Published 12:18 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Austin, TX—It’s an election year. Early voting starts tomorrow. As a former high school government teacher I don’t have it in me not remind you to GO VOTE!!!  I don’t care WHO you vote for, I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Green Party… JUST. GO. VOTE. Let me explain my passionate for our American right to vote.

Nick, my cousin, and I were very, very close.  He was the first baby I ever held. We spent summers on the Texas coast playing in the sand, Christmas and 4thof July holidays together (where he slipped firecrackers in a metal coffee can under my chair).  He hated all my boyfriends until Scott, he put together my kids’ toys at Christmas, and had my son rappelling off the roof at age 7…basically he was the little brother I never had.

Nick struggled in school.  He was dyslexic, ADHD and just plain ornery!  At 19 he joined the Army.  Where he had struggled in school, he excelled in the military.  He was born to be a soldier.  One of his first overseas deployments was with a UN peace-keeping mission in Sarajevo.  He couldn’t stand seeing kids there with no pencils and crayons, so he wrote home and had his mom organize the sending of school supplies for he and the other soldiers to give out to the kids.

In 2005, Nick was sent on the first of two deployments to Iraq.  Nick was an MP whose unit was sent to aid in the security of the first free election in Iraqi history.  They literally guarded the ballots as they made their way across the country.  Insurgents were determined to stop the election. Their plan was to create as much chaos as possible in hopes of preventing the election from happening. Their hope was that fear would stop the people from voting.  Terrorists attacked the convoys carrying the ballots with IED’s.  This happened to one of the convoys Nick was in and he was awarded a bronze star for valor for his actions that day.  He sustained a TBI, traumatic brain injury, that day, which was the first of several he experienced during his tours in Iraq.

The Iraqi elections did take place in December of 2005 thanks to the efforts of the many brave men and women who fought to protect that election. My family and I were so proud that Nick was there doing his part to protect their right to vote…and ours.

Many Iraqi citizens stood in line for 13+ hours for the chance to cast that first vote. I remember seeing the pictures of those ink-dyed fingers to show they had voted and the smiles on their faces. Iraqis went to the polls that day knowing they could be attacked and possibly killed. American soldiers went to the polls that day to protect democracy in a nation that was not their own. Can you imagine having to be protected by men with body armor and guns because going to vote is that dangerous?! Voter turnout here in America suffers if it happens to be raining on Election Day! Heaven forbid there be a wait.

In that first, historic, dangerous election, 78 percent of Iraqis voted.  Voter turnout in the 2014 November election in Texas? 38%. No danger, no guns, no need for body armor, not even bad weather…and only 38 percent of us cared enough bother.

We laid Nick to rest this past August.  A series of traumatic brain injuries had earned him a medical retirement from the military, but had also caused lesions on his brain. He died at 36 from a grand maul seizure resulting from these lesions.

I said I don’t care who you vote for, but I guess I really do.  Vote for Nick.  Vote for Nick and all the young men and women, past and present, who have served, who have come home changed in unimaginable ways, who have given up so much, including their lives, to protect our right to vote.

Rain or shine… I will vote in every election for the rest of my life.  In their honor, in his honor.  Vote. For Nick.


God bless our family, friends, and countrymen who serve.


Leslie Milder is Founder of Friends of Texas Public Schools. She can be reached at lmilder@fotps.org or @FOTPSambassador