One of the most fascinating parts of going to a convention has to be the people you meet. I met some very memorable men and women at the RNC in New York, but perhaps no one more memorable or admirable as a man who lives almost around the corner from me in Eagan. Lt. Colonel Joe Repya has served his country in five decades of military action, starting as an infantry officer in Viet Nam. Joe became politically active last year as war grew near in Iraq, when he distributed "Liberate Iraq" yard signs around the Twin Cities in response to signs opposing the war effort sent out by groups like International ANSWER.
Joe did more than send out signs -- he also requested a return to active duty, and has traveled to Iraq and met with troops there, working with them to ensure the success of America's mission. In his late 50s, Joe has more than earned a retirement with high honors, but he continues to do whatever it takes to make his country more secure. He has called in on our radio show on Saturday afternoons, but the first time I ever saw Joe was at the Bush rally in Saint Paul, where he delivered an impassioned speech that was easily one of the most memorable and inspiring parts of the event.
Luckily, I got a chance to meet Joe and speak with him several times during our stay in New York, and he agreed to meet with me and John Hinderaker for an interview at Bloggers Corner.
Q: Colonel, you've been politically active for years, but the first time I heard about you was when you came out with the lawn signs. What was the first batch of lawn signs you did?
A: Liberate Iraq ... did that in February 2003.
Q: What were you doing before that?
A: I was a military advisor to [Senator] Norm Coleman, because we were friends, and helped him on his campaign against [the late former Senator Paul] Wellstone. But that was the extent of my political activities, those Liberate Iraq signs and making some calls, the March 2003 rally to support our troops. After that came a call from Governor Pawlenty to ask me to be the Vice-Chair of Veterans For Bush. I wound up on the national steering committee for Veterans for Bush, and I became specifically involved in traveling around the country, speaking on behalf of the President, and now I'm about to back on active duty.
Q: You've really gotten involved as a result of those signs.
A: Yes. [Laughs] I volunteered to come back to the military on active duty after September 11th because I had a feeling that we would need retirees to help out.
Q: You're a Lieutenant Colonel, is that right?
A: Yes. I was in Iraq last year, with some of these folks.
Q: What did you see while you were in Iraq? What was your evaluation of how things were going in Iraq?
A: We're not getting the true story from the media. There's a lot of good going on over there, a lot of Iraqis that want us there. There's some bad people around that are trying to upset things, and unfortunately the liberal press, quite frankly, is aiding them in their endeavors in trying to cast these aspersions on the successes we're having.
Q: What do you think is the greatest untold story in Iraq right now?
A: Untold story?
Q: What do you think the press has really missed in Iraq, one particular story?
A: The fact that most Iraqis want the Americans there. They want freedom. They want to bring together their nation ... They're tired of the dictators, they're tired of the wars they've been forced to fight for Saddam Hussein. They want peace and prosperity.
Q: It was suggested by John Kerry that we could pull the vast majority of American troops out of Iraq --
Q: After we add 40,000 more -- [laughter]
Q: Right, after we add 40,000 more, we could pull the vast majority out of Iraq within the first six months of a Kerry presidency. What kind of message do you think that sends?
A: It tells the Iraqi people that we're not serious about backing them up. Remember, they feel very threatened because back in 1991, when we kicked Saddam out of Kuwait, they thought we'd come to their aid if they initiated a civil war [against Saddam]. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were murdered as a result. So they're very concerned that we won't stay the course. It's very important that we do. We have the greatest men and women, and I'm convinced that will be regarded as this century's greatest generation. They know what's at stake in Iraq. They know what's at stake in Afghanistan. We have the unique ability to bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to that region. If we can get that well-established in Iraq and Afghanistan, other nations will start demanding it soon.
Q: How many troops do you think understand the long-term strategic purposes that the Administration has in trying to establish freedom in order to ultimately reform the Middle East?
A: I can give you an example. When I was here last September, I found a young woman with the 101st Airborne Division, who was a mother of four -- youngest one 18 months and the oldest one eight. So I figured that I found anybody that would be really upset about being away from her family, it would be her. Then when I found out that she and her husband had separated and divorced, and that he was watching the kids while she was in Iraq, I knew that I'd found someone that had a real desire to, you know, "get me out of here." She cut me off halfway through my question. She said, "Listen. Let me tell you like it is. My family will be stronger for this separation. We'll get over it. But if I don't fight this war and win it here, my kids will be fighting it in Baltimore in 20 years." She said,"I know what it takes." And if you can find a sergeant in the 101st that understands that, and a corporal and a specialist, that tells you that these kids know what's at stake.
Q: You made a great point there about either fighting the war there or fighting it here. During his campaign, John Kerry has received a lot of criticism for his post-Vietnam War activities with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Do you see a parallel between the retreat that those activities caused in the US and the terror war we're fighting now?
A: John Kerry is an individual is a man who wants to have both sides of the coin, whichever's politically advantageous for him at the time. I don't care what he did in Viet Nam; he served his nation honorably. What he did when he came home troubles me deeply. What he has done in 20 years as a United States Senator convinces me that he is not the caliber of a man I want as Commander in Chief. He has voted consistently to cut, reduce,or eliminate the weapons systems that today are winning the war on terror. He voted against all kinds of military pay raises. He's voted to cut billions from intelligence agencies that we need to get information on terrorists throughout the world. He voted to go to war in Iraq, then he voted against supplying the ammunition, the body armor for our soldiers in Iraq. I am convinced that he will turn his back on American soldiers again in 2004 like he did in 1971. And I'm not willing to risk that.
Q: I don't know if you talk politics with these young soldiers in Iraq or not, but do you get a sense of how they view John Kerry? Are they aware of this history? Do they have the same concerns you do?
A: All I can tell you is what a lot of them have told me in e-mails, from Iraq or from when they come home. The vast majority of the active military will vote for the Commander in Chief they really respect, and that's George W. Bush. And I'll tell you from a veteran's point of view that there are 25 million veterans, and when all is said and done, six or seven out of ten will vote for George W. Bush, because we realize how important national security is to the United States.
Q: Joe, when you go back on active duty, will you go back to Iraq?
A: Well, unfortunately, I don't think they'll let me fly helicopter gunships any more. ... More than likely, I'll fly a desk or push a pencil somewhere, and that's fine with me. I'll contribute.
Q: Is that what you did in Viet Nam, fly helicopter gunships?
A: No, in Viet Nam I was a combat infantry lieutenant. I led a rifle platoon of about 30 young men.
Q: You're lucky to be alive. The mortality rate among guys who did what you did ...
A: Yeah, it was about a week. I went to flight school when I came back, and I flew helicopters during Desert Storm.
Q: Now you're a delegate to the Minnesota delegation.
A: First time I've been a delegate to a convention. It's wonderful.
Q: What were you looking to hear from this convention, as a delegate?
A: A clear understanding of the vision that George Bush has for the next four years. I know what a track record he has for the last four years, and I think he's put together a wonderful team of experts. I'm sure on Thursday night we're going to hear his roadmap for the next four years.
Q: Do you think we've heard that so far [this was on Wednesday afternoon] or has he just addressed the accomplishments of the past four years?
A: I think as he's been out on the campaign trail, he's mentioned many things he'd like to do over the next four years. I think he's been waiting until this thing to really lay it out for the American people.
Q: That's your expectation?
A: That's my expectation. ... Supporting our troops is the right thing to do. My wife and I will never sit back and allow anyone to do to these kids what they did to my generation when we came back from Viet Nam. ... If I could put it in simple terms -- [holds up flip-flops with slogan written on them] -- "I'm not Fonda Kerry".