On The Front Lines: Lee Zeldin

On The Front Lines: Lee Zeldin

On The Front Lines: Lee Zeldin
July 1, 2014

During the years some of his colleagues in the Legislature were slogging through undergraduate work and then law school in the hope of attaining degrees that would catapult them into high-level public office, state Sen. Lee Zeldin was planning his future as a military man. 

While attending SUNY Albany, Zeldin joined the Army ROTC program, and in May of 2003 he was commissioned to the Military Intelligence Corps. From there he jumped to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, in part because he feared that following a career in military intelligence would leave him too far removed from law school once his career in the military ended. (Zeldin passed the bar in 2004 at age 23, making him the state’s youngest lawyer at the time.) He went to law school planning to go into the military, he said, and served as a prosecutor and magistrate. 

“I’ve always had an interest in and have followed government and how laws are made,” he said. “From the standpoint of studying human nature, I’ve always seen politics as the worst of it. I’ve been intrigued by what’s right and what’s not in our system. I see the challenge of trying to be part of solving these problems.” 

Before running for state office, Zeldin spent time with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., and then eventually in Iraq, which he called a gratifying experience that solidified his appreciation for the Army’s seven core values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage (the acronym for them is LDRSHIP). He currently serves as chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee, and he has taken a key role in, among other committees, the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee. There, he has pushed for programs such as the PFC Joseph Dwyer Program, which provides peer-to-peer counseling among veterans affected by PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. 

Another guiding principle for Zeldin is the belief that the respect of others must be earned. 

“It’s important when you’re an elected official to stay grounded, not forget where you come from,” he said. “There’s a difference between mandatory respect and real respect. When you’re an elected official, you have to work really hard and stay grounded to ensure that people actually respect you. Because just someone calling you by your title doesn’t mean anything if it’s not genuine.” 

Military Branch: Army 

Rank: Major  (currently held as Army Reserve member) 

Matthew Hamilton