Posted: Oct. 30, 2009
BACK FROM IRAQ
By Celia Cohen
That Nor'easter a couple of weekends ago? Beau Biden loved it.
It was like a rowdy embrace from Nature, over-exuberant enough to be alarming, to let him know he was really here in Delaware, away from day after unchanging day of blue skies and no clouds and temperatures worse than a high fever.
"I had a smile on my face. You long for days of rain and the seasons changing," he said.
Biden has been back from Iraq for a month now, after parading to a final formation with his National Guard unit in front of Legislative Hall in Dover.
The homecoming ceremony for 110 members of the 261st Signal Brigade was a long exhale, a martial and grateful mix that brought out families, fellow soldiers, the governor and other state officials, and because Biden was part of it, his father the vice president.
They were gone for a year. In Biden's case, it meant leaving behind his term as the Democratic attorney general, about two years into it, for the duties of a JAG captain.
At Camp Victory near the Baghdad International Airport, he prosecuted misdemeanors and felonies under military justice (no incidents at all involving the Delaware National Guard), participated in courts martial and counseled soldiers on a host of matters, such as child custody and identity theft, made more daunting by distance.
"The issues that citizens have, soldiers are no different," Biden said.
It was a long year. Like everyone else, Biden was absent from a home life with its staccato of joys and crises, but it is safe to say no one else returned to the same sort of historic shifts he did.
Poppa Joe going from senator to vice president. The Democrats unmistakably teeing up the Senate seat for him. The Republicans running Mike Castle, whose background as a nine-term congressman, two-term governor, lieutenant governor and legislator rank him among the most accomplished figures in state history.
Not to mention the race would put his father's prestige on the line and could alter the balance of power in the Senate. Welcome home, Beau.
Biden was stateside twice. Once was special -- the inauguration of the Obama administration in January. The other was routine leave -- except it turned out not to be routine.
As the Orlando Sentinel reported, Biden took the family to Disney World in May as swine flu broke out and his father was saying on national television he would tell his own family not to travel. Can anyone spell, M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E?
There were advantages to being deployed with a unit responsible for communications. It meant computer hookups for e-mail and Skype video-phones, although Biden said the connections were not always good as he tried to keep up with his wife Hallie and their children Natalie and Hunter, who turned five and three while he was away.
"It made a big difference to be able to see your kids," Biden said.
Old-fashioned mail call helped, too. "Getting packages from schools, church groups, friends, was very meaningful. Knowing that people are thinking about you and praying for you is an incredibly powerful gesture. It sustains you," he said.
Biden's deployment became part of a national dialogue about the wisdom of sending the sons or daughters of presidents and vice presidents to war. John Eisenhower, who went to Korea an an Army major while his father Dwight Eisenhower was president, concluded it was unwise.
"The next president and vice president will be busy enough trying to pull the United States out of its present fiscal, social and foreign affairs problems without being burdened with worries about an individual soldier, especially a child," Eisenhower wrote last September in an op-ed piece for The New York Times.
From a personal perspective, Biden said it was right for him to go.
"Like all of the other soldiers, I served," he said. "The Army had no problem with my presence there. I sure as heck didn't."
Biden was noncommittal about whether he would stay in the National Guard, which he joined more than six years ago. All he would say was, "There is no organization I'm prouder to be a member of than the Delaware National Guard."
Someone immersed in the immediacy of a Nor'easter is not ready to move on yet -- particularly when the next circumstance is likely to be the teeth of a Senate campaign. Still, it looks to be only a matter of time.
"Am I seriously considering the race? Yes," Biden said.
After Iraq, why not? Politics is war by other means.