by Josh Manning
Manning is a combat veteran and serves on the leadership team of Common Defense, a group of progressive veterans joining together to affect political change. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuamanning23
In 2007, I was in Iraq in a support role with the U.S Navy SEALs. Even though I was in the Army, they treated me well and eventually I felt like I was a member of this special team. Toward the end of this short sprint of a deployment I received a coin from the commander of the unit. It is among my most prized possessions because of the words on the back. They read: “Remember who you are and what you represent.”
I think about this all the time and recently posed this question to Representative Ryan Zinke because, as you may have heard, he was a SEAL. Of course I received no response. However without his answer I think you can imagine what he would say by looking at his character.
Over the weekend I communicated with a few members of the SEAL community, one of whom is a longtime and well-respected member. A lifelong Republican, he reached out to me because he could not stomach Zinke overstating his SEAL career. He told me Don Pogreba was on the mark two years ago when he put a spotlight on Zinke’s departure from the military under adverse terms. The military phrase for what happened is “fraud, waste, and abuse.” Those are stark terms because we are told to keep a watchful eye on spending taxpayer money. Those with authority are entrusted to use government funds wisely since they have ready access to a lot of money.
The Navy nudged Zinke out because he had abused its funds to travel to Montana. Zinke said this was to set up a base in Montana for training, but that ignores SEALs train mostly at their well-built and supplied bases on the east and west coasts. If they need to train in the mountains then they can just take a few weeks and do so. This is demonstrated by Dalton Fury in “Kill Bin Laden” where another special operations group travelled to our own Bob Marshall Wilderness to train for Afghanistan. It served them well and like all of Montana’s public lands you can just show up and go. Also, if Zinke had come here to start a training area then it would have cut off access. But what he really wanted to do here was set up his next life and he used military funds to do this. Well, until he was caught.
That was not the first time Zinke has put his needs above the ethical choices in front of him. Zinke has placed those of us who were given special access in a very awkward place. He has broken the terms of Non-Disclosure Agreements, which operators and intelligence officers sign to protect the sanctity of the sensitive national security programs they serve.
Think about that. People call Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (no relation) heroes while others feel they are traitors. Zinke is no different, except he has used what everyone else holds sacred to sell his brand. During that 2007 deployment, a senior enlisted leader once yelled at an Army officer with loose lips and told him, “The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.” Zinke has not just talked about “Fight Club,” he has bragged about it. He has made a lot of his former comrades upset because he is using that for personal gain. The commander of these forces recently warned about the consequences of this.
But these violations of ethical and moral codes are nothing new to Zinke. He has called himself a Montanan yet lives mostly, probably all of the time, in Santa Barbara, California. He promotes himself ahead of Montana’s interests to either gain national stature or rank. He does not care about what happens here, he cares how his ticker reads during every Fox News appearance. In the Army I learned the sacred value of selfless service. Navy SEALs live by this too but Zinke has gone far astray.
I have spoken with numerous people over the past few months about Zinke and the military-minded folks have called him a “fraud” and laughed at the stories he has told them. Zinke has bragged about the number of people he has killed. This is sickening. Everyone deals with death and war in their own way but if you know a veteran ask them if they openly brag about the people they have killed. Every day I wonder if I asked the Air Force to bomb the right building or sent men into danger to grab the right target. I got that coin because no one died when I sent small teams of operators onto buildings at 2 a.m., cloaked in darkness with a million armed people below them. You do not brag about that, you stand in awe of it. If people died then you wonder if it was worth it.
I have spent the past few months wondering why Zinke has tied his wagon to the Trump train. It has been especially odd because that train is headed for a major electoral catastrophe. Over the past few weeks it has made increasing sense. Zinke’s record as a Navy SEAL is equitable with Trump’s success selling “Trump Steaks.” Both are a scam; set forward to promote a brand that is empty behind its apparent glory and fireworks. Once the smoke clears, you are left wondering if the whole show was really worth it. It was not.
He is the same as in Congress as he was as a SEAL. This is not a surprise. He has ignored a mantra he supposedly held dear: “The deed is all, not the glory.” He has no deed but he wants all the glory.
There is a very simple way to call out this scam—please do not check his box on the ballot. Send him back home to California so he can be an analyst on Trump TV. Let this election return people to where they should be.