I never voted.
I was wrong.
I remember the major calling me into his office as an 18-year-old private for a discussion. The discussion came around to the importance of voting and how it was my duty to vote. I liked to do things the hard way at the time, and I was honest about how I wouldn't vote. That went over like a lead balloon with the major.
After some yelling and cursing on his part, I agreed to look into voting. It would not be the only time that I spoke bluntly about voting and paid the repercussions for it. As many young service members have found out, no matter how much you push the ground, it doesn't move anywhere. I did get stronger and times like these reinforced my stubbornness.
I ignored politics on both the local and national level. I focused all of my energies on being the best soldier that I could. At least that is what I told myself. I didn't feel it was right to pick my bosses, like POTUS, who sits atop the command chain. I never looked into the issues because I didn't care what happened locally as I was going to be moving anyway, and I certainly didn't care about what went on in Washington, DC. Plus, I had a high level of disdain for politicians; well, that one hasn't changed much.
Hindsight is a great knowledge enhancer. As I look back, I was wrong for not exercising my constitutional right to vote.I ignored issues that I should have spent a little time researching, instead of watching a movie or having a few cold ones. I could have dug into the problems instead of sticking my head in the sand. Now having been retired for 18 months, I acknowledge how ignorant I was.
We put our lives on the line so that others can vote in countries around the world, and I failed to do my civic duty at home. I'm now passionate about ensuring service members vote and that their vote counts.
I'm proud to support Count Every Hero, an organization committed to ensuring that every service member's ballot is counted before a winner is declared. Count Every Hero (CHO) is a cross-partisan, nonprofit organization chaired by General (Ret) Tony Zinni. CHO has two principles: 1: Every service member's right to vote must be protected and their votes must be counted. 2: Military voters must have an opportunity to register, request an absentee ballot, and cast a vote regardless of their location in the world. To date, 16 retired four-star Flag Officers have joined the movement to ensure every hero's vote is counted.
General Zinni said, "We count on our troops to fight for our freedom so we owe it to them to count their ballots. No candidate should be declared an election winner until all military ballots are counted." I fully support his message. Who you vote for is a personal choice. This right is part of why I served for 20 years, defending our freedoms. I don't care who you vote for, but your vote should and must be counted before determining the winners of our elections.
As for me, I will be like the Afghans and Iraqis I saw with ink on their fingers, so excited to have voted for the first time. I may not have ink on my fingers come Nov. 3, but I will have the same smile and sense of pride partaking in a critical function of our democracy.