MARSHALL - It didn't take long for Pete Hegseth to become reintegrated back home after serving an eight-month tour in Afghanistan.
Hegseth, 31, a decorated combat veteran with three tours of duty under his belt, just returned from Afghanistan in February and is joining four-term former state Rep. Dan Severson in the GOP campaign to challenge popular Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"This is a critical moment," Hegseth said. "This is our time for choosing right now. Either we choose a path for more government and more regulations, without the kind of jobs and economy we want, or we stand up and provide real common sense solutions that Minnesotans want - a path that unleashes more job creators and more opportunities.
"I think right now we're represented by someone who believes that more government is the answer, and we fundamentally believe that government should be creating the space for private entities to be creating jobs and growing our economy," he added.
Hegseth, who serves as a non-active duty captain in the Minnesota Army National Guard, is the former executive director for Vets for Freedom, a national non-profit veterans organization. He has spoken out in favor of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and against calls to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He said President Barack Obama was wrong in making public when troops will be leaving.
He said the U.S. should be gradually withdrawing troops from Afghanistan but shouldn't announce withdrawal dates like the Obama adminstration did when it declared 2014 as the date for a complete pull-out.
"I just got back from Afghanistan - every day you hear to word '2014,'" Hegseth said. "Whether it's from Afghans, Afghan soldiers, U.S. troops. Everyone's thinking about that date. The Afghans are essentially looking through us to a post-American future, so all the decisions they're making you can't take them on face value. That's a terrible way to fight a war.
Hegseth, who lives in Stillwater, said it's policy like that coming from the White House that can have damaging effects to the war effort, no matter where the war is. He doesn't think a country can win a war when it surges and then tells the enemy when they're going to leave at the same time.
"That's exactly what we did. That deadline had nothing to do with success and everything to do with a political benchmark," he said. "Same as Iraq. (Obama) wanted to be able to say on election day that we were out of Iraq on this particular day."
Hegseth called out Klobuchar for being against raising the debt ceiling when President Bush was in the White House and then voted to increase the debt ceiling when Barack Obama was president.
"If you look at Senator Klobuchar, she ran in 2006 on less deficit, less debt, we gotta quit spending our way off the cliff, we gotta stop wasteful spending; now our debt is at $15 trillion," he said. "We need people who are courageous enough to stand up for what they believe, then go to Washington and get their hands dirty on difficult issues."
He called Klobuchar a "nice person" and appreciates the work she's done for veterans but said she's avoided taking on tough issues, and instead has settled on facing bipartisan issues that everyone already agrees on.
"Take the Keystone pipeline - where is she on that issue? No stance," he said. "How can you have no stance as a United States senator on a critical issue like that? You've gotta be willing to have the courage to do that."
While he admits to being a political newcomer on paper, Hegseth, who literally got into the race less than a week ago, isn't worried about voters looking at him as a novice in the world of politics. He understands he will be put under a microscope during the campaign season this year.
"I understand how the political process works, but I think it's an advantage of mine not being created in that 'sausage factory' of calculating step by step by step for the next office," he said. "(Former state representative) Marty Seifert said, 'The ark was built by amateurs and the Titanic was built by experts.' Just because you haven't been 'of the process' doesn't mean you don't understand what we need to do to get out of the mess these so-called experts in Washington have gotten us into."