Politicians who are veterans of the US armed forces have long touted their military records, or their connections to the military during campaigns for public office. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is no exception.
But Moore received some criticism on Dec. 11 when he applied an allegory that combined military procedure with a politically divisive topic related to some troops currently serving in the armed forces.
"I know we do not need transgender in our military," Moore said during a campaign rally in Alabama, according to the Associated Press. "If I'm in a foxhole, I don't want to know whether this guy next to me is wondering if he's a woman or a man."
The polarizing discussion over whether transgender people should be allowed to openly enlist in the US military has been a point of contention for some conservatives since President Donald Trump proposed a policy change on the matter in July. Moore, a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, has vehemently opposed transgender rights during his campaign.
But the term "foxhole" is not only interpreted as a literal defensive fighting position. It also invokes the intimate experience of bonds forged between servicemembers in the midst of battle — be it during the snow-covered Battle of the Bulge in World War II, or in the backdrop of picturesque views from Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Roy Moore, twice removed from the judge bench, seen here after a phone call with President Trump in September. (Image Roy Moore Twitter screen grab)
Veterans and lawmakers came out to condemn Moore's remarks. Some of them pointed out the damaging sexual-harassment allegations that surfaced last month.
"I'd rather be in a foxhole with the brave trans men and women already serving overseas than in Congress with a pedophile," Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former infantry Marine Corps officer and Iraq War veteran, tweeted.
"You won't be in a foxhole. I might be, though, and if I am, I don't want to have to worry my daughter might get molested by a US Senator while I'm gone," David Dixon, a US Army armor officer and Iraq War veteran, said on Twitter.
Other veterans took issue with the exclusionary nature of Moore's sentiments, which may contrast with certain aspects of warfare and military readiness.
"This is not a thing anyone who ever served in a foxhole has worried about," Brandon Friedman, a former Housing and Urban Development official and US Army officer tweeted.
"In the Marine Corps, politics don't matter. Your color doesn't matter," Lee Busby, a Republican write-in candidate in the Alabama Senate race and a former colonel in the US Marine Corps, tweeted. "You fight for the Marine in that foxhole next to you because you love them and would do anything for them. Alabama is no different to me. I am willing to fight and claw for every single person in this state," Busby said.
In Vietnam, the troops Moore commanded derisively nicknamed him "Captain America," according to a 2005 report from the Atlantic. Reporter Joshua Green wrote for the publication at the time that Moore "was so much disliked that he feared being killed by his own troops, and slept on a bed of sandbags so that he couldn't be fragged by a grenade rolled under his bed."
A fuel dump burns at Khe Sanh behind the walls of sandbags. (Photo: Public Domain)
One of Moore's former professors, also a Vietnam War veteran, reportedly said veterans told him that Moore, while on the ground in Vietnam, wanted to be saluted for his rank; a tradition that, while normal by military standards, is discouraged while in an active war zone.
"When you go to Vietnam as an officer, you don't ask anybody to salute you, because the Viet Cong would shoot officers," Guy Martin, former adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of law, told The New Yorker in October.
"You've heard this a million times in training," Martin continued. "There's nothing more telling about a person's capability and character and base intelligence. It's crazy."
While the US Defense Department previously concluded, after a yearlong study, that allowing transgender people to enlist and serve openly would have a minimal impact on military readiness and cost, Moore has been unwavering in his opposition.
"To say that President Trump cannot prohibit transgenderism in the military is a clear example of judicial activism," Moore reportedly wrote in a statement in October, following a federal judge's decision to partially block Trump's transgender ban. "Even the United States Supreme Court has never declared transgenderism to be a right under the Constitution," Moore said.
At an October campaign rally, Moore said, "We don't need transgender bathrooms and we don't need transgender military and we don't need a weaker military ... We need to go back to what this country is about."
The Pentagon celebrates Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender Pride Month. (US Navy photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
Moore's views struck a nerve with veterans
"Roy Moore — This is me in a real foxhole," a widely known Twitter user who goes by the alias "Red T Raccoon" tweeted on Sunday morning with an accompanying photo. "I didn't care who was next to me as long as they had the American flag on their uniform. Bigotry has no place in the military and especially the Senate," the man, a former combat medic, who is now a veterans advocate, said.
Business Insider viewed the man's US Army service records and independently verified his identity following an interview Monday night. He has asked to remain anonymous.
"A bullet or [improvised explosive device] does the same damage to anyone," the man told Business Insider. "We all did what we had to do to survive and we all just wanted to go home. Sexuality or gender identity had nothing to do with those goals."
"I treated good men and women in the field that never made it home," he continued. "He has no right to question their service to our country," the man said of Moore.
Following his tweet, photos of uniformed servicemembers — some of whom tweeted messages endorsing Jones — began to circulate:
This is me in a real foxhole.
I didn't care who was next to me as long as they had the American flag on their uniform.
Bigotry has no place in the military and especially the Senate.
I'm a veteran and I support Doug Jones. pic.twitter.com/HF3fzJjgt5
— Red T Raccoon (@RedTRaccoon) December 10, 2017
Yep, I agree 1000%. My Battle Buddy (1990-91). pic.twitter.com/6hxK91mkq6
— Rick Williams (@RlwRick) December 10, 2017
This is me in Bosnia. I'm a vet and I support Doug Jones. He's what we need in the senate. pic.twitter.com/1yHSmmCniU
— Alan Sandoval (@AlanSandoval13) December 10, 2017
Alabama vet for Doug Jones! pic.twitter.com/Qa9HdFN7yp
— Juniper Breeze (@Juniperb30) December 11, 2017
Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 12 special election in Alabama, the responses from veterans following Moore's comments shows that the military, despite being uniformed in appearance, is comprised of political views as unique as the men and women who serve.