Military families carefully consider candidates

By Dave Levinthal: McClatcny Newspapers

Colorado Springs, Colo. — Laurie Traeber paced up and down the U.S. Air Force Academy’s grounds, attracted both by her family’s history of military service and the tug of her 10-year-old son, Austin — an aspiring aviator.

But even here, in the clutch of an industry town fueling two overseas wars with new officers, Traeber had yet to decide whether she’ll support Democrat Barack Obama or John McCain, who disagree about the Iraq war.

That Denver is hosting the Democratic convention 65 miles north provides the Parker, Colo., resident little clarity.

“I think about it a lot. But I’m still thinking,” she said, the academy’s Cadet Chapel towering so high above her that it seemed to touch the sky’s wispy clouds.

And since her son could one day touch those clouds as an Air Force pilot, she’s searching for a candidate who is better prepared, in the long run, to oversee the nation’s defense.

“What I know is I want the president to strongly support the troops and their families,” she said.

Her sentiments are hardly unique as the U.S. military soon enters a seventh year of overseas war operations — a critical campaign issue.

With American forces serving second and third tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, many spouses and children are deeply focused on the race given their personal stake.

All branches have been affected, but especially the Army because of its ground-level role in Iraq. And as far as Stacey Abler can tell, Army families she knows are split between Obama and McCain.

“There are people that support McCain because he is military and supports the war. Or, they’re supporting Obama because he wants to pull the troops out of Iraq. I’m a little surprised more don’t support McCain,” said Abler of Georgia, who runs the Web site, MarriedToTheArmy.com

Clayton and Jessica Galvan of Buffalo, N.Y., who spent an afternoon last week touring the Air Force Academy, said they’re proudly supporting McCain, a former Navy aviator.But both said they hope the nation’s military involvement overseas ends soon. Galvan is a member of the 914th Airlift Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, whose members have been deployed to Iraq.

“No matter what,” he said, “the president must pay close attention to military families.”

For the sacrifices military families must make, tens of thousands of Americans sign up each month.

In July, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force all surpassed their recruiting goals. And for the last fiscal year, every military component, including the reserves and National Guard, met or beat projections.

Air Force Academy and Pentagon officials denied requests to interview cadets on academy grounds about the presidential race. Several cadets approached at a perimeter area apologetically declined to answer questions.

But James Sevey, 21, of Colorado Springs, who last month enlisted with the Navy and hopes to work aboard a ship, said he’s keenly interested in the election.

Leaving a recruiting station last week, he described how generations of men in his family have joined the Navy and been better in life for the experience.

While the possibility of serving in a war is certainly greater today than a decade, “you’re there to serve. And when you get the call, you serve,” Sevey said without hesitation.

But asked which candidate he’ll back as the next commander in chief, he paused.

“Many people in my family are McCain, McCain, McCain,” he said. “But I haven’t decided.”