Former Congressman Tom Rooney ‘89 credits his military career for landing him one of the most coveted committee assignments during his tenure in Congress.
“What I brought to the table in Congress was my experience in the military and my experience as a prosecutor in the military. When I was selected to be on the [Permanent Select] Intelligence Committee it was because [former] Speaker John Boehner at the time said, ‘Here’s Rooney, he was a prosecutor, he was also in the military, so he gets what’s going on with our spies and the things we’re doing in secret all over the world.’ That moved me to the point where I was selected for the Intelligence Committee which everyone in Congress wants to be on,” Rooney told the Junior class the morning of November 7 during an Alumni Speaker Series lecture.
More importantly than desirable Congressional committees, Rooney said his time spent in the U.S. Army JAG Corps was the highest honor of his life. Rooney was a student at the University of Miami Law School when an army recruiter came to campus and persuaded him that he would have more hands-on trial experience as a JAG officer than as a civilian attorney.
“I didn’t know what I was getting in to. We weren’t at war, nothing was going on. I didn’t know much about the military, but my dad reminded me about who my namesake was,” said Rooney.
Rooney was named after his great uncle who was killed in WWII during the Pacific campaign.
“My aunt had his Purple Heart, his letters home. The thing that got me the most was that before his last landing in Guam, he realized he would be killed. At 19, he wrote a letter to my aunt that was so casual and nonchalant after recognizing this. Something sparked in me about my great uncle and his sacrifice. It sparked a sense of service in me at 28, and I joined the army,” said Rooney.
Rooney and his wife Tara, who also served as a JAG officer, were stationed in Ft. Hood, Texas when their first son was born in 2001.
“Five days later, the planes hit the World Trade Center.”
Rooney recalled drafting wills for service men and women in the 1st Cavalry Division who would never return home.
“It’s never been lost on me . . . every time we have Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I think about those kids. It was the most incredible honor of my life to be able to know them, to associate myself with them, to say I wore the same uniform as these incredible heroes did,” said Rooney.
Rooney told the audience of Benjamin students that as we prepare to honor our veterans on Veterans Day, it’s important to recognize that when you sign up to be in the military you are making a sacrifice to potentially go to war and die for this country, our way of life, and the constitution.
“But you’re also sacrificing some of the constitutional rights that a lot of us enjoy. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Expression. Those are things you can’t do when you’re in the military. The constitutional rights we’re upholding to defend we are actually sacrificing ourselves to keep you free,” said Rooney.
Rooney emphasized that these freedoms include a peaceful transfer of power during election years.
“There’s not violent unrest where the military takes over and they're in control of the government like other countries. As Senator Rubio likes to say, there aren’t people getting on boats in the United States to risk their lives to cross the ocean to get somewhere where they can be more free. They’re coming here to try to get to this country. Think about the reason they're doing it and have a little empathy as to why you would risk your life and risk everything to potentially get to the U.S. and get thrown in jail. And they’re still coming. It’s because there’s no better place on earth than this country. There’s no greater honor than to serve this country in uniform and continue that legacy for the next generation. You’re the next generation,” said Rooney.
Rooney, a graduate from Benjamin’s Class of 1989 and a recipient of the School’s Distinguished Alumnus Award acknowledged his alma mater and the connections made being a Benjamin alumnus.
“You’re at the best school in Florida. There’s no better academic institution or place where you could be to give you the opportunity to go on to college and get a job. When you keep in contact with the people in this room, a lot of times the things you want to do or the jobs and opportunities you have are going to be provided by the people sitting next to you,” said Rooney.