Who Is With Me?

She has an Army officer husband who’s been forced to retire due to military-budget cuts, and four kids including an autistic son. Is either candidate able to make this Black writer’s America great?

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My military family’s been reeling these past six months, consumed by the effects of President Obama’s second term—a president I supported. The president I voted for. But after almost 18 years of dedicated service and sacrifice, my career-officer husband was recently notified of his involuntary separation from the United States Army. He’s been stationed overseas, relocated ten times, serving as a logistician officer, training soldiers for deployment at the National Training Center, taking company command twice of two brigades with over 200 soldiers and their family members and teaching chemistry and biology to our future Army leaders which led to his being appointed course director and associate professor of Chemistry at the United States Military Academy West Point before and after deployment to Afghanistan where he served in a combat zone known as Kunar province. Involuntary separation is military lingo for “You’re fired.”

This news came weeks before a previously approved spinal surgery when my partner was in agonizing pain from one of the injuries sustained from his ten-month tour in Afghanistan. The decision to cut our military defense budget and reduce the size of our armed forces was made by the Obama administration and supported by a GOP-led Congress.

Know this: I hold our president in the highest regard. Tears dampened the top of my blouse as I witnessed our first African-American president taking the oath of office. Visible goose bumps protruded from my arm as I listened to the 2010 commencement speech at West Point, a place I’ve called home for seven years. I’m awed by the grace, intelligence, compassion, and wisdom our commander-in chief has demonstrated in these turbulent eight years. And I love First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden for their fierce commitment to military families. Which is why I feel baffled and betrayed as a military spouse at the decision announced in 2014 to reduce the military to 450,000 by 2018—numbers we have not seen since the end of World War II.

On this Election Day, we are likely to have about 479,000 active-duty soldiers serving. According to Rep. Chris Gibson, a New York Republican who introduced legislation that would halt the Obama administration’s 2017 budget request to reduce Army troops by 460,000 by the end of 2017,  “We had over 480,000 Army troops alone in an active component the day before September 11, 2001.” Yet if things continue our military is in danger of not fulfilling its mission. This rightsizing of our armed forces has downsized my combat-veteran husband out of a career and sent our military family into our own private war. More importantly it’s a “grave mistake,” said Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight Jr. “These are highly trained experience professionals who have been intensely drilled to work together and support each other in adverse conditions.”

This issue is bigger than a catchy campaign slogan about whom I am with or who will make America great again. It has left me wondering, because I feel nauseated after the sacrifices our families have made—to Iraq, Afghanistan, and wars on terror over the past 15 years, and the lack of job security, continuity, and pensions. Because military spouses and children and our families serve, too.

As the wife of a military officer, I gave up my career in education to travel around this country in support of my spouse and our country. I hadn’t meant to. But I need to know who will be my best ally in our new fight as a transitioning military family of six that includes a wounded warrior and an autistic child. So I need to know: Who will be with me, Hillary Rodham Clinton or Donald J. Trump? 

Growing up in the 1980s, my familiarity with Trump was through the tabloids, via his affair with Marla Maples, and then later, through The Celebrity Apprentice when I tuned in to see Tionne Watkins, known as “T Boz” to all of us TLC fans, appear to raise money for The Sickle Cell Foundation—a cause near to me as all of my children and I have the sickle cell trait. My father died from complications of the disease. I returned for the next season to watch Holly Robinson Pete raise awareness for autism—another cause close to home, as our youngest son is on the spectrum. That is as close to philanthropic work as I’ve ever seen him do. I said to my mother, “Donald Trump is the accident you can’t look away from but you’re conscious about backing up traffic.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton is someone whose work I’ve known for over 25 years, since I was a first-time voter, electing her husband, in 1992. Yes, I was young, naïve and easily swayed by a white dude playing the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. At that time I was a divorced, single mother of two working and attending school to earn my first degree as a high-school dropout. Her husband’s harsh crime bill (that resulted in the mass incarceration of so many black men), which she supported in her role as First Lady, and her comment made about superpredators were unknown to me in those years. What I did know was that Hillary stood at her husband’s side—and I respected that. She had her own agenda as an attorney, advocate, politician, and mother. The world soon saw Mrs. Clinton as the independent, whip smart, unbreakable, and determined woman she is when she ran for the Senate and then became secretary of State.

During the primaries and the Republican National Convention in July, my television stayed on CNN. Watching Trump was like being stuck in a 24-hour reality show that I couldn’t turn off. My partner once told me that the military typically does better when Republicans are in office. Perhaps that has been his experience; I imagined that a Trump administration would be a hot mess.

As an African-American rape survivor who suffers from an invisible disability while raising my autistic child in our military family, I’m used to being doubted and questioned. Are you sure it was rape? Why are you parked here, you can walk? Your son looks normal to me. It’s difficult enough fighting an illness people understand, are familiar with, and can sometimes see. Invisible disabilities can add to the challenge. We have seen how Mr. Trump responds to things he doesn’t understand—he goes on the attack. And so the thought of a misogynistic bully running our country more than frightens me. It enrages me. I need an advocate not an opponent. I can’t vote for man who entertains another by referring to his own daughter as a piece of ass. And I imagine that the words Donald Trump says aren’t anywhere near as dangerous as what he must think. If elected he will be our country’s collective mind. And we have long known who he is—we didn’t just learn about Donald Trump through the Billy Bush tapes or even these past 18 months on the campaign trail. He has been revealing the truth of who he is for decades. 

And so I fear what a Trump presidency would look like for our family. He’s a man who admires other dictators past and present, and indeed has been endorsed by them. He doesn’t believe pain or disabilities are real and worthy of respect. Is my husband any less of a soldier and veteran while he awaits the surgery and rehabilitation that’s due him? Is he not strong already for the things he’s experienced, fought for and survived in combat? How do my neighbors, veterans, and the current cadets preparing to serve our nation as first lieutenants in the Army unite under an administration that bullies and gaslights it’s citizens and believes we are a disaster? Privatization of the VA is no more of an answer than the ridiculous notion of building a wall is for immigration reform. I’m living the effects of privatization of military housing, lodging and in some cases security. Imagine our police force being run by security guards or mall cops for that matter. The Veterans Administration needs a swift overhaul with 100 percent accountability but the VA Administration should be run by those who have served, not by people who look to veterans as an endless source of easy revenue.

All of my political life I’ve known Hillary Clinton. The term “career politician” doesn’t have to be a dirty word when that career has been marked with hard work, positive results, and a politically sound mind. Clinton started her career serving children with disabilities, and has spent her lifetime serving the American people. Hillary’s the only candidate who has discussed autism and children on the spectrum with civility and compassion, and more than talk about it, she’s developed a comprehensive plan for the more than 3.5 million of us who are affected by this disorder. She supports legislation to repeal the defense cutbacks, end sequestration and not privatize the VA. Hillary doesn’t have my vote because she’s a woman but she has earned my respect as our next commander-in-chief. The future of my family is on the line and that’s why, I’m with Hillary, because she is with me.


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