Battle-tested Marines lead Poway Patriotic Parade
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher were the Poway Patriotic Parade grand marshals on Saturday morning.
Both are 34-year-old politicians (only 24 days apart in age) who chose the Marine Corps for their military service and served in Iraq. Hunter also served in Afghanistan.
Hunter represents the 52nd Congressional District, which includes Poway. Fletcher represents the 75th State Assembly District that includes Poway and Rancho Bernardo. Both are in their second two-year terms, first elected in 2008.
The parade, featuring floats, marching bands and special tributes to veterans, draw about 10,000 spectators Saturday morning. (See related story and photos)
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Duncan D. Hunter, born on Dec. 7 (the anniversary of Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor) said he was spurred by another foreign attack on American soil, 9/11, to join the military.
Following in the footsteps of his paternal grandfather, Robert O. Hunter, a Marine Corps artillery officer during World War II who fought in the Pacific, the younger Hunter also chose field artillery after becoming a Marine.
“Marines are the best,” Hunter said about choosing the Marine Corps instead of the Army as his father, retired Congressman Duncan L. Hunter, had done.
“The nation was in need,” Hunter said about quitting his job shortly after 9/11 to join the military. “9/11 was an attack on American soil, against me and my family.”
It was a career change discussed with his wife, Margaret, but not his parents, he said. “I did not want to hear any arguments (from them),” adding he waited a week or so after signing up to inform them. “As a man, it was something I had to do.”
Hunter said he considered military service years earlier, but since he married while still in college and their son was born during his senior year, being in the military then was something that “would have been hard to do.”
A year after graduating from Officer Candidate School (spring 2002), Hunter served his first combat tour in Iraq with the 1st Marine Division. A year later he returned, this time to Fallujah with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines. His active duty concluded with an honorable discharge in September 2005. He then entered the Marine Corps Reserve, in 2006 was promoted to captain and has a year left in his commitment.
In 2007, a few weeks after announcing he would run for the congressional seat his father was retiring from after 28 years, Hunter was recalled to active duty for a tour in Afghanistan. His family continued his campaign until his return in November 2007. He was elected the following year to succeed his father.
“I’ve met some of the best people I’ll ever meet, who choose to put the nation’s needs above their own,” Hunter said of his military experience. Unlike the past, Hunter said this is an entire volunteer military, with many joining or reenlisting knowing they will likely go overseas to hot spots like Afghanistan.
“Looking back, (joining the military) was the most important thing I ever did,” he said.
Hunter said he is the only House of Representatives member with combat experience in the war on terror. This influences his legislative choices because he truly understands what today’s military personnel are going through.
“I understand what affects the troops and their families,” he said. “We lived at Camp Pendleton, used TRICARE and know how a family feels when you come back home or are fighting.”
His time in Iraq and Afghanistan gave him a better understanding of America’s strategic plan and better view of other countries. Despite this, Hunter said military service should not be required for politicans since Congress should reflect a cross section of society and a small percentage of Americans serve. Still, he added, “I always look to get more veterans into office.”
Hunter said the decade-long military campaign has been successful because the United States has not had another 9/11-style attack on American soil. “The intelligence service has kept us safe and foiled a lot of plots you have not heard of,” he said. “We have to keep the fight going.”
As for being parade grand marshal, Hunter said, “It’s an honor to be able to do it and represent my fellow Marines.”
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Nathan Fletcher said about half of his military service from 1997 to 2007 was on active duty, with the other half in the reserves. “I’ve gone back and forth,” he said.
Fletcher said he completed Marine Corps boot camp at MCRD San Diego during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years of college. His enlistment terms allowed him to complete his education at California Baptist University before being on active duty. The latter included additional training at the U.S. Army Airborne Course and Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.
“I’ve always felt a calling to serve my country,” Fletcher said, adding it was a concept ingrained in him by his parents who led by example. His father was a factory worker who became a policeman while his mother ran a shelter for battered women, he said.
“I’ve had such tremendous opportunity and felt an obligation to do my part in contributing to America’s safety, freedom and future prosperity,” Fletcher said.
“They’re the best,” he said of his decision to become a Marine. “They are the most exclusive and elite. As a young guy I saw them as the organization that was most cohesive, had the most pride and greatest history.
“I looked at the different branches, and they’re all good, but this fit best,” he said.
Though Fletcher said he intended to become an officer, once on active duty he became a counter intelligence/human intelligence specialist, a field that does not require many officers, he said. Before his honorable discharge in 2007, Fletcher was promoted to staff sergeant.
Fletcher gained wartime experience in 2004 when he served eight months in the Sunni Triangle region of Iraq. Later, he was sent to the Horn of Africa region and worked throughout Eastern Africa and the Near East.
Following 9/11, Fletcher said, “I couldn’t wait to go overseas. Every Marine wanted to go in that first wave.”
According to Fletcher, “(Military service) shapes you and changes you in a lot of ways. I had a long-time desire of service and combat gives you a greater appreciation of how precious life is.
“Life is a gift that a lot of (military) men and women did not have the opportunity (to continue) … (so) I want to make my life count,” he said. “(Combat) shapes you and gives you a good perspective on life in terms of what is a bad day and what is really important in the long term — family and faith.”
Because he is in state government, Fletcher has fewer opportunities to influence the military than if in Washington. However, he said his military experience — being the first combat veteran of the global war on terror to serve in the California State Legislature — makes him work a bit differently.
“As a Marine, I was focused on accomplishing the mission and getting a group to work hard to get it done,” he said. “A lot of times in politics the tone and terminology used is out of line with the debate.”
Legislative colleagues will often refer to an opponent as “traitor” or “enemy,” but Fletcher said they are wrong.
“When you’ve fought a war and seen (people) die you do not see (legislative colleagues) as the enemy,” he said. “You can disagree on principle or position … but need to articulate it in a manner of dignity. We’re all Americans trying to solve complicated (issues).”
Fletcher said he is also a “strong advocate” of active duty military and the defense industry in San Diego. “I appreciate what they do for the economy and … culture of San Diego,” he said.
As for being parade grand marshal, Fletcher said, “It is a great honor that I accepted on behalf of all veterans that I served with, as their representative.”
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