Congressman Chris Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd District. Having served as an Officer in the US Air Force and being a recipient of the prestigious Mackay Trophy for “significant aerial achievement” it would be simple to define him as an American hero. He comes from a military family, with five brothers who served in the military and is the son of a WWII veteran. He is a proponent of the Veteran History Project which is a program working in conjunction with the Library of Congress working to preserve the story of WWII veterans.
Why did you decide to become an Officer in the Air Force?
Yeah, I get asked that all the time. I come from a family of Air Force officers, my dad was a pilot in WWII. A couple of my older brothers were military, Air Force officers. In fact I have six brothers, five of us have served in the military. I thought I was going to be a lawyer and it wasn’t until my senior year in college I was driving by Hill Air Force Base and I saw two F-16s and I thought thats really what I want to do and made the decision really late but it was the best decision I ever made.
Your father was a pilot in WWII, how important do you think it is to preserve the stories of this dwindling veteran population?
It’s so important which is why I’ve been involved with the Veteran’s History Project. I was speaking to a group in St. George last week. You hear it all the time that Veteran’s don’t share their stories and they didn’t know that their dad or grandpa was a hero. Many time soldiers didn’t do this for recognition and don’t like talking about themselves. When their families here these stories for the first time that’s really cool. Secondly we want to know these stories for our own history, to chronicle what these individuals did and preserve meaningful national history.
You were awarded the Mackay trophy for “significant aerial achievement” how did that happen?
That was fun. I’ll tell you what, doing that kind of stuff and being in the Air Force was way more fun than being in Congress. So I was flying the B-1 at the time and we were flying these long-range missions from the United States over to the Middle East. So while we were getting ready for those I said “guys were going about a third of the way around of the world why don’t we just keep going?”. And that kind of started this thing that we were going to fly around the world and then we kept the crew and aircraft and while we were flying we thought we probably set the world speed record, and that’s how we got the Mackay Trophy we set the world speed record.
What are some of the lessons you learned from military service?
The first thing is just an appreciation for my country, having traveled around the world and seeing the enormously powerful influence of the United States on tons of people around the world, to see that firsthand was just a powerful lesson. The second was the realization that if the United States doesn’t lead, no other country will or countries that will lead us in the wrong direction will step up and say follow me I’ll lead. The third thing is the value of hard work, in the military is some of the hardest work I ever did but to see the outcome and it just makes you feels so good, it’s one of those jobs where you go; what I do, actually matters.
After your military career you were the CEO of Shipley Group, what made you decide on giving up a successful career in the private sector to focus on public service?
I was watching what was happening at the time and I just thought this is nuts, I couldn’t stand to watch it anymore. I never thought about running for office before but they redrew the boundary line in Utah and got a new congressional district and some people called me about it and said you’re in an open district you should run for congress, and I thought I’m going to do it and it actually happened really quickly.
You’ve stated Ronald Reagan was one of your heroes he was once quoted as saying “Peace fails when we forget what we stand for. It fails when we forget that our republic is based on firm principles, that with them we are the last best hope of man” do you feel that the United States is in danger of forgetting what we stand for?
I wonder that sometimes and I know some people are but I don’t think most Americans are. I think most Americans know what we stand for and I think most Americans are still willing to fight for the things we stand for.
Your colleague Jason Chaffetz decided he won’t seek re-election in 2018 and cited wanting to spend more time with his family as one of the reasons, how difficult as a Congressman is it balancing family life?
It’s a huge challenge. That’s the reason I separated from the Air Force after 13 years because I had six kids and I just felt I’ve got to spend time with my kids before they grow up. Now I find myself in much the same situation, where I’m separated from my family, separated from my wife, sometimes for weeks and weeks because I’m on the Intelligence Committee and I often have to travel when other people get to go home to their family. Last week I was in China and Japan instead of being able to go home. It’s a real challenge and I’m sympathetic to Jason who understands it, he reached a point, I wish I could spend more time with my family, I’m like good for you man.
What do you think are the most important issues effecting Veterans today?
The first is healthcare. The United States has done a poor job of providing the healthcare that we owe to our Veterans and Congress is taking extraordinary efforts to try to fix that including giving a meaningful amount of money towards healthcare two summers ago. We need to adequately fund it and need to make the VA more accountable that’s the primary thing that the US needs to work on, we haven’t given Veterans what we need to give them.
Serving on the House Select Intelligence Committee what do you think is the most pressing issue for the US globally?
It’s hard to say what is the most. The reality is that is a chaotic world and more so now than it was ten years ago. So any given week, this week for an example we had briefings on North Korea, briefings on Syria, briefings on China, and we’ve had briefings on Russia. Tomorrow we have briefings on ISIS and global terrorism. The reality is we have to deal with all of them and the reality is we have to deal with all of them at the same time. So it’s hard to say whats the most important, they are all slightly different, North Korea is probably the most dangerous situation we face. China and their regional ambitions is probably the most complicated situation. They are all different but all important.
What is next for Congressman Stewart?
Keep our head down and keep trying to work on Intelligence issues and protect Americans and make their lives better.
Learn more about Congressman Stewart and the Veterans History Project on his website: http://stewart.house.gov