After Fighting in Iraq, Political Activism at Home Nick Miccarelli, 24, served as a National Guardsman in Iraq. Now he's fighting on a political front at home, working on one of the most hotly contested congressional races in the country. His story is part of the Generation Next series.
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After Fighting in Iraq, Political Activism at Home

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After Fighting in Iraq, Political Activism at Home

After Fighting in Iraq, Political Activism at Home

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

You can see them on almost any college campus with stacks of stickers and pamphlets.

Mr. NICK MICCARELLI (Student Activist): What are you guys doing Election Day? You guys getting involved at all?

INSKEEP: Student activists trying to stir up interest in next week's election. A new Harvard study says record numbers of young people intend to vote this year, although record still means only about one in three. In college, the biggest party is often not Republican or Democratic, but apathetic.

Mr. MICCARELLI: Have you been following the elections at all?

Unidentified Woman #1: Not really.


Unidentified Woman: I'm really busy.


MONTAGNE: As part of the series Generation Next, we're listening to young people across the country. And today, guest correspondent Judy Woodruff profiles a student who stands against the tide of his generation. He's a strong supporter of the Iraq war, a war that he's seen firsthand. And he's not just voting Republican, he's fighting for his party 14 hours a day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nick Miccarelli knows the first rule of politicking on campus: Do not park yourself behind a table and wait for people to come to you. Here at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Nick walks right up to anyone who'll make eye contact with him.

Mr. MICCARELLI: What are you guys up to on Election Day? Interested in checking out the college Republicans?

Unidentified Woman #2: We are Republicans, but I'm actually not registered to vote so…

Mr. MICCARELLI: You're kidding.

Unidentified Woman #2: But I just turned 18 like last year.

Mr. MICCARELLI: Well, give us your name and e-mail and we'll bring you to a meeting, we'll get you registered to vote.

Unidentified Woman #2: Okay.

Mr. MICCARELLI: We can't let a Republican go by who's not registered.

WOODRUFF: Some students breeze by cracking jokes or rolling their eyes. Nick says they treat him even worse when he goes door-to-door in the residence halls.

Mr. MICCARELLI: So are hostile. Some are openly hostile and slam the door in your face and throw things at you and call you a fascist, and those are the kind of people that you can't even really deal with. We usually like to spend time with people who may not have read as much or are not as informed about the way things are. Because most people with very strong opinions are not going to be changed. But…

WOODRUFF: And do you find many young people do have strong opinions already?

Mr. MICCARELLI: Not that many. They use college as a time to decide where exactly on the political spectrum they are.

WOODRUFF: When did you get interested in politics? What's your first political memory?

Mr. MICCARELLI: What really got me into it was my Uncle Larry. He was a Marine in Vietnam. He had always told me about how badly politics affected the Vietnam War, people not doing the best thing for the troops because it wasn't politically advantageous to them at the time.

Where he just said, you know, do you want us to win this war or do you want to ask us political questions? And I think he instilled some of that in me. I looked at it and I said, you know, what goes on in Washington, D.C. affects the minutia of every American life. And I just, I've got to have my voice heard.

WOODRUFF: Nick has two passions in his life: politics and the military. His father fought in Korea. Two great-uncles were in World War II. So when Nick was 17, he was aching, he says, to join the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Mr. MICCARELLI: I wanted to get in the service in the worst way. I mean I looked at it in 1993, things happened in Somalia where guys with wives and kids were killed over there. Guys in World War II with wives and kids were killed. And me as a young guy with no wife, no kid, I mean these guys are making that sacrifice with all they have on their plate whom I cannot make that sacrifice.

WOODRUFF: This past spring he volunteered to go to Iraq and wound up in one of the most dangerous places, Ramadi.

Mr. MICCARELLI: It was difficult. And I did my best to fool my parents about what I was doing in Iraq. So what I had told them I was doing was I was going to be stationed in Kuwait and then doing some operations into southern Iraq. And I showed them how Basra had a Pizza Hut. I didn't have it in my to tell them.

WOODRUFF: So how did you tell them, finally?

Mr. MICCARELLI: I didn't tell them. The insurgents kind of let them know. My buddy Proctor(ph) and I were out on an observation point. We had cell phones. We could call home on cell phones from these observation points. So we're in the middle of Ramadi and you're calling, talking to your parents.

And so I called and said, hey dad, I'm just calling real quick to tell you I'm having a great Easter and things are fine and no problems. We're just kind of hanging out here. And one of our Humvees blew up a car bomb and fired a bunch of 50-caliber machine gun rounds at it.

So in the background my father hears me talking about how great Easter is and then all of a sudden ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, he hears that in the background. And I said, yeah, we're testing weapons, Dad.

(Soundbite of explosion sound)

Mr. MICCARELLI: I'm like, I got to run, Dad, and I had to hang up.

WOODRUFF: So he got it when he heard that sound?

Mr. MICCARELLI: I called him back afterwards. I said, yeah, Dad, I'm fine, no problem. I told you we're just testing weapons. He's like, son, I was in the military. I know what's going on. I love you and please be careful.

(Soundbite of applause)

WOODRUFF: Nick Miccarelli came back from a war and became the political director in a pitched battle.

Unidentified Man #2: Curt, Curt, Curt, Curt…

WOODRUFF: This year in addition to being a co-chair of the College Republicans, he's a top staffer in a critical Pennsylvania race.

Representative CURT WELDON (Republican, Pennsylvania): Hey, fellas, thanks for being here.

WOODRUFF: The candidate is Republican Congressman Curt Weldon.

Rep. WELDON: I have sounded the general alarm for this campaign because we need your help. Now you might ask, well, why the call this year? And, unfortunately, it's because I've become the national target

WOODRUFF: The congressman was already in a tough race when news broke about his alleged illegal business dealings. When I asked Nick about Curt Weldon's chances, he gives the practiced answer of a good soldier.

Mr. MICCARELLI: The residents in Delaware County and Chester County and Montgomery County know Curt. They know the things he's done. And people going to the polling booth, they're going to sit there and say this guy is strong on the issues and he works hard.

WOODRUFF: Do you think he'll win?

Mr. MICCARELLI: I think we'll win, absolutely.

WOODRUFF: Nick says Congressman Weldon connects with people like him and his family, blue-collar types, he says. We want secure jobs and especially now a secure country.

When you get into a conversation with someone and they're talking about national security, you're talking terrorism, do you sometimes feel that you need to bring up your own military service to make your point?

Mr. MICCARELLI: There's been times where people have said, well, why aren't you over there fighting this war? You're here at college. You don't know what you're talking about. I'll say, well, I think I have a pretty good idea about what the war on terrorism's all about having served on the frontlines of it in Iraq.

And I tell people that these people, the insurgents and these fascists that are over there, these people will not stop until girls aren't allowed to go to school. These people will not stop until every woman on the street is in a burqa. These people will not stop until there is a pan-Islamic (unintelligible) from Spain to Malaysia. And I think until I see a better alternative to what it is we're doing, we have to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt.

WOODRUFF: Have you changed anybody's mind?


WOODRUFF: Was it on one issue? Was it Iraq? Maybe you could tell us what somebody else started out saying and then what you said to them in response.

Mr. MICCARELLI: There was a friend of mine in the service - it didn't happen on campus, it happened while I was in the service - who just had a generally negative opinion of some things and said, well, in the ‘90s we didn't have all these wars and stuff like that. And I said, well, in the ‘90s you didn't have the wars, but you had first World Trade Center, the African embassies, these different terrorist attacks that were no less of a danger to the United States than 9/11. I think we had a very false sense of security.

And I definitely influenced my friend with that. And he said, yeah, you know, had they been successful in the first World Trade Center attack, all these problems would have been in Clinton's hands.

WOODRUFF: You're 24 years old. Do you think anybody will ever be able to change your mind?

Mr. MICCARELLI: It's very possible because, you know, my father was a Democrat, my grandfather was a Democrat. And my grandfather voted for George Bush. That was the first Republican he ever voted for. That was a...

WOODRUFF: Bush 41 or Bush 43?

Mr. MICCARELLI: Forty-three.

WOODRUFF: Forty-three.

Mr. MICCARELLI: Forty-three in 2000.

WOODRUFF: So very recently.

Mr. MICCARELLI: Yes. He's a great example of a social issue voter.

WOODRUFF: What issue?

Mr. MICCARELLI: Abortion and gay marriage for my grandfather, absolutely.

WOODRUFF: Twenty years from now, less than that, could you be voting Democratic?

Mr. MICCARELLI: I could be voting Green Party if somebody shared my values. I think everybody in my generation is much more independent-minded than generations in the past. I mean I am not a party voter; I'm an issues voter. I'm a guy who believes in what he believes in and will support whatever candidate is closest to what I believe.

WOODRUFF: Nick Miccarelli, senior at the University of Pennsylvania, a Republican activist and National Guard staff sergeant.

By the way, we asked Nick the same question I've asked scores of young people across the country. Who are your heroes? Nick answered, his parents and Senator John McCain. Other young people say they most admire Oprah Winfrey or Jon Stewart or Bill Gates, movie stars, musicians, relatives. But when it comes to heroes, very few politicians.

For NPR News, I'm Judy Woodruff.

MONTAGNE: And Judy has a TV report about why some young voters are turned off politics this season and why others are more engaged than usual. To see it, go to

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