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Going on Mormon Mission Does Not Equal Military Service

I thought I had heard it all from the Romney/Ryan team. Then Ann Romney went on The View. Whoopie Goldberg may not have been "nice" in her question regarding Mitt's military service or lack of it but for Ms. Romney to suggest that going on mission for the Mormon Church is the same as going into the military is repugnant. Mitt Romney and I are the same age and, contrary to President Obama, when Romney and I were eligible for service there was a draft.

I grew up in New York City, upper Manhattan, and knew few people who went into the military during the Vietnam War. Some went to Canada; some claimed they were conscientious objectors; some did what George Bush did and joined the National Guard; and others even claimed to be homosexual when they were actually straight. But none ever claimed that what they did was equivalent to going into the military. Some didn't go out of fear and others out of opposition to the war, but today they are all honest about their reasons.

My draft number was 115. On the day that subway token arrived in my mailbox with my draft notice telling me to report to the induction center at 39 Whitehall Street my friends planned a going away party for me. I left a teary mother the morning of my induction day and took the subway to Whitehall Street.

I was petrified. At Whitehall we were instructed to line up facing forward and told that we were going to go through our physicals and then board buses to basic training. Then they said if anyone had a reason to believe they weren't fit for service to take one step forward and, this being New York, 95 percent of the line stepped forward including me. One by one they asked each of us our reason and people said they were flat-footed; they wore glasses; they had severe allergies; you name it, they had it. I had a bad knee. I had recently undergone knee surgery and still had a red nasty looking 6" scar. Each of us was sent to see doctors that would know about our specific ailments and make the decision that would impact our lives. It was 8 a.m. in the morning.

After many hours of exams and tests including mental tests to see where they would place us if we were inducted, I was called into a room and told, "We are very sorry but the Army can't take you because of your knee. You will be classified "1Y." (That wasn't a "4F" which meant you were totally unfit for service. My friends always suggested it meant that if the Russians or Chinese got to the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge I would be called up to collect tolls). I said how sorry I was and then ran out of Whitehall Street to the subway and home to celebrate.

I never believed that any other service was equivalent to serving in the military. The few friends I knew who went thankfully all came home safe. I saw them all as heroes even though I didn't believe in the war. They had served our nation and did it bravely. They had risked their lives which is something none of us who didn't go ever did. They deserved our respect and our gratitude as those who serve in the volunteer military do today. They are the heroes as are our first responders, our police and firemen, the men and women who willingly put their lives on the line to protect us here and abroad every day. For Ann Romney to suggest that a two year stint for the church in peacetime Paris is in any way equivalent to serving in Vietnam is an insult to all those brave men and women who did. Incredibly she then went on to say, "Mitt was serving his mission and my five sons have also served missions. None served in the military, but I do have one son that feels he is giving back to his country in a significant way where he is now a doctor and is taking care of veterans. So, you know, we find different ways of serving." Romney further said, "... and my boys did serve missions, and they went away for two years, and I sent them away boys, and they came back men, and I think this is where military service is so extraordinary too, where you literally do something where you're helping someone else, you're going outside of yourself and you're working and helping others, and that changes you."

Today with a volunteer military many of our elected leaders will never serve. Bill Clinton never served and neither did Barack Obama, but I believe they are able to serve successfully as commander in chief. They never claimed that they did anything equivalent to serving in the military and they understand that there is very little that is equivalent to putting your life on the line for your country.

I would hope that Ann and Mitt Romney would rethink this. If Mitt Romney agrees with his wife that his Mormon mission and partying in Paris was the same as serving in the military then this is just another reason he is unfit to be commander-in-chief.

This article appeared October 23, 2012 in Huffington