April 7, 2008— -- ABC's Martha Raddatz asked American soldiers in Iraq what issues are most important to them when looking at the presidential candidates.
Though the military is not supposed to engage in partisan political activity, these soldiers spoke out about their personal endorsements, and their opinions are likely to matter. In 2004, 73 percent of the U.S. military voted for a presidential candidate, and officials believe it may be even higher this time around.
PFC Jeremy Slate said he supported Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., because of his stated intention to pull out of Iraq right away.
"That would be nice," Slate said, "I'd like to be home, yea."
SFC Patricia Keller also expressed support for Obama, citing his representation for change.
Spc. Patrick Nicholls from Eggawam, Mass., pointed out that many soldiers on the frontlines frequently think about their families back home.
"We think about how our families are doing back home. That's a major concern, like how the economy is doing, also as well as where we're going to be in the future. Because really, truly, what we consider we're doing, we're doing a valuable job, we want to make sure that the efforts we make are appreciated."
He suggested he was too engaged in Iraq to keep up with politics back home. "I haven't really been following it too much since we've been over here, ma'am," he told Raddatz. "So, don't really know which issues are too important to me right now. ... I don't know who's running, ma'am."
Lt. Leah Wicks said that, tied into concerns about her family's welfare, were concerns about the economy, "where we're going to be in the future."
Only moments before speaking with ABC News, the troops had been listening to Vice President Dick Cheney give a rousing speech, but it didn't change their political preference.
Spc. Imus Loto said he supported Obama. "It will be something different. But he's out there and he'll probably support us a lot more."
By support, Loto meant pulling out troops. "Pull me out, too." he said.
Though the military is generally a more conservative group, soldiers like Sgt. Justin Sarbaum are just as eager for a pull-out as the Democratic candidates. Sarbaum said he wondered which presidential candidate would be able to better the U.S. relationship with rogue nations, such as Iran, so that soldiers are not sent off to another war.
"Iran is obviously a big issue," Sarbaum said, "Here in Iraq for my third time; starting another war right now — is it really necessary?"
Sgt. Cory Messingham from Lewisville, Texas, said he wasn't following the race, but he was concerned about candidates' paying attention to the emotional toll that the war has taken on soldiers.
"My biggest issue is support for the military, military funding and our deployments, not having long deployments anymore. Because [the] majority of us are doing ...15-month deployments. So, it's tough on the soldiers and tough on the soldiers' families. Those are really my biggest issues."
1st Sgt. David Logan said, "I am leaning toward Hillary. I think that we should have a gradual drawdown."
Though the soldiers have been living in Iraq, they listen closely to the candidates on issues far beyond the wars they are fighting.
"Education back in the states is one of my main concerns," Spc. Matthew Durkin said.
Economy and environment were on Staff Sgt. Derek Dion's mind. "Things like gas prices, and look at the environment and what we're going to leave our children."
Spc. Joseph Lindsesdt, who is from Alaska, said he was watching for consistency of the candidates' views. "The steadiness of the candidate, whether they've changed their views, constantly, over time, or with political wind, as I like to put it."
To that end, Lindsesdt's pick is Obama. "The fact that he's followed his views, regardless of what they have been [sic] and whether I've agreed with them or not, sometimes. But he's been steady the entire way."
When asked if he was concerned about criticism that Obama had less political experience than some of the other candidates, the battle-weary soldier replied, "No, I think being a decent leader doesn't have to do anything with experience much."
JUNG HWA SONG contributed to this report.