Leader Spotlight: Tony Clapp
Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Tony Clapp, a retired EA-6B Naval Flight Officer with over 25 years of service and multiple tours.
1. Tell me about your military service.
I enlisted in the United States Air Force as an aircraft mechanic at 17. I was mostly stateside, in Texas and Ohio. After I finished school I switched to the U.S. Navy to fly—I had decided it was easier to break things than it was to fix them.
I spent lots of time at sea, with stops in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong (before and after Chinese control), Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia (to include Tasmania), Bahrain, UAE, and Diego Garcia. I also spent some time shore-based in Italy and Croatia, supporting operations in the former Yugoslavia, in Italy again for Kosovo, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq for the recent Iraq Operations, and finally in Afghanistan.
I joined the service because my dad served in the U.S. Marines and for some reason it was always in the back of my mind that I would do the same.
2. How did your service shape the person you are today?
Being in as long as I was, the military atmosphere pretty much shaped everything about me. I saw things (both good and bad) that a lot of people will never see, and that open your eyes to what goes on in the rest of the world. I firmly believe that our country is the greatest, and that when people from other countries raise their hand and say they want to be part of the team, we are obliged to welcome them and allow them to contribute. If we didn’t, I, and many of us who served in the military, wouldn’t be here today.
3. As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
For a long time, I didn’t do anything related to speaking up or taking action—call me part of the problem. It took a former colleague reaching out to ask me about joining VFAI before I did anything beyond just thinking about taking some sort of action. Use me as the example of what not to do. Don’t wait. The job shouldn’t be over when the uniform comes off. We owe it to everyone—veterans, interpreters, the American people in general—to speak up and do whatever advocating is required to make sure the right actions are taken at each level.
4. Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). I am embarrassed about this. It is hard for me to believe that we need to tell those who supported us, at great risk to themselves and their families, that we must wade through a huge bureaucracy just to keep the promises that were made by our government.
Those who supported us are committed and supportive of our efforts. Most have already been seriously vetted as a condition of their service. Now we must reciprocate. My efforts with VFAI have included trips to visit House and Senate leaders and their staff—and I am headed back again today. In addition, I am starting to get involved with No One Left Behind, which has done amazing things to help those who have made it through the SIV process. I have also submitted an op-ed to a newspaper.
5. What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
You can play a huge role. The good news is that most congressional staff just need to be presented with information so they can make better decisions. By advocating to them, you can shed light on many issues they may not have first hand knowledge of.