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Iowa Veterans For Paul Explain The Attraction

A claim by Ron Paul's presidential campaign, and confirmed by the fact-check website PolitiFact, asserts that the Texas congressman has received more donations from active military personnel than the other GOP candidates combined.

That's intriguing, given that Paul is the only candidate calling for significant cuts in military (not defense, he says) funding, the closing of overseas bases, and the use of military force "very sparingly."

NPR photographer Becky Lettenberger and I headed to the Iowa State Fairgrounds this week to speak with members of the military attending Paul's "Salute to the Military."

Among the boisterous crowd of well over 500 people who gathered in the cavernous Knapp Learning Center to listen to Paul, we found an active military man and two veterans who told us why the candidate's military message resonated with them.

Army Staff Sgt. Abe Elam, 31, of Douds, who served two tours of duty in Iraq as a combat engineer, said he had never voted before 2007, when he started following Paul.

"His foreign policy is the only foreign policy that makes sense," Elam said. "If there's an immediate threat to our country, we'll deal with it."

Elam says his nonvoting days are over. "If I'm going to serve under a president and do their bidding, I'm going to make sure I've got a say in who becomes president," he said. "I respect [Paul's] love for the United States and his strong belief in the Constitution."

Ron Hurd, 57, of Urbandale, who served stateside in the Army from 1972 to 1975, said: "I don't think that we should be spending the kind of money we're spending overseas for military purposes. ... And Ron Paul is the only candidate really addressing the issue of taking care of our veterans."

Hurd, a registered Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, said he'll change his registration to Republican on caucus night next Tuesday to vote for Paul.

But will he return to the Democratic fold for the general election? "I don't know. There's a lot of time between then and now," he said.

Eric Grote, 54, of Hampton, a retired Air Force captain, combat medic and registered nurse, said, "I've seen what happens when things go wrong. ... I look at what's happening now and see us on the cusp of World War III."

Long a libertarian, Grote said he came back from Turkey, where he lives part of the year, to work and vote for Paul in the Iowa caucuses.

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