The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 8, 2012

Iraq War vet gets unusual look at himself in Walz political ad

By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press

MANKATO — It's not the most popular venue -- a campaign ad -- for a television debut.

But Iraq war veteran Mike McLaughlin's only real qualms about doing a political ad for Congressman Tim Walz involved the cosmetics applied to his face before the TV lights came on.

Marines, apparently, aren't entirely comfortable having the shine taken off their face with a powdered matte finish. In fact, McLaughlin was amused to discover -- when the ad was unveiled to the media and other local vets at the Morson-Ario VFW Monday -- that he'd unconsciously altered his voice a bit after having his nose powdered.

"I overcompensated with a deeper tone of voice to make up for the make-up," he discovered.

McLaughlin, though, was willing to be the public face of Walz's often-honored work on behalf of veterans and veterans programs because he said he was genuinely impressed by the congressman's work.

He and some fellow veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan first met Walz when they were frustrated with flaws in the way the GI Bill worked for returning soldiers going to college. They heard Walz was hosting a forum for veterans, and they went -- not particularly confident that much would be accomplished.

"I was pleasantly surprised," McLaughlin said of the feedback and responses he heard that day and also the follow-up in the weeks that followed.

His conclusion: "These issues do matter, and so do your opinions."

One of the big concerns for the MSU students that day was the constant delays in reimbursement for college costs. Students on the GI Bill would routinely have to pay in advance for the upcoming semester and wait months for the federal government to cut a check -- essentially war veterans floating a loan to the country they'd served.

McLaughlin, the son of Vietnam veteran Tom McLaughlin and Theresa McLaughlin of Mankato, was a couple of years older than many of the GI Bill students and had some savings. For the veterans who didn't, the delays in federal reimbursements were more than frustrating.

"A lot of people dropped out, and a lot of people gave up on college," he said.

After that meeting, Walz worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to successfully pass legislation updating and streamlining the GI Bill.

"We hammered it out (in meetings in southern Minnesota) and Congressman Walz hammered it out on his end in Washington," McLaughlin said.

Walz, a retired sergeant major in the Army National Guard, has sponsored other veterans bills focused on reducing the unemployment rate of returning soldiers, improving treatment for traumatic brain injuries of combat veterans and curtailing veterans homelessness.

"It was an honor and a pleasure to do the ad," McLaughlin said, although he admitted later to some uncertainty about seeing his face -- and hearing that deeper than normal voice -- dozens of times on TV between today and Nov. 6. "It's a little weird."