Veterans Campaign began with a conversation between Seth Lynn, then a captain in the Marine Corps, and some senior officers, when one of the officers lamented that in the past, more politicians had served in the military. The conversation made an impact on Seth, who subsequently left active duty to study public policy at Princeton University. During his first year, Seth heard about a Rutgers University program that trained women to run for office. Later, as the only male to attend the Ready to Run workshop, Seth was impressed by the women he met at Rutgers, and inspired by the idea that many qualified participants would be more likely to be elected due to the workshop’s training.
Seth talked with his former commanding officer, Michael Hunzeker, who was by then a Princeton doctoral candidate, and the two decided to found the student organization that would become Veterans Campaign. Although neither had any experience in politics, they found that they were surrounded by people who had tremendous knowledge and experience. While there were few other veterans at Princeton, many of their fellow students were nevertheless excited about the idea of a training program for veteran candidates. The group began meeting weekly and subsequently reached out to two visiting Princeton faculty members who were former congressmen. The congressmen agreed to help, and convinced the Princeton administration to support the initiative. The Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Anne Marie Slaughter, understood the importance of what the students were trying to do, and agreed to fund the first workshop.
The members of the group began reaching out to veteran politicians, members of veteran-focused political action committees, and staffers who had worked for veterans, in an effort to plan an effective workshop. Two members of the group who had significant campaign experience, Eric Melancon and Doug Palmer, began designing a curriculum based on what veteran candidates should know before beginning their campaigns. This curriculum eventually grew into the Candidate’s Field Manual, a unique, 100-page long guidebook for veteran candidates. Meanwhile, news of the workshop spread quickly, and the initial limit of 50 participants was raised to 75.
On September 12-13, 2009, Veterans Campaign held its first workshop, which was unanimously considered a resounding success. Congressman James Marshall of Georgia and Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Jack Jacobs gave keynote speeches, numerous panelists provided valuable information, and post-workshop testimonials demonstrated enormous enthusiasm from all of the participants.