul, Afghanistan during 2011-2012.