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Trump Skipped Vietnam. That Didn’t Stop These Vets From Voting for Him in New Hampshire

Understanding Trump’s rise requires understanding why veterans like Roger Fillio are drawn to a man who skipped Vietnam — and trust his national security instincts.

DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 28:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks to veterans at Drake University on January 28, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Donald Trump held his alternative event to benefit veterans after withdrawing from the televised Fox News/Google  GOP debate  which airs at the same time.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 28: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks to veterans at Drake University on January 28, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Donald Trump held his alternative event to benefit veterans after withdrawing from the televised Fox News/Google GOP debate which airs at the same time. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 28: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks to veterans at Drake University on January 28, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Donald Trump held his alternative event to benefit veterans after withdrawing from the televised Fox News/Google GOP debate which airs at the same time. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — Bombastic businessman Donald Trump, who avoided serving in Vietnam and frequently seems lost talking about national security, just got two votes from a pair of Vietnam-era veterans who say national security chops is one of their most important considerations when evaluating a potential commander-in-chief.

If you want to know why Trump seems poised to win Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, talking to voters like Ray Breslin and Roger Fillio is a good place to start.

Trump is up more than 17 points in the “first in the primary” state just hours before polls close Tuesday night, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average. His support has been buoyed by independent-minded voters in the Granite State like Breslin and Fillio, who spoke to Foreign Policy from a busy polling station at a local high school.

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — Bombastic businessman Donald Trump, who avoided serving in Vietnam and frequently seems lost talking about national security, just got two votes from a pair of Vietnam-era veterans who say national security chops is one of their most important considerations when evaluating a potential commander-in-chief.

If you want to know why Trump seems poised to win Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, talking to voters like Ray Breslin and Roger Fillio is a good place to start.

Trump is up more than 17 points in the “first in the primary” state just hours before polls close Tuesday night, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average. His support has been buoyed by independent-minded voters in the Granite State like Breslin and Fillio, who spoke to Foreign Policy from a busy polling station at a local high school.

“We are independent thinkers for sure,” Breslin said. “We don’t necessarily agree with all the Republicans or the Democrats. We choose to make up on our own minds.”

Hence the registered independent’s support for Trump, though national security is one of Breslin’s top considerations and the New York celebrity has little experience in that area.

Breslin served in the Coast Guard from 1964 to 1968, on a ship in Portland, Maine, and then at a rescue station in Massachusetts. Other veterans, seeing his coast guard cap, came up to shake his hand after they put in their own votes.

His buddy at the booth, Roger Fillio, is a registered Republican who says he served 35 years off and on, from 1962 to 2004. He was in the Army and served as an artilleryman, though he said he also did a stint with a Special Forces Reserve unit out of Boston. Breslin never left the U.S.; Fillio did one tour in Korea, and says he trusts Trump’s instincts.

“People ask if we really want to see Trump’s hand on the nuclear button,” Fillio said. “I can’t see anybody else’s hand on it.”

Trump never served, and sat out of the Vietnam War because of a series of deferments followed by a high draft number. But the mogul has said  he “felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people” when he attended a military academy.

Breslin said “nobody is perfect,” but said he was open to Trump because “the government is for providing for national security … [and] some of the candidates don’t seem to be too strong on that.”

Asked if he has concerns about Trump’s shallow national security experience — the businessman said earlier in the election cycle that he gets his military advice “from the shows” — Breslin quipped, “What shows? ‘Criminal Minds?’”

Fillio piped in. “One of the things if you’ve served in the military, is you can identify a real leader. And I’ll tell you I just voted for Trump. I can think of some of the other people with national security experience — Mrs. Clinton, for one. And she hasn’t done too good of a job in that department … just because he hasn’t done it in the military doesn’t mean he’s not a leader.”

Neither man seemed bothered that Trump has seemed to endorse torture. After the last Republican presidential debate before the primary, held on Saturday, Trump boasted he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” to interrogate detainees.

Both veterans shook it off.

“We are not dealing with American citizens, we are dealing with enemies,” Breslin said. “They want to kill us. War is not a pleasant thing, but they are killing us and we need to take extraordinary measures.”

Asked whether there could be a concern that enemies in turn might subject U.S. citizens to torture, he responded: “They are using extreme measures,” seeming to refer to the Islamic State. “They’re cutting people’s heads off!”

Fillio claimed that he himself had experienced waterboarding. Though he stresses it wasn’t “official,” he said he and others in the Special Forces reserve unit in 1968 submitted each other to a simulated drowning in a river “as part of our training, to see how these things are.”

Fillio believes that refugees should stay in the war-torn Middle East and fight for their countries, in part because the U.S. can’t guarantee they’re not ISIS infiltrators. “How do you prevent them from coming here and killing people?” he asked. “We have to stop them from coming in.”

That was another area of common ground with Trump, who has infamously called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Fillio says the U.S. didn’t leave enough troops in Iraq, allowing ISIS to take hold, but also said the military never should’ve gone into Afghanistan in the first place. The former remark echoes one of Trump’s main talking points.

As for how to find the right balance on when and how to intervene militarily, he said that “was the job of people in the top, Congress and the president.”

If he gets his way, Trump will soon be one of those making that call.

Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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