Pro-Israel US Army vet runs for Congress — on prosthetic legs
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Pro-Israel US Army vet runs for Congress — on prosthetic legs

After recently volunteering with the IDF, Republican Brian Mast touts his support for the Jewish state on the Florida campaign trail

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

US Congressional candidate Brian Mast was a US Army bomb disposal expert serving under the Joint Special Operations Command. Both his legs were blown off by an IED in Afghanistan in September 2010. (Courtesy of Mast for Congress)
US Congressional candidate Brian Mast was a US Army bomb disposal expert serving under the Joint Special Operations Command. Both his legs were blown off by an IED in Afghanistan in September 2010. (Courtesy of Mast for Congress)

Brian Mast likes to use the Israeli slang word achi. The Hebrew equivalent of “bro,” an endearment among young men, it’s not something one would expect to hear in conversation with a United States Congressional candidate.

Mast, however, is not your usual aspiring American politician. A Republican running in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, Mast picked up achi and a few other popular Israeli expressions while volunteering with the Israel Defense Forces in January 2015. He was stationed that month at a base at Tel Hashomer outside Tel Aviv, where he packed medical kits and moved supplies around, including some heavy lifting.

While Israel was new to him, pulling his weight in a military environment wasn’t. Only two and a half years earlier, Mast was medically retired from the US Army following 12 years of service. During his military career, he earned the the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, the Purple Heart Medal, and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.

He also lost both his legs and a finger when, as a bomb disposal technician carrying out his duty in Afghanistan, he stepped on a hidden improvised explosive devise (IED).

Brian Mast volunteers with the IDF, Tel Hashomer, January 2015. (Courtesy of Brian Mast for Congress)
Brian Mast volunteers with the IDF, Tel Hashomer, January 2015. (Courtesy of Brian Mast for Congress)

Mast, 35, takes his experiences serving under the elite Joint Special Operations Command and volunteering with the IDF with him into his Congressional race. Both of them, he said, have had great influence in shaping his worldview, especially when it comes to US foreign policy and America’s strategic relationship with Israel. He’s a vocal supporter of Israel and Israelis, and he believes his volunteer stint with the IDF proves that he not only talks the pro-Israel talk, but also walks the walk — in his case, on prosthetic limbs.

“After Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza in the summer of 2014, I wanted to show my support for Israel in a tangible way. Whenever I show support, I do it with the work of my hands and not just with posts on Facebook,” Mast told The Times of Israel in a recent phone interview.

At the time of the war, Mast was in Boston pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in economics at Harvard University. As he relaxed one evening with his then-pregnant wife and two young children at the Boston Common, some men who had participated in a nearby anti-Israel protest singled him out and started picking a fight.

‘Whenever I show support, I do it with the work of my hands and not just with posts on Facebook’

Mast figured it wasn’t difficult for the men, whom he described as “Arab,” to identify him as US military from his prosthetics — visible beneath the shorts he wears no matter what the weather or occasion — and his Army Rangers baseball cap. He hypothesized that the automatic defensive stance he took around these Middle Easterners as a result of his military experiences might also have attracted their attention.

“When we got home, I told my wife Brianna that I was going to find a way to really show my support for Israel. The lesson I learned from what happened that evening is that those who hate Israel will make the jump to hating the US. They hate the freedom, democracy and creative innovation that both countries stand for and exemplify,” Mast said.

Even before the incident at the Boston Common, Mast was upset that summer about what he perceived as an “amazing double standard” by which the media judged Israel.

“If anyone was lobbing rockets into the US, guys like me would be sent to kill them, and Americans would applaud us,” he said.

A promise to serve without regard for gain or consequence

This summer, Mast aims to win his district’s Republican primary election. He’s running against eight other Republican candidates, all of whom hope this November to win the seat vacated by Democrat Patrick Murphy, who decided to pursue a US Senate bid.

To date, Mast is ahead of his Republican opponents in terms of fundraising. His campaign reported having raised $280,000 during the last three months of 2015, bringing Mast’s total now to over half a million dollars — a sum confirmed by the candidate in conversation with The Times of Israel.

Mast believes voters are rallying around his message about serving without regard for gain or consequence, something he learned and practiced in the military. He believes this selfless service should also be practiced by politicians in Washington.

‘I believe in limited government, less taxation and adherence to the Constitution. I don’t want the federal government involved in social issues’

Preferring to refer to himself simply as “American,” Mast said his political views could be labeled “Conservetarian,” or a combination of conservative and libertarian.

“I believe in limited government, less taxation and adherence to the Constitution. I don’t want the federal government involved in social issues, which for the most part should be decided upon at the state level,” Mast explained.

While he told The Times of Israel that he thinks people have the right to be whatever sexual orientation they want and to spend their life with whomever they choose, he is convinced it was a mistake for the US Supreme Court to have gotten involved in the gay marriage issue.

Mast, who is a practicing Christian and attends the evangelical Calvary Chapel, believes abortion should be permitted in some, but not all cases.

“If the mother’s life is in jeopardy, or if it is a case of rape or incest, then abortion is okay. However, abortion is murder if it is used as a form of birth control,” he said.

‘The only way to guarantee peace is to make the enemy surrender’

Should he be elected, Mast’s priorities in Washington would be ensuring consistently excellent care for military veterans and tackling government agency spending accountability. He also plans to focus on US foreign policy in the Middle East, and especially the US-Israel relationship. Mast believes Americans who are proponents for peace in the Middle East must be friends of Israel and consider it as a model for other states in the region.

The aspiring congressman is decidedly not a fan of current US foreign policy in the Middle East under the Obama Administration.

“ISIS is as strong as it is because of a lack of US leadership. ISIS could have been defeated at the time of the Arab Spring if we had sent in special operations forces. What’s being done now is too little too late. It’s going to require an all-out military effort. The only way to guarantee peace is to make the enemy surrender,” Mast said.

‘If we discover one gram more of fissile material than is allowed, the US and its allies should destroy Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure’

He also perceives the Iran nuclear deal as tantamount to the US turning its back on both its own national security and that of Israel and other allies in the region, such as Jordan.

“The deal has aligned us with a Shia regime, which is just enabling extremism. This is going to make it very hard to get Sunni regimes to align with us, and Putin is now the go-to player in Syria with his alliance with Assad. We need to get rid of this deal,” he said.

In Mast’s view, the US and its allies should be ready to exercise a military option against Iran if even the tiniest infraction of the deal comes to light.

“If we discover one gram more of fissile material than is allowed, the US and its allies should destroy Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure. And we should make the threat credible by providing the necessary aircraft and ordinance — like 30,000-pound bunker busters — to Israel,” he said.

Answering the call to service again

Florida’s 18th Congressional District stretches from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach in the southeastern portion of the state. It lies north of and does not include Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, cities with large Jewish populations.

Regardless of the fact that there are relatively few eligible Jewish voters in his district, Mast has developed warm ties with Jewish groups in Florida — other than J Street, with which he admittedly does not see eye to eye. A review of posts on Mast’s Facebook page reveals that in February alone, he spoke to or was honored by a number of Jewish organizations, including WIZO Florida, Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans (Beit Halochem), and Simcha Layeladim – MyWish4U.

Brian Mast receives WIZO Florida's Gevura Hero Award, February 11, 2016. (Courtesy of Brian Mast for US Congress)
Brian Mast receives WIZO Florida’s Gevura Hero Award, February 11, 2016. (Courtesy of Brian Mast for US Congress)

As Super Tuesday approached, Mast told The Times of Israel that he would throw “one thousand percent” of his support behind whichever GOP candidate won the nomination.

Mast said he would support the Republican platform regardless of the fact that he does not agree with everything the party’s presidential candidates have been saying, as well as his concern about the circus-like character the race has taken on.

“The presidential race is about the direction our country is taking. We need to make a clear choice in this election, because there’s no going back. It’s a choice between those who believe Americans can, and those who believe American’s can’t. It’s a choice between giving people individual accountability and giving people excuses when they aren’t successful.”

Even while recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, Mast was doing his part to help his country by providing explosives and counterterrorism expertise to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms, and the Department of Homeland Security. He could have continued his work with these agencies, but he decided instead to answer the call of service once again.

“What’s in me didn’t end when I took off my uniform. Even when I woke up at Walter Reed and was lying there in that hospital bed, I knew that I didn’t want to go through life thinking that the best thing I’d done was in my past,” said Mast.

And so today, he is gearing up for the battlefield that is Washington, DC.

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