Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Join our email blast

Political Mercury

Iowa combat veteran, former ag official ‘ready to serve’ again — this time in Congress


Lanon Baccam is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa’s Third District.

After the rains, or in the routines of daily life, in one of the more war-ravaged reaches of the globe, residents would spot the signs of unexploded munitions, mortars and other devices of death.

The Army National Guard’s combat engineers would scout and remove rocket rounds and similar weapons for force protection in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan. This was now-Iowa congressional candidate Lanon Baccam’s role as a corporal in the Guard during a 2004-2005 deployment that lasted 366 days.

“People would identify and say, ‘Hey, it rained earlier this week. We can see some tail fins of an old Russian mortar sticking out of the ground that had been buried for 25 years,’ “ Baccam said in a wide-ranging interview with Political Mercury. “We’d go. We’d dig them out. We would load them up into literally the trailer behind my truck, and we’d collect these over a week or two.”

His team, attached to the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, would regularly collect hundreds of pounds of the exposed and deadly munitions and then take them out in the hills.

CNA - Stop HIVCNA - NaloxoneCNA - Immunizations

The work for this Mount Pleasant native, a son of immigrants, brought daily dangers.

“It was more stressful thinking about my boss, because my boss (a sergeant and squad leader) was older than I was,” Baccam said. “He had young children back home. I was more worried about his life than mine. I was the young guy.”

Baccam spent eight years in the Army National Guard, having joined at age 17.

“I wanted to give back and protect the freedom and liberties that we have.” Baccam said. “As a young soldier, you grew up quick. I deployed in my early 20s, and you are given a lot of responsibilities. The most important one is having the lives of your battle buddies in your hands. We built a brotherhood. We defended this country at a time of war, and I know it’s possible to bring folks back together to focus on our communities again because of that experience.”

He added, “I am ready right now to serve again.”

Baccam, now living in Des Moines, captured the June Democratic primary for the 3rd Congressional District. He faces Republican Congressman Zach Nunn, a military veteran himself, in the November general election.

Growing up in Mount Pleasant, Baccam said Iowans should be proud of their legacy. Baccam’s parents immigrated to Mount Pleasant in 1980, part of the waves of refugees resettled in Iowa under former Gov. Robert Ray’s leadership.

Natives of Laos, his parents, Tai Dam refugees, worked at the Mackay envelope factory. They still live in Mount Pleasant.

“My family was sponsored by a Swedish Lutheran family that had come to the United States like 40 or 50 years earlier,” Baccam said. “They were first-generation immigrants themselves. They were farmers in the small town of Swedesburg, north of Mount Pleasant. It was a tiny little town.”

Baccam credited Republican Ray with the foresight and courage on the resettlement of his family.

“This is to me like an incredible legacy we should be proud of,” Baccam said. “People need to be reminded of it. Iowa has had this incredible progressive legacy of actually standing up for people around the world when they need it.”

Today, Baccam lives two blocks from where his wife grew up in Des Moines. His daughter attends Hubbell Elementary School.

“It’s amazing that my daughter runs up and down these same steps, these super-worn marble steps that my wife did,” Baccam said. “Generations of people have worn down these steps and added to the character of this incredible school, and it’s really quite special to me.”

Baccam attended Drake University on the GI Bill and went on to earn a role as an under secretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor. Among other duties, Baccam served as a liaison for the department with military veterans.

Rural economic development will play a central role in his congressional service, Baccam said, noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has community-lifting programs for water and wastewater upgrades, high-speed Internet, and a modern program for rural-electrification efforts — all of which Baccam says he has the expertise, the working knowledge, to help his constituents access.

For Iowans living in rural areas, often there is a premium for certain groceries, so increasing access to local food is essential, he said.

“If we can, for example, in the food space, emphasize and support local and regional food systems where we can grow and raise the things we eat on the table closer to where we are, perhaps that helps create new revenue streams for folks in our rural communities, helps people who want to get into farming and ranching,” he said.

Baccam, who is pro-choice on abortion, sees abortion rights as a defining issue in the general election.

“People sense this attack on their freedoms and their rights,” Baccam said. “Women should have the right to make their own health-care decisions. That’s not a place for a politician to be.”

Baccam said the restrictions on abortion in Iowa alone are going to prevent physicians from moving to the state.

“I mean, if you’re going to be held criminally liable for even the training that you would do in medical school, or the services you would provide, that’s not going to entice people to come back to the state,” Baccam said.

On immigration, Baccam said he sees the issue for the nation from a variety of perspectives, as both a son of refugees and a military professional who knows personally how vital it was to secure the perimeter of a military base in Afghanistan.

He’s frustrated that bipartisan immigration reform is not getting through Congress.

“No one is going to get everything they want, and if you are waiting for something perfect, you are never going to have it,” Baccam said. “You have to find a way to come back to the middle.” 

Douglas Burns of Carroll is fourth-generation journalist and founder of Mercury Boost, a marketing and public relations company.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Summer Stir - July 2024