Should Candidates' Sons Serve on the Frontline?

Starting this weekend when Capt. Beau Biden lands in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard, both vice presidential candidates will have sons deployed in a combat zone.

Spc. Track Palin and his armored Stryker unit landed on the frontlines in Iraq last month.

While Biden, 39, and Palin, 19, are just ordinary troops today, on Nov. 5, the day after the election, one of them will also be the son of the vice president of the United States of America.

A protective Secret Service detail will arrive soon after, along with the "Prince Harry question": Should they stay like any other soldier, or will they have become too tempting a target that endangers them and the other soldiers in their units? Should they be reassigned?

"I don't think it's in the best interest of national security to have [the son of a vice president] serving on the frontlines in Iraq," said Philip Riley, the director of national security and foreign relations at The American Legion in Washington, D.C.

"It's an added worry to have a VIP son in your battalion," said Riley, a retired army officer who spent 27 years in the armed forces and a veteran of two tours in Vietnam.

"There are ways that people can still serve in the armed forces that don't have them exposed way out on the frontlines," said Riley.

But desk duty, others argue, is no place for a politician's child, especially one who is volunteering to defend his country.

"There is no question that it is a tragedy and a problem if the son of a senior official is captured or killed in combat," said ABC News consultant Tony Cordesman, who also serves as the Burke chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Cordesman noted that John McCain's father was a Navy admiral when McCain was shot down and captured in North Vietnam.

"But the question for everyone is, in an American democracy, do we want to create a structure where somehow the sons or daughters of our senior officials are precluded from voluntary service to the U.S.?" asked Cordesman.

Will Having Sons at War Distract Their Vice Presidential Parents?

Palin's Stryker unit will be on the frontlines while Biden, a lawyer for the Army, will be in Baghdad's relatively safe Green Zone. But no place in Iraq is completely safe from the insurgents' mortars, roadside bombs and suicide bombers.

John Eisenhower, the only living presidential son to have served in combat while his father was in office, says no matter what their relative safety, just being there will be a distraction to their high-ranking parents.

"The next president and vice president will be busy enough trying to pull the United States out of its present fiscal, social and foreign affairs problems without being burdened with worries about an individual soldier, especially a child," Eisenhower wrote in an op-ed column in The New York Times.

The vice presidential hopeful's children could be joined by a president's son. Marine Lance Corp. Jimmy McCain just returned from a six-month tour in Iraq, and McCain's younger son Jack is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy and may soon follow in his brother's footsteps.

But having to worry about your own child surviving the war, said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., may not actually be such a bad thing.

"I learned a lot from him. He told me first-hand about the conditions in Iraq and helped me understand what was happening on the ground," Bond told of his son Sam's two deployments to Iraq.

Bond added that a lot of his policy decisions were influenced by his son's service, especially when it came to supporting additional equipment and veteran's health care.

When asked whether the future vice president should have to cope with the added stress of having a child in the military, Bond responded, "They better."

"There are a whole lot of American families who have family members over there and then dad or mom go to work everyday at tough jobs," said Bond. "And they go knowing they have a son or daughter in combat and potentially in harm's way."

"If they can do it, I don't know why someone who holds political office and is supposed to represent the people who serve can't do it as well," said Bond.

VIP Soldiers: Help or Hindrance to Their War Unit?

The Army maintains that all soldiers are treated equally -- even those of high-ranked politicians -- but those who have served aren't so sure, and worry that not only might Palin or Biden stand out among their unit but they could also endanger the other soldiers.

"There was definitely special treatment [for VIP soldiers]," said Riley. "You could tell that people looked out for the sons of commanders or general officers. There was definitely added concern."

William Keylor, an international relations and history professor at Boston University, said that should a high-profile soldier be identified by the enemy, the entire unit could become a target.

"There is not only the issue of the safety of the individual soldier but also the safety of the company," said Keylor. "That is, if the enemy identifies this high-value person it might lead to very serious problems for the people who are in their vicinity."

Keylor points out that earlier this year the news that the U.K.'s Prince Harry was serving in Afghanistan prompted the young prince's return home after the government became concerned that his celebrity could make him and the other troops prime targets.

"The Queen is not even in the same position as the president of the United States -- she is much more symbolic -- but I can only imagine the problems that would have been caused if her grandson had been captured," said Keylor.

But no matter what Biden and Palin decide come Election Day, the Secret Service will be assigned to one of them, even if they are forced to relocate to Iraq.

Ed Donavan, spokesman for the Secret Service, said that the agency is ready to protect whichever man becomes the son of a vice president.

"We're mandated to protect the immediate families of sitting presidents and vice presidents," Donavan said, "and we're certainly ready to fulfill our protection mission anywhere in the world."