LANCASTER — A local weekly veterans gathering got a visit recently by a former congressman and undersecretary of the Army, who co-authored the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill and opened the door for women to serve in all jobs in the Army, including combat units.
Former Pennsylvania congressman Patrick Murphy is also “kid brother” to Palmdale Assistant City Manager J.J. Murphy. The former undersecretary — the number two Pentagon position for the Army’s civilian leadership — was hosted at Crazy Otto’s Restaurant by J.J. Murphy, a retired Air Force officer, who completed his career as a major.
“He was a paratrooper,” J.J. Murphy said. “He served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.”
Speaking to a group of about 70 veterans of the nation’s armed services, the talk began with ribbing and laughter around which service arm holds pride of place, Murphy quipping that “Marines, you know what that means — ‘Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential.”
Retired Marine Master Sgt. Leonard Thornton roared back, “You know what Army stands for, ‘Ain’t Ready For Marines Yet.’ ”
How the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard fared in that round of clever put-downs was lost in a roar of good-natured jeers. Then Patrick Murphy got down to business. His first order of business was to extend sincere compliments and respect to the men and women in the room, many of them Vietnam War veterans, but also those from the Korean War and even World War II.
Taking note that the group’s president and its host — Army veteran Juan Blanco and Crazy Otto’s owner Jin Hur — were working the room and pouring coffee, Patrick Murphy, an Army captain, said, “In Iraq, the officers would serve the troops first and I have to compliment you for that.”
Patrick Murphy, born in 1973, as the United States was winding down its ground war in Vietnam, said, “For our generation of Post-9/11 veterans, we know that the Vietnam War generation were not treated the way you should be treated when you came home. And it was the Vietnam War veterans who made sure that when my generation came home, you said, ‘Welcome Home, Brother.’ ”
Patrick Murphy, 45, graduated from college through Army ROTC, then went to law school and taught constitutional law at West Point as a professor, and was an officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps.
“It’s been an honor to serve in the Army and to teach at a place like West Point with its 4,000 cadets,” he said. He added, “West Point is both the Athens and the Sparta of America.”
All cadets are fit and competitive in sports, he said, but added: “They are also the Top 10 every year in Rhodes Scholars and Oxford Scholars. The mission statement is to inspire leaders of character for a lifetime of service.”
As a centrist Democrat from Pennsylvania, Patrick Murphy was a co-author on the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. He also co-authored with Congressman Patrick Kennedy in pressing for the Mental Health Parity Bill, to expand access to mental health services.
“Mental health is as important as physical health,” he told the veterans. “In the military, it can be seen as a sign of weakness to get counseling. But it is not that. It is strength. It is resiliency.”
Twenty veterans a day commit suicide and two active duty military troops do the same — a trend that must be reversed, Patrick Murphy said.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he volunteered for overseas deployment, serving in Bosnia in 2002 and in Baghdad during the Iraq War, in 2003–04, according to his Army biography.
Patrick Murphy was confirmed as under secretary of the Army by the Senate on Dec. 18, 2015, after having been nominated for the position by the president on Aug. 5, 2015. He was sworn into the post on Jan. 4, 2016.
While in Baghdad as a JAG Corps attorney with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, he worked to reconstruct the justice system and helped prosecute Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, a lieutenant of Muqtada al-Sadr, the former Shiite insurgent militia leader who became president of Iraq.
While assigned to the 82nd, Patrick Murphy was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in Iraq. Following his service in Iraq, he returned to Fort Bragg and continued his service as a JAG officer, before being released from active duty in 2004.
When they complete their hitch and return to society, veterans of military service “come home more likely to be employed than non-veterans. They are more likely to start small businesses and they are more likely to vote in elections than non-veterans. They want to give back, because they are leaders of character,” he said.
With 18 million American veterans ranging from service in World War II to the current wars after the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, “veterans want purpose-driven lives.”
Patrick Murphy noted that at city hall, “Someone like my brother becomes part of this community and lives by the ethic that we leave no one behind.”
Veterans, he said, have innovated, led and created corporations such as FedEx, Comcast, Johnson & Johnson and Nike.
Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, served two terms in Congress and was defeated in the Republican wave election of 2010.
Shortly after being sworn in as the undersecretary of the Army, Murphy assumed the role of acting secretary of the Army.
During his tenure as acting secretary, Patrick Murphy became well-known to soldiers for visiting units across the world, participating in physical training sessions, engaging them directly via social media and personally writing Army-wide emails. On Jan. 29, 2016, he issued a formal directive opening all combat arms positions to females.
Veterans, Patrick Murphy told the audience at Coffee4Vets, represent the strength of the nation.
“A quarter million veterans transition every year ... and about half are now going on to higher education, and out into the private sector,” he said.
Editor’s note: Some biographical material in this story was aggregated from a variety of sources, including Congressional and Department of Defense records, Roll Call and accounts from the Washington Post and Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.