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Republican U.S. Senate candidate draws on military career when bringing his message to N.H. voters

  • Republican U.S. Senate candidate Brigadier Gen. Don Bolduc (right) meets with owner Joe Dupont (left) and other employees of the Rust Stop in Chichester midway through a daylong Concord-area campaign tour. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/20/2019 2:57:47 PM

When it comes to his military career, Don Bolduc could tell plenty of stories. Stories about his time in Afghanistan leading troops on horseback in the shadow of 9/11. About his posts at U.S Africa Command and Special Operations Command-Africa.

About his two Purple Hearts, and five Bronze Stars.

But when the brigadier general hits the campaign trail for U.S. Senate, it isn’t the heroic memories he tends to share. It’s the lessons of the military itself.

Bolduc, the first Republican to jump into the race to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, joins the race with box-checking conservative philosophies: low regulations, strong Second Amendment protections, less government involvement in health care.

He stands somewhat closer to the center than his declared opponent Bill O’Brien, with somewhat less bombast than prospective foe Corey Lewandowski.

But whatever the given issue, it doesn’t take long for his 36-year military career to come into play. In a pair of visits Monday to Riverbend Community Mental Health and the Rust Stop undercoating company in Chichester, Bolduc drew from that career frequently, weaving experiences with his vision for the country.

There’s the sheer size of military leadership. That, Bolduc says, is emblematic of the flawed mentality of federal government: that decisions should be made top down, that problems can be solved by creating new high level positions.

There’s the waste and financial inefficiencies – the bloated budgets and discarded ammunition – all microcosms of the way Washington should learn to prioritize, Bolduc says.

But perhaps the biggest lesson Bolduc has taken from his career is a personal one. Bolduc suffers from post traumatic stress. It took years to acknowledge it and get it treated. Now, he’s featuring it in his Senate campaign.

At a round table of behavioral health professionals at Riverbend, Bolduc said he could identify with the state’s little-receding mental health crisis. It was something he saw regularly on the front lines. And then, it happened to him.

By 2013, Bolduc had left his military career behind him. But his traumas were only compounding. He had sleep disorders. He struggled with pain management. He kept putting off surgeries. It became overwhelming.

“It’s a mental injury for me,” he recalled. “That’s how I see it. From combat.”

It took convincing from his wife, but he eventually sought help.

“I did what she asked, because I knew” he said. “I knew I was being destructive in my personal life and my professional life. I knew I wanted to be a better leader. And I realized that not being able to lead effectively is just terrible. So it was time to make a change.”

The experience put him on a path to helping other veterans realize their own traumas and find help, Bolduc says. It connected him to mental health treatment, a topic that he considers at the heart of much of the country’s ills, from substance use disorder to harassment in the workplace.

And it sets up a potential contrast of character within this fledgling primary: In the era of Trump, where weakness is a liability and regret is ill-advised, Don Bolduc is open with his imperfections.

“I think that we have to be honest with ourselves, and we have to know ourselves.”

But his story, he insists, isn’t a sad one.

“I think it’s a story of a guy that went in the military and had these accomplishments, but they came at a price to him personally and professionally,” he said. “And he recognized these vulnerabilities and he turned them around to be strengths. And that’s the kind of example that I hope my military service brings to everybody.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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