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  • Iraq war vets will be State of the Union guests

    By Rick Maze - Staff writer
    Posted : Friday Jan 20, 2012 16:18:42 EST

    About 20 members of Congress are bringing Iraq war veterans as their guests to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday as part of a bipartisan effort to focus attention on their needs and to honor their service.

    There is a chance even more lawmakers may end up taking part, according to organizers.

    The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the House National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus are involved in organizing the effort to have veterans attend the national address.

    The veterans won’t sit with lawmakers on the House floor during the speech before a joint session of Congress, but rather will have seats in the galleries that surround the House chamber where they can overlook the proceedings.

    Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a member of the Guard and Reserve caucus, is bringing an unemployed Iraq veteran as her guest. “This is a small gesture that only begins to show my gratitude to those who have honorably served our country,” Fudge said in a prepared statement. “This invitation gives them the opportunity to hear from our Commander in Chief about his vision for our nation, a nation they risked their lives to protect.”

    Fudge’s guest is Joseph Collins, an honorably discharged former Marine sergeant who lives in Cleveland. Collins has held several short-term jobs since he got out of the Marine Corps after a 2005 Iraq deployment but has been unemployed since January 2011, aides to Fudge said.

    Collins, 27, who was an infantryman in the Marines, said he’s had difficulty finding work because he doesn’t have a skill that is easily transferable to the private sector. “I don’t have a trade. I am not a welder. I am not an electrician,” he said.

    There are jobs available, he said, but most seem to be minimum wage jobs in fast food restaurants, a big step down from the responsibilities he had while on active-duty.

    Marine Sgt. Johnny Jones, a double-amputee still on active duty, will be the guest of Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman who has been trying to sell the bring-a-veteran idea to other lawmakers. Jones, who works as a legislative fellow for the veterans’ committee on loan from the Army, said he has met Obama before but is still excited to be part of “something more official.”

    Jones sat next to Obama last spring at a White House dinner attended by more than 30 high-ranking generals and admirals, but said the State of the Union speech, with its ceremonial trappings held in the House chamber, will be a new experience.

    Collins also visited Washington, D.C., years ago to take part in a Memorial Day parade but has never been to anything like the State of the Union address.

    In a joint letter to members of the House of Representatives encouraging lawmakers to invite a veteran to Obama’s speech, Miller and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the highest-ranking enlisted member to ever serve in Congress, said there is a long congressional tradition of inviting national and local figures to hear the State of the Union speech.

    “We can think of no one who has made more of a positive impact on our country than our troops,” Miller and Walz said in a statement.