Editor's Note: This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
This election is shaping up to be the most important of our lifetimes. We're in the middle of a pandemic that has already claimed 18 times more American lives than 9/11. Thousands of our neighbors are in hospitals fighting for their lives. Many more are grieving the loss of loved ones they didn't get the chance to get to say goodbye to in person.
Donald Trump’s handling of this crisis has been near catastrophic, further diminishing America's standing in the world as other countries see our leader’s ineptness and lose faith in America's credibility and expertise.
As a retired Major General who served in hotspots and combat zones all over the world, this worries me. Our military's ability to keep Americans safe depends on other countries’ support and respect, as well as our leaders' ability to work collaboratively in order to achieve our objectives. President Trump's dismissiveness of long-standing alliances, his disregard for expertise and his adverseness to multilateralism has made that more difficult.
We need new leadership in the White House that appreciates the international role our government must fill to keep our country safe. I have faith that Joe Biden will make an excellent President given his admirable service in the Senate and as Vice President, as well as his experience working with diplomats, the military, and international leaders.
Mr. Biden also deserves to have a Vice President by his side advising him who shares these values and his commitment to service over self. And while I've been glad to see so much recent discussion about what attributes Joe Biden should look for in his running mate, no one is talking about why Mr. Biden should consider selecting a veteran, which I believe is absolutely critical.
Just because someone is a veteran does not mean they are automatically qualified to be Vice President. But veterans are some of the most admirable public servants. Time after time, they've put country over self. They took an oath to abide by a code of honor, then they sacrificed more than most could ever imagine, risking their own lives to protect the lives of strangers, and putting themselves in harm's way because they understand that doing what's best for their country matters more than doing what's best for their careers—something that has become too rare in politics today.
Respect for veterans bridges party lines and partisan fissures. They are intimately familiar with the consequences that decisions elected officials make in hallowed halls can have on everyday Americans' lives, and the difference that good governance can make (something more Americans are coming to appreciate lately). And they appreciate America's place in the world and the most important constitutional responsibility the government has: defending our homeland and keeping our people safe.
Safe from war. From terrorism. From economic hardship. And from a pandemic.
There are plenty of veterans who Joe Biden would do well to consider, but one outstanding woman who should be at the top of his list is Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
Tammy served 23 years in the military. She had her legs taken from her in 2004 when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, but that didn't deter her from staying in the National Guard for another decade, continuing to serve her nation.
I first met Tammy 14 years ago and was struck by how her guiding motivation was to give back to the servicemembers who saved her life and to make sure her service to our country is worthy of their sacrifices.
New wars have new wounds and when she took over the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Tammy was one of the first to recognize the terrible toll that Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) were taking on the men and women she served with. She established mandatory screenings for all returning guardsmen and created one of the nation's first 24/7 suicide prevention hotlines for veterans.
She worked at VA under President Obama and Vice President Biden, and then ran for public office to continue her service. While their politics rarely aligned, Tammy reminds me of another statesman who endured unimaginable hardship at the hands of enemy soldiers before dedicating his life to serving others: the late Sen. John McCain.
Tammy is also a barrier-breaker and a role model — for my daughter who I adopted from Asia — and for people across our country. She sent a powerful message when she became the first Senator to give birth while serving in office and made the institution more family-friendly. Anyone who has struggled through personal tragedy or hardship can look at her and see that recovery is possible, and that having a disability doesn't need to be disabling — rather it can give you a new perspective with which to change the world.
Finally, Tammy knows what a responsible foreign policy path looks like. She ran for office because she understands that armed conflict should always be the last option, and that we need to finally end the forever war that's stretching into its third decade and take care of our returning heroes.
I’m looking forward to Jan. 2021 because Joe Biden is a man of deep integrity, who believes deeply in restoring the soul of this nation, which we so desperately need. There's no one who would be better serving by his side than someone whose soul embodies the type of selfless service and resilience that makes this nation great: Retired Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth.