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What Americans want from the next president

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What he will tell me is that he didn't care where a man came from, what color he was, or what he believed in when he was doing his 22 years of active duty. "You meet a lot of guys from a thousand different backgrounds in the service," he says. "You might not always agree with each other. You might see things totally different from them. But when it matters most, you come together to get the job done."

He pines for that kind of cooperation in Washington. "A leader takes care of his troops," Mr. Davis says. "And right now our government is not doing that."

"We're digging ourselves a great big financial hole, and one day we're not going to be able to climb out of it," he adds. "But you don't see any of these politicians working together to get it done. You can't keep printing money."

Behind him sits a spare table containing only an overturned wine glass, a Bible, a single rose in a vase, and a white plate. It's a table for the "lone unknown," for the missing in action.

"Gone but not forgotten," Davis says. "We don't forget the sacrifice of men."

Now he's looking for a little sacrifice from politicians, including in the form of budget cuts. Yet when asked to be more specific, he talks about the kind of trade-offs that bedevil the blue-suited class of Washington. To reduce the deficit, many Democrats and even some tea party types want a reduction in the Pentagon budget. Not Davis.

"If they cut the military, they're cuttin' their own throat," he says. "There's people out there that are just waiting to hurt us. We shouldn't make it easier for them."

Farther down the road in Colorado Springs, a big military and religious-right hub at the foot of Pikes Peak, Eduardo Briones echoes some of those sentiments. He, too, spent most of his adult life in the military, joining the Army after dropping out of college in the early 1980s.

He's been stationed all over the world and volunteered for assignments in Central America during the Sandinista uprising and the Gulf War in 1991, because he wanted an "adventure."

The adventures might be over, but the challenges are not. For a career that spanned 20 years, he gets a modest $1,700 per month pension. He believes Washington needs to do more to take care of its veterans.

"People don't realize the sacrifices that people in the military make," he says. "We need to bring back the draft, that way everybody could have some skin in the game."

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