Meet Jack Bergman: The Former Pilot Now in Congress
WASHINGTON – Even before entering Congress, Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI) had an impressive career. He served as a three star general in the Marine Corps flying helicopters during the Vietnam war before transitioning as an airplane pilot for Northwest Airlines and running a medical supply business.
In an interview with Jewish Insider, Bergman critiqued politicians who have not served in uniform for making misguided military policy decisions. “The leadership necessary to take our country forward and making those tough decisions, you really have to have those people who were boots on the ground. There are a lot of people who really think they are making good decisions as it relates to the military who have no clue what the ramifications of that decision are because they have never been part of it,” he explained.
The retired U.S. Marine visited Israel in 2010 with JINSA as part of its special Generals and Admirals program and is planning to tour the Jewish state this week with AIPAC’s AIEF affiliate. Regarding the two state solution, an issue where Congressional Republicans are currently divided, Bergman called the question “complex.” He added, “If you can get both [sides] to actually agree to negotiate in good faith and then go back and honor what they negotiated, the two state solution will have a chance. If you don’t have that, the two state solution is not a good alternative.” When asked about the Taylor Force Act, Bergman requested additional time to study the legislation citing his busy duties on the House Budget Committee (This interview was conducted at the end of July).
Referring to President Trump’s call for banning transgender individuals from the military, Berman noted, “The U.S. military is not a social experiment.” The Michigan lawmaker also explained, “I do not support elective surgery of any kind, zero federal dollars spent on elective surgery. I’m all about readiness and winning the fight. Anything that challenges unit cohesion is counterproductive and people get hurt.”
The 70-year old Congressman was the oldest lawmaker to play in the Congressional baseball game earlier this year. The former Boy Scout ran for office last during high school but was defeated. “This is the first elected office that I have won,” he emphasized.
Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress?
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI): “This was not part of any grand career plan. I had three successful careers. Lt. General in the Marines: pilot for Northwest Airlines, small business owner. I wasn’t in need of another career, but we had eight grandkids and a couple of years ago my wife and I started to talk about what kind of world are we leaving for them. We were unhappy with what we saw happening so this seat became an open seat and I decided that after extensive discussions with my wife and boiled down to her saying: ‘put up or shut up.’ I decided to throw my hat in the ring and see what the voters thought. I was raised in a family where my parents met during the Great Depression. My dad ended up going to World War II. I was raised in a family that believed in service. For me, it seemed like a transition from service in a uniform to service in a suit.”
JI: What was the most powerful moment of your military service?
Bergman: “The most bonding, stressful, scary and however you want to determine it, is if you end up in combat. I was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and we had a chance to see first hand the stressful nature of the fight – I flew assault support helicopters. If there was a mission, we would actually carry the infantry troops into the mission. We would take out the wounded. Those times every mental and physical capability that a person has is up and online; adrenaline flows, you are focused on what you are doing. Outside of the combat, some of the most wonderful moments were as a flight instructor taking a young man or women who had never flown an airplane before – almost the pride of a parent or coach – when you help your children. Good leaders mentor because you don’t know when you are going to get hit by the bus and your organization should never suffer if the leader goes down somebody should step right up. I am a marine: we pride ourselves on our ability to fight, our understanding that it is not about us, it is about the Marine on our left and the Marine on our right.”
JI: What is the lesson that should be learned from the Vietnam war in 2017?
Bergman: “One of the big lessons of Vietnam is when we as a country get involved in some big conflict or are contemplating, we need to know why we are doing it? We need elected leadership. The military does not start or end wars. All the military does is prosecute wars. The leadership necessary to take our country forward and making those tough decisions, you really have to have those people who were boots on the ground. There are a lot of people who really think they are making good decisions as it relates to the military who have no clue of what the ramifications of that decision because they have never been part of it.”
JI: What is your view on the two state solution?
Bergman: “It’s complex. If you can get both [sides] to actually agree to negotiate in good faith and then go back and honor what they negotiated, the two state solution will have a chance. If you don’t have that, the two state solution is not a good alternative. You have to look at the history and how those negotiations have gone. It doesn’t relieve us from the responsibility to try and solve problems because if you quit trying to solve the problems, then usually the problems end up being one of armed conflict because people quit trying. I don’t quit.
“It’s been seven years since I’ve been to Israel: I was there in 2010 with JINSA and it was a wonderful introduction. I am looking forward to going back in 10 days or so whenever we leave and getting an update. I don’t know what I don’t know with what’s changed in those seven years. As a new freshman Congressman, I have been a little busy.”
JI: Do you support the Taylor Force Act?
Bergman: “I am on the budget committee and we just finished markup last week. I haven’t looked at it.”
JI: Do you disagree with any of President Trump’s foreign policy decisions?
Bergman: “I don’t know if there is anything that I disagree with. What I really agree with the Trump administration is the quality of people that he has brought in as the Cabinet Secretaries. The media has not helped the administration get its game plan out. The media to a large extent has chosen sides and it isn’t on the side of the President here. The President’s position on global trade—that’s going to evolve.”
JI: Can you talk about your childhood?
Bergman: “I grew up in a family that gave me all of the love and discipline that I ever needed. My mom was a farm girl from southern Minnesota. My dad had to leave the upper peninsula of Michigan when he was 17 because his parents had passed. I have one younger sister. I grew up with what people would have thought is the middle class, American small town kid. Boy scout, Church acolyte, sports in high school. I ran for elected office in high school and never run anything. This is the first elected office that I have won.”
JI: Do you support President Trump’s decision to ban transgender individuals from the military?
Bergman: “What you saw yesterday was a tweet. Policy is meat on the bone. The U.S. military is not a social experiment. You can look back at the recent history of our country: every administration has brought in a number of social scientists to look at the military. We have an opportunity in this country to do something different for our 18 year olds. I do not support elective surgery of any kind, zero federal dollars spent on elective surgery. I’m all about readiness and winning the fight. Anything that challenges unit cohesion is counterproductive and people get hurt.”
JI: As a GOP Congressman, can you describe the President’s plan in dealing with the ongoing Syrian conflict?
Bergman: “I can’t tell you what the president’s plan is. We know that we don’t have the option not to be involved. It’s a humanitarian crisis. We have to ensure that the Syrian people who are physically confined to Syria they have a safe zone so they can actually live and not be affected by the everyday conflict that is going on. We as the global allies have to figure out a way to somehow inject ourselves appropriately so the Syrian people who want a Syria of the future can actually create their form of Democratic government.”
JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Berman: “I was the oldest guy in the Congressional baseball field this year on both times and now I have decided to play in the Congressional football team.”