Palin's son's job to guard his commanders in Iraq
WASHINGTON: The long and divisive war in Iraq is about to resonate with presidential candidates in a way not seen so far in the campaign: The sons of both vice presidential nominees are assigned to go there soon.
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's eldest son, Track, private first class in the Army, will perform security duties for his brigade's top officers.
Beau Biden, son of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, a captain in the Delaware National Guard and will work as a military lawyer in Iraq.
This is not a first. Family members of candidates and presidents have served in the military during wartime. President Johnson's son-in-law, Charles S. Robb, for instance, served as a Marine officer in Vietnam. Dwight Eisenhower was the last sitting president to have a son in a combat zone. John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower served during the Korean War. Theodore Roosevelt and his distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt each had four sons in the military during wartime.
And nearly a dozen young men and women — sons and daughters of members of Congress — have served in Iraq, although critics of U.S. military policy long have argued that too few of the people making the decisions have had family members serving in war zones at the time.
When Republican presidential nominee John McCain selected Track's mother to be his running mate, the Alaska governor's family moved into the international spotlight. She has made no secret that her 19-year-old son and his unit are leaving soon for duty in Iraq, repeating the news during her acceptance speech this week at the Republican political convention. Track, in a dress suit, was in the audience.
The presidential campaigns remain deeply divided over how to end the contentious war — an issue that had front-burner status during the primary season but has not been quite so prominent recently. The deployments of Track Palin and Beau Biden make the subject an intensely personal one, nevertheless, for their families.
"They're going to take a very keen interest in how that war is run," said retired Army brigadier general David Grange. "It will affect their decision-making. No doubt about it."
The dispatch of the candidate sons to Iraq also carries unavoidable political overtones. For the Democrats, Beau Biden's service could help reverse a weak spot, for example.
"Republicans always seem to imply that Democrats are somehow unpatriotic or want to be easy on the terrorists," said James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University's School of Public Policy. "But I think that Biden's son demonstrates that you can disagree with a policy and still support doing your duty."
One hundred members of Biden's brigade are scheduled to leave in early October for Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will spend several weeks training before going to Iraq, said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, a spokesman for the Delaware Guard.
Like any other soldier, Biden will carry a weapon. But his duties will be largely administrative, Gratteri said.
Palin's unit is believed to be headed to Diyala, among the most dangerous of Iraq's 18 provinces. It extends from the northeastern suburbs of Baghdad to the Iranian border. Diyala has proven to be difficult to control because it is heavily mixed with Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds.
Diyala was the fourth most violent of Iraq's provinces, averaging more than 3.5 attacks each day, according to figures from June. It has not been returned to Iraqi control and probably won't be before next year.
Citing security restrictions, the Army will not say where in Iraq Palin's or Biden's units are being sent. Both units are scheduled to be in Iraq for 12 months.
The British government pulled Prince Harry from Afghanistan earlier this year after news leaked he was fighting there. That sparked a debate about whether the children of powerful politicians are treated differently when they join the military.
Track Palin and Beau Biden have received no special considerations, the Army said.
McCain's son Jimmy, a Marine, returned earlier this year from Iraq. Another McCain son, Jack, is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's two daughters are just 10 and 7 years old.