WASHINGTON – For U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., her vote to support the troops was also a vote to support her son.
The mother of a sailor currently serving on a Navy submarine tender in the Mediterranean, Musgrave is one of a small group of congressional members who have sons currently serving in the military and possibly participating in the war with Iraq.
“I am anxious at times,” she said of her 22-year-old son John, an E-5 in the Navy. “But I have to say it’s not just for my son, but for all the mothers. These are kids at the prime of their lives and they're going in to get a mass murderer of people who will do anything at all to win.”
Army Sergeant Brooks Johnson, 31, son of Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.C., is stationed in Kuwait with the 101st Airborne Division, two members of which were killed in a deadly grenade attack by another U.S. soldier March 22.
The incident has shaken Johnson, who told Fox News Wednesday that his son was ever-present in his mind when he voted to authorize the war in Iraq late last year.
“It gives me pause, as a senator, to vote for a resolution authorizing the war in Iraq,” he said. “However, both Brooks and I knew this was the best course of action to take. The world will be a much better place without Saddam Hussein.”
Meanwhile, being a senator's son has brought the younger Johnson some old-fashioned ribbing from his fellow soldiers in the desert, he said recently.
"If it wasn't that, there would be something else," Brooks Johnson told a reporter recently outside the operations tent at the 3rd Brigade. "I'm an easy target."
Though there is no comprehensive list, there are at least seven members of Congress with children in the Armed Forces -- a small number, but not surprising, according to historians who say the number of congressional sons and daughters serving in the military has declined steadily since the Vietnam War era.
“My suspicion is that it’s pretty rare,” said Donald Zillman, a military expert and professor of law at the University of Maine. “Basically, that’s not where congressmen’s kids are heading off.”
But it’s clear that those who do have children in the military have strong family backgrounds in the Armed Services, and pride that their children have chosen to serve and carry on the tradition.
“We hadn’t talked about it -- this is something that he wanted to do and that’s a good thing,” said Rep. Ed Schrock, R-Va., whose 26-year-old son Randy is an intelligence officer in the Navy reserves. He has not yet been activated.
“I remember when I volunteered to go in-country in Vietnam, my dad understood and my mom was very upset,” said Schrock, who served as a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy. “At the time, I didn’t know why she was so upset. Now I do.”
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a National Guard member and a Persian Gulf War veteran -- one of at least three Gulf veterans in the House, including Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., who was called to active duty in the Gulf last week -- said he is heartened that his son has received such superior training.
“It gives me encouragement, knowing the training they’ve had,” he said of his son Alan, 29, who is a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard and is likely to be activated. Alan is the oldest of three sons -- the other two are a Naval Academy graduate and a cadet in the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corp.
“I did have my heart in my hand,” he said of a recent phone call in which he was sure Alan was announcing his deployment. It turned out to be a false alarm. However, in his own experience as a congressman -- traveling to the Middle East and privy to briefings on today’s military capabilities -- he is “confident” that his son will be well prepared for war.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said his son John Daniel, 32, is on active duty, but is serving stateside preparing troops for deployment at Fort Meade in Maryland. As one of five career-military veterans in the House and one in the Senate, Kline said it is important to bring this unique perspective -- of sending children to war, as well as having personally experienced it -- to the table.
“I don’t mean to impugn the patriotism or experience of my colleagues, but their personal experience doesn’t let them have the same understanding of this conflict as those who might have spent years and years on active duty,” he said. “Having served and having a son on active duty … I have a different perspective on this than others have.”
Other congressmen who have sons in the military today include Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., whose son Duncan Duane, 26, is a lieutenant in the Marines stationed stateside, and Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., whose son Perry is a cadet at the Naval Academy. Cadets are considered on active duty.
During the Vietnam War, in which 58,000 American lives were lost, anti-war protesters made much of the fact that 118 out of 234 House members’ and senators’ sons eligible for the draft took college deferments to avoid service.
Former Vice President Al Gore, son of the late Sen. Al Gore Sr., was the only senator’s son to participate in active duty in Vietnam throughout the eight-year war. Twenty-seven sons of House members also served in Vietnam.
Today, there is no draft, and the numbers are even lower, indicating that military service is no longer a badge of honor for the political elite, or encouraged for their children, said Zillman.
Nonetheless, though in the minority, Musgrave said her role as a mother of a sailor has brought her service in Congress into focus.
“It makes it so personal,” said Musgrave, who spoke of a recent e-mail she received from her son after a long silence. She said he told her that he and other sailors saw a recent broadcast of her speech on the House floor supporting the troops abroad.
“It was a gift of God, as you can imagine, for a mother waiting to hear from her son,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.