From warfighters to lawmakers: Ranks of Navy SEALs growing in Congress

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As the number of military veterans in Congress has dwindled over the past decade, one group of former commandos has bucked that trend.

Going from zero representation to five over the last 10 years — four of whom won their seats in the 2022 cycle. This band of lawmakers hail from states such as Montana, Wisconsin, Arizona and Texas and they all started their careers of service as Navy SEALs.

All of the members of this small club are House Republicans.

There are 80 military veterans currently serving in the House, or just over 18% of the chamber’s 435 members. It is the smallest share in modern history, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.

Meanwhile, Navy SEALs now make up just over 1% of House lawmakers.

Navy SEALs — short for the U.S. Navy Sea, Air and Land Teams — go through rigorous training on the coast of Coronado, California, to become mission-focused warfighters. Congress’ Navy SEALs say that training and experiences prepared them for the combat — political combat, that is — on Capitol Hill.

“One of the biggest things that any SEAL would acknowledge is that we are forged through adversity, we are made through adversity in the SEAL teams,” said Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona. “Congress is obviously not an easy job.”

Mission success is paramount for SEALS, and no mission, big or small, can be done successfully without teamwork, they say.

Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana served in the Navy for 23 years. In 2014, he became the first Navy SEAL elected to Congress.

Mr. Zinke, though a familiar face in Congress, was part of the new influx of SEALs joining the chamber, which included Mr. Crane and Reps. Morgan Luttrell of Texas and Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, who last year won reelection for a third term in the House, rounds out the team.

The four newly-elected SEALs displayed their teamwork prowess on the campaign trail during last year’s elections.

Mr. Zinke is the chairman of the Supporting and Electing American Leaders Political Action Committee or SEAL PAC, which worked to elect himself and Mr. Crane, Mr. Luttrell and Mr. Van Orden.

“We just spent a lot of time helping each other,” Mr. Zinke said.

Mr. Luttrell recalled that he and his peers were “thick as thieves” on the campaign trail. The brotherhood that the SEALs share also cuts through political differences on Capitol Hill.

“It is a group where we can collectively come together and voice our concerns and we know that it’s safe right there,” Mr. Luttrell said. “If we need guidance and direction, we can lean on each other.”

At 61, Mr. Zinke is the eldest of the club. He said that it was important to have a younger group of SEALs joining the House, particularly for the fresh perspectives they provide on National Defense matters.

“When you first get there and you’re a private, you’re probably not going to lead a lot of missions,” Mr. Zinke said. “You have to learn in the house. There’s a little learning curve.”

Mr. Luttrell, who served in the Navy for 14 years, said that bipartisan teamwork is foremost in getting work done in Congress.

For instance, Army Rangers were never his “jam,” Mr. Luttrell said, but when it came time for a mission, any friction melted away and the focus became mission success.

That same feeling has translated into how Mr. Luttrell operates in the House.

“When I’m a member of Congress, I use the understanding of ‘Hey, look, we may disagree on tactics, but the mission itself is the betterment of the country,’” Mr. Luttrell said.

Mr. Crane, who served in the Navy for 13 years, said the dedication to teamwork doesn’t mean fidelity to the House GOP leadership, which was evident when he joined other Freedom Caucus members to block the election of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for 15 rounds of voting.

“A lot of military guys think that the Republican Party or the Democrat Party is their new chain of command and that they need to fall into line and do what they’re told. I don’t believe that the Republican Party is my new chain of command,” Mr. Crane said. “The people in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District are my chain of command.”

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