Fighter pilot Aljanich says combat experience useful for congressman |

Fighter pilot Aljanich says combat experience useful for congressman

Dennis Webb

Most years, a little-known political newcomer might stand little chance of winning in a highly competitive race for Congress.But this year, when that newcomer is a veteran combat pilot with anti-terrorism experience inside the Pentagon, those chances may be greatly improved.Matt Aljanich, 37, of Steamboat Springs, thinks with the nation at war against terrorists, his extensive military background gives him an edge against the more traditional candidates in the August Republican primary. “I am running because in particular the terrorist threat to the country right now is the biggest challenge we will ever face. The terrorists are systematic in their approach, and they will not stop,” he said.If America loses the war on terrorism, nothing else matters, Aljanich said. “Nobody should have a learning curve when they show up in Washington, and if they’re going to be working on these issues they’d better understand them very well,” he said. As a current Naval Reserve pilot he believes he would bring an important perspective to Congress. “I think it’s important that we have that perspective because we [military reserves] are being asked to do so much more than we have in the past,” Aljanich said. While all five primary candidates have spoken at length about the war on terrorism, only Aljanich and Dan Corsentino of Pueblo have made it a central issue of their campaign. Corsentino claims to have the most experience in the war on terrorism, through his work with the National Sheriffs Association in helping to safeguard the country. But Aljanich said his experience gives him a very direct knowledge of the war on terrorism.It’s personalHaving flown missions in the first Gulf War, he’s also the only candidate in the Republican primary race with combat experience. And the war may be as personal for him as any of them, on several levels.When a plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, it struck Aljanich’s unit, killing 42 sailors with whom he worked.Aljanich was in Chicago that day. He’s also a commercial pilot with United, which was targeted by the 9/11 hijackers. He had flown the same routes being flown by some of the hijacked planes. He knew Jason Dahl, a United pilot who was killed.As with the other Republican candidates, Aljanich supports President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.Saddam was a destabilizing force in the region, not to mention someone who slaughtered his own people at home, Aljanich said. “The world is certainly better off without him.”At the same time, Aljanich sees a need for the United States to wean itself off Middle East oil, which he said only generates more oil revenues that support terrorists.”The faster we can become energy independent, the more our national security interests will be protected.”A health-care expertAljanich feels justified in running for office and focusing on the terrorism issue after his campaign conducted a poll of district voters that found the war on terrorism and health-care costs to be their two top concerns.”We thought that that was pretty compelling,” he said.He believes he’s eminently qualified to address health-care issues as well as terrorism. He co-founded a health-care software company that shares information on the credentials of medical personnel.Aljanich said reform is needed in Medicare and Medicaid, or the programs will bankrupt the country. He also supports fair caps on awards for malpractice, to help keep overall health-care costs down.Health-care savings accounts should be expanded, “so that people take some control of their own health care,” he said.Aljanich’s military background also makes him empathetic of the needs and concerns of 3rd District veterans, from health care to education and economic opportunity. He said veteran benefits have eroded greatly since the days of the generous G.I. Bill passed after World War II. Perhaps not coincidentally, Congress went from having many veterans in its ranks, to having few, between World War II and now.’A fighting conservative’Aljanich describes himself as a “fighting conservative.” He vows to defend Second Amendment rights. His position on abortion is to “protect the sanctity of human life.”He also supports making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent.He’s raised almost $70,000, compared to $300,000 raised by Greg Walcher, who leads the five Republican candidates in fund-raising. But Aljanich said more spending by his competitors apparently isn’t buying them much more name recognition. He believes he’s got enough cash on hand to make him competitive between now and the primary.”We’ll have enough money to get the message out when it matters,” he said.This, from a Peoria, Ill., native raised by a single mom who loaded up the station wagon for Colorado in 1978 and landed, jobless, in Steamboat Springs.Aljanich, an all-state basketball player in high school who enjoys mountain climbing and like his mom has taken up marathoning, appreciates the example she set for him in life through her leadership and independence.”She’s always been a trendsetter in her own right. … I was very fortunate to have such a strong mother.”

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