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Election 2016: N.H. Veterans' Perspective

Peter Biello
Bedford, N.H. veteran John Kroehler says he supports GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

At a Veterans Resource Fair in Concord Tuesday, groups dedicated to helping veterans gathered on the campus of NHTI.

Of course, it was also Election Day. So that meant a lot of political talk, even in a year when veterans issues never rose to the top of the candidates' agendas.

Here in the student center, students mill about before class. One tinkers with a piano in the corner.

This is where we met Greg Card. He’s living in Concord and is a student at NHTI. He retired from the Army after a decade of service, but he still has friends who serve, and he worries about them.

He says he wished the candidates spelled out when specifically his military brothers could come home.

“It’s hard to give someone a mission and not give them an end-all," Card says. "I’m a visual arts major. If you ask me to draw you a picture, but don’t give me any idea of what you’re looking for, I have no idea what you want. So they’re telling them to complete a mission, but they have no end goal. What’s the end goal? Do you know what the end goal is? Because I don’t know.”

Bill Zarakotas is another veteran concerned about those who are still serving. He works for Liberty House in Manchester, which supports homeless veterans. He says he thinks the military has gotten far too small.

"We’re in big trouble with regard to our military and the environment that we’re in globally right now. We’ve got a lot of enemies out there and we’re not prepared to handle it militarily," Zarakotas says.

Zarakotas says the government’s primary responsibility is to defend the country. “And all these other issues are secondary unless you can defend yourself and your borders.”

“And we believe in the NRA," says Judy Zarakotas, Bill's wife. "We believe in people having guns. Not the criminals. But people need to protect themselves unfortunately in this world that we’re in today. There are too many wild guys out there. ISIS is over here. You need guns to protect yourself."

Bill and Judy Zarakotas say they support Donald Trump, who has pledged to beef up the military and destroy ISIS.

John Kroehler also supports Trump. He’s a national recruiter for the VFW living in Bedford. He served in Taiwan in the 1950s. He says he likes Trump’s plan to help veterans. "His plan is to rebuild the military and resolve some of the issues with the VA medical centers," says Kroehler. "Fortunately we have a great one here in Manchester, but there are many problems at facilities around the country [that] need to be fixed."

Jim Varrill is a Korean War vet from Concord. He wears a baseball cap with the word KOREA embroidered on the back. He says he noticed that the candidates didn’t talk much about veterans. But he says at least this year, when candidates spoke about veterans, they were respected.

That wasn’t always the case, he says.

“Vietnam, terrible. Korea was not much better," says Varrill. "But today the veteran is being taken care of a lot more than they ever were before."

Varrill says the choice of president this year has been a choice of the lesser of two evils. “So there hasn’t been much there. But I’ll be very happy, as I’m sure most people will, when this thing is over.”

It’s a sentiment that you don’t have to be a veteran to share. 

Through the month of November, NHPR will be telling stories of military veterans in the Granite State. Next week: the story of one New Hampshire veteran who made it through the state's veteran's court system. If you're a veteran and have a story to share, send an email to Peter Biello at pbiello@nhpr.org.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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