While Romney didn't serve in military, many Mormons do

Fri Nov 2, 2012 11:24pm GMT

By David Alexander and Jennifer Dobner

WASHINGTON/SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - While neither of the candidates in next week's U.S. presidential election was in the military, Mitt Romney's age - he was eligible to serve in Vietnam - has raised questions during the campaign about why he didn't serve and whether his Mormon faith had anything to do with it.

Guy Hicks, a Mormon and former officer in the Army Reserve Special Forces, said there is a public misperception that members of the Mormon Church do not serve in the military.

"There is a sense in our culture and in our religious belief that we have an obligation to serve our country, and that's found in military service; it's also found in public service," said Hicks, a senior vice president at aerospace and defence firm EADS North America.

The participation of Mormons in the armed forces is roughly equivalent to their proportion of the population; senior figures in the Church served during World War II; and at least 10 Mormons have won the Medal of Honor.

According to Pentagon records, nearly 18,200 military service members identified themselves as belonging to the Mormon Church as of March, about 1.3 percent of the nearly 1.4 million active-duty personnel. Around 2 percent of the U.S. population identify as Mormons.

Romney was a 19-year-old student at Stanford University in the spring of 1966 when opponents of the military draft occupied a campus building. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the formal name of the Mormon Church) was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, and the clean-cut young Romney protested against the protesters. Photographs show him carrying a placard saying: "Speak Out, Don't Sit In."

Rather than joining the armed forces, however, Romney later that summer chose another path. He obtained a deferment allowing him to avoid military service and travelled to France to work as a missionary for his Church, a traditional form of service for young Mormons. Romney's five sons all followed in his footsteps, serving as missionaries but not soldiers.

Military service used to be a crucial element of a presidential resume, adding gravitas to the person applying for the job of commander-in-chief. But in recent years it has become less of a requirement, and neither Obama nor Bill Clinton served.   Continued...

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