House Republicans Address Media After Conference Meeting On Israel

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   Leave no man behind.


               That’s how the military rolls. It’s in the Soldier’s Creed. It’s in the history, it’s in the hearts, it’s in the bond that makes every sailor a shipmate and every soldier a battle buddy.


               Leave no man behind.


               Even if he’s a drunk whack job who might have tried to kill you.


               I’m talking about David Jakubonis. You met him last July when he staggered onto a flatbed trailer serving as a stage for congressman, soldier and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. He was wearing a hat that said he was an Iraq veteran and he was muttering something about the war and in his right hand was a keychain self-defense prong coming slow motion at Lee Zeldin’s face.


               Lee Zeldin is a family man. A husband and a father, then a sitting member of Congress and still a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. His boots have trod marble halls and Iraqi dust in the service of his country, and on that flatbed trailer he was engaged in the process that makes democracy sure. He was a good man doing a good thing and though the attack was doddering, it was an attack, on him and the interests of his family and the process of our Republic.


               Joe Chenelly was a Marine in Iraq and a veterans leader back home and he stepped forward that night to come between David Jakubonis and Lee Zeldin. The father of football players, he wrapped the man up and brought him to the ground and a scrum piled on and what looked like an assassination attempt came to an end.


               Lee Zeldin went on and David Jakubonis went away.


               And Joe Chenelly didn’t forget.


               And he, with other veterans, have tracked and encouraged and mentored David Jakubonis over the months. They visited him in jail. They lined him up a lawyer. They stood with him in court.


               They looked up his military records, they learned about his Bronze Star, they tracked down his repeated efforts to get help from the VA. The county veterans affairs coordinator had his back, a Vietnam veteran former judge stood up, another former judge represented him pro bono. They formed a squad, to bring this brother home from the war.


               Because Lee Zeldin was a congressman, it was a federal felony. Had it been anybody else, it would have been an appearance ticket for harassment. As it was, the federal judge hearing the matter accepted Joe Chenelly’s suggestion to send David Jakubonis to a three-month inpatient alcohol program at the Bath VA. When that was up, she agreed to move him to an addiction halfway house run by the Veterans Outreach Center.


               And that’s where it stands now. Sober for eight months. Living healthy and clean. In intensive treatment. With a federal felony hanging over his head.


               Which gets back to Lee Zeldin.


               He didn’t win the governor’s mansion, but he might have helped the Republicans take over the House. He’s been on TV lately, and he’s just started what looks like a lobbying and crisis management business. After campaigning at a fever pitch for most of two years, it’s been quiet for him, and folks have moved on.


               But there’s unfinished business, and an opportunity to lead.


               The men around David Jakubonis want to ask the federal judge to reduce his charge to a misdemeanor, and to transfer it to the county drug-treatment court. The misdemeanor reduction is a midpoint between the state charge – a violation – and the federal charge – a felony. And drug court is a specialized program focusing intently on treatment and supervision. It is a place where his continued sobriety and treatment can be assured and supported.


               It is a just disposition.


               David Jakubonis has been in custody since last summer. If he deserved to be punished, he has been punished. If he needed help, he is getting it.


               But for the proposal from his lawyer to be accepted by the court, it is almost essential that Lee Zeldin go along. He has to give his approval. He is the victim.


               He is also a fellow soldier, another warrior who knows what it is like to go to a war zone in the service of his country. The difference is, Lee Zeldin came home, all the way home. He has family and success, his life is going well.


               While David Jakubonis has been walking wounded, the best part of him back somewhere on a foreign battlefield.


               Leave no man behind includes him, and it covers this situation. He’s lying there, down and helpless, and Lee Zeldin needs to carry him to safety. Lee Zeldin is the only one who can. Fate has put them each where they are, a specialist down and a lieutenant colonel up, and the war’s not over until everybody’s home.


               It’s time for Lee Zeldin to bring David Jakubonis home.


               And demonstrate thereby not only the highest traditions of the United States Army, but the innermost character of the congressman who was attacked that night.


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