December 11, 2023

The U.S. honors military veterans on November 11 at a time when Republicans are vying for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination and the possibility of becoming commander in chief.

Five GOP candidates took the debate stage in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday night after meeting the threshold to qualify, while former President Donald Trump qualified but declined to participate.

The U.S. military is of major importance to any presidential candidate, but few of the Republicans on stage on Wednesday served in the armed forces.

As Americans mark Veterans Day weekend, here is a breakdown of the military experience of the leading Republican candidates.

Veterans Day Parade in 2022
Participants march in the 103rd annual Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2022, in New York City. Many of the Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination have not served in the U.S. military.
Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress/Getty Images

Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor is an attorney by profession and has never served in the U.S. military. As governor from 2010 to 2018, he was commander in chief of the New Jersey National Guard.

In September 2015, Christie gave Air Force Brigadier General Michael L. Cunniff—head of the New Jersey National Guard—90 days to lose weight and meet the U.S. military’s fitness requirements after the Pentagon reprimanded the general in 2014 for missing fitness requirements as well as excess weight. Cunniff met the deadline and left the role in 2017.

Ron DeSantis

The Florida governor is a U.S. Navy veteran. He served as a military lawyer in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

DeSantis was a member of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of military lawyers and served at Guantánamo Bay in 2006. His role was to advocate for the humane treatment of detainees there in order to ensure that the U.S. military complied with the law. In 2018, DeSantis said that part of his work involved advising on the legality of force-feeding detainees on hunger strike.

In 2007, DeSantis was deployed to Iraq, where he served as legal adviser to the commander of SEAL Team One before returning to the U.S. in 2008. He achieved the rank of lieutenant commander and left active duty in 2010, serving in the Naval Reserves until 2019.

He received at least 10 awards and decorations for his service, including the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service, the Iraq Campaign Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

He is commander in chief of the Florida National Guard.

Nikki Haley

The former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations has not served in the U.S. military but as governor from 2011 to 2017, she was commander in chief of the South Carolina National Guard.

Haley served as U.N. ambassador from 2017 to 2018.

In June this year, Haley’s husband. Major Michael Haley, was deployed to Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard for a mission will last for most of Haley’s expected campaign.

Vivek Ramaswamy

The biotech entrepreneur has not served in the U.S. military or held any public office.

He has previously suggested that U.S. citizens under age 25 should be allowed to vote only if they are enrolled in the military, work as first responders, or pass a civics test that’s given to immigrants seeking American citizenship

He also said he would use the U.S. military to “annihilate” Mexican drug cartels.

Tim Scott

The U.S. senator from South Carolina has not served in the U.S. military.

Scott’s father, Ben Scott Sr., was an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, while his older brother, Ben Scott Jr., served in the U.S. Army and retired in 2014 as a command sergeant major after 32 years, according to a post the senator made on X, formerly Twitter, in December of that year.

He served on the Senate Committee on Armed Services from 2018 to 2019.

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump has not served in the U.S. military. As president from 2017 to 2021, he was commander in chief of all the armed forces of the U.S.

Trump attended the New York Military Academy and graduated in 1964. He received four student draft deferments and one medical disqualification between 1964 and 1972 during the Vietnam War.

In 2019, he said he would have been honored to serve but “thought it was a terrible war.”

Trump’s late brother, Fred Trump Jr., joined the U.S. Air National Guard in the 1950s and the move was criticized by his father and brother, according to the former president’s niece, Mary Trump.

The former president has also frequently criticized military leaders, including General Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Republicans’ Opponents

Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face other candidates in the general election.

President Joe Biden is once again seeking the Democratic nomination. He did not serve in the U.S. military but, as president, is the commander in chief of all U.S. armed forces. His late son, Beau, served in the U.S. Army JAG Corps and his son, Hunter, served in the U.S. Naval Reserve before being discharged over a failed drug test.

Independent presidential candidate Cornel West is an academic who has not served in the U.S. military.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is running for president as an independent after switching from Democrat, has also not served in the U.S. military. He is an attorney who has worked as an environmental activist.