Montana Rep. Paul Green likens the legislative session to his time serving on a Navy submarine.
“You can’t leave, and you are in a confined area looking at the same people every day,” he says, “so you have to get along, do your due diligence, and keep the overall mission of serving the citizens in mind. And you deal with a lot of pressure in a stressful environment.”
In his first session as a state legislator this year, his naval service was important grounding for bipartisan policymaking. “You have to get along with everyone in doing your job to complete the mission of the sub,” he says. “You listen to each other and move ahead, even if your opinion doesn’t prevail.”
“You listen to each other and move ahead, even if your opinion doesn’t prevail.”
—Montana Rep. Paul Green
Green was injured during the five years he served as a submarine sonar technician and has a 100% disability. On Veterans Day, he typically spends time visiting area high schools and sharing his experiences.
Some 18 million veterans alive today have served as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The nation celebrates Veterans Day every year on Nov. 11. Since that day is a Saturday this year, governments and businesses designate the Friday before as the day to express gratitude to those who have served in uniform, while displaying the flag and attending events to honor all military veterans.
The nation’s state legislatures benefit from the presence of a unique and dedicated group of lawmakers who have served in the military and continue to serve the nation in an elected policymaking capacity. By NCSL’s count, 750 veterans currently serve as state legislators, representing every branch of the military and the National Guard. Military experience provides them with a distinctive perspective on the obligations of public service and gives them a deeper understanding of the needs of veterans, military personnel and their families, leading to a focus on legislation supporting those communities.
Green, a Republican representing the vast 41st House District in southeast Montana, used his ability to listen and get along to work across the aisle to sponsor a significant housing investment bill, which survived a gauntlet of legislative maneuvering to become law on June 13. The bill will spend $175 million of Montana’s surplus general fund on housing infrastructure, mortgage assistance and rent-restricted apartment projects.
Next session, based on his own monumental struggles to obtain adequate health care, Green plans to advocate for new positions in the state’s Department of Labor to assist veterans in navigating the byzantine processes of the U.S. Veterans Administration to secure their health care benefits.
Overcoming Troubles, Serving His Tribe
Dan King is a veteran who gives his time to the citizens of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin through service in tribal government and in leading ceremonies to recognize and honor the service and sacrifice of fellow veterans. King and other Native Americans serve in the military at one of the highest rates of all demographic groups.
King wasn’t looking to be a leader when he volunteered for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In fact, he sometimes compared what he did as a soldier in Vietnam to the devastation of Native American communities in the U.S. over the centuries. “What kind of mess did I get into?” he asked himself early on. “What am I doing here? I am now doing the same thing that happened to my people.”
“As the sergeant of my team, I would do what I expected of them, like walking point or cleaning the latrines, even pulling guard duty. After that they wouldn’t complain anymore.”
Despite the challenges, he sought to lead by the examples taught by his tribal elders and his mother. “As the sergeant of my team, I would do what I expected of them, like walking point or cleaning the latrines, even pulling guard duty. After that they wouldn’t complain anymore.” King’s fellow soldiers looked to him for guidance and assurance. He took on the “warrior ethos,” he says, even though he and his comrades were scared. “Survival became the focus. Were you going to die for country and flag? No, but you would die for your buddies in combat.”
When King arrived home from the war, he lamented, “We were called baby killers. You have to kill while you are there, then you feel stupid later. You get congratulations for your first kill, it feels good. But then you realize that was a person with a family and the face comes back. The guy I killed was fighting for his home.” The years of military combat and difficult times motivated him to help people in a tangible way. His soul searching guided him to do something bigger than himself.
After overcoming troubles with the law and receiving treatment and rehabilitation, King went on to serve his tribe doing work in emergency management, soon taking on a leadership role. He served as the Oneida Nation Health and Safety Coordinator for decades.
King now faces cancer, which he believes was caused by his exposure to a variety of toxins during his military service. He asks that people don’t feel sorry for him and other veterans who are suffering. “Just listen to us,” he says. “You’ve got a life, are you living it to the fullest? Do stuff while you can.”
Jim Reed staffs the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force.
Editor’s Note: NCSL has an ongoing commitment to assisting state legislators and legislative staff on policy issues related to military and veterans’ affairs. This topic policy is discussed and shared under the auspices of the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force. This group enables state legislators and staff from across the country to convene and share best practices, identify policy options, and explore innovations that support military personnel, veterans and their families. The task force meets in person and virtually throughout the year to discuss issues and share information. NCSL research and publications on a variety of military and veterans topics are also available.