When his election opponent tried to court veterans last month with a promise of a military pension tax exemption, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley turned to his own military spokesman: Anthony G. Brown.
Maryland's lieutenant governor is also a colonel in the Army Reserve — and, as the O'Malley campaign is fond of repeating, the highest-ranking elected state official in the nation to have served a tour in Iraq.
Brown quickly convened a news conference to blast what he described as just another of former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s "budget-busting promises."
Attacks on the boss' opponent are the chief campaign duty of any running mate. But Brown, who commands a 65-member legal unit based outside Philadelphia, adds value with his ability to speak to and about service members and veterans — a constituency with which Republicans traditionally are seen as more comfortable than Democrats.
O'Malley has capitalized on Brown's experience, making the lieutenant governor his point man on state preparations to accommodate the influx of military personnel and civilians arriving with the base realignment and closure process.
Now Brown, 49, an attorney and former state lawmaker, is working toward winning a second tour of duty as the state's second-in-command.
Ehrlich's running mate, former Maryland Secretary of State Mary Kane, has experience with the military as well: As director of special projects for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Ehrlich campaign says, she assisted military veterans, National Guardsmen and reservists returning from overseas as they searched for employment.
But in the two campaign pledges that Ehrlich has aimed at military voters — the tax break for veterans and a proposal that he says would make it easier for military personnel to cast ballots (critics say it is not possible) — Brown said the former governor is being "exceedingly opportunistic and disingenuous."
"He's feeding into misconceptions that one party or another connects better with the military," Brown said.
Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth called Brown's service "admirable." Still, he said, military voters should favor Ehrlich "for the same reasons as everyone else — lower taxes, honest budgeting, willingness to say no to things we can't afford."
Military culture laces Brown's speech and mannerisms — even his approach to his job as lieutenant governor. He frequently talks of "mission" and "duty." He gestures crisply and walks with purpose. And he respects O'Malley's higher rank, differing with him occasionally in private, but in public displaying only fervent support.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who urged O'Malley to select Brown as a running mate, said Brown's military background has helped him both on the campaign trail and in his post as lieutenant governor.
"Anthony understands that with any group endeavor, you can have input, but once a decision is made, everybody puts out the same plan," Busch said. And as a candidate, Brown "has the discipline that's needed on a day-to-day basis to calmly explain what's been accomplished, and what's at stake."
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Brown participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When he graduated in 1984, he enrolled in the Army's flight school.
From 1985 to 1989, he flew helicopters as a platoon leader in Germany. With about 180,000 servicemen in Europe to face down the Soviet Union, it was the largest U.S. military presence on the continent since World War II.
Sitting in his office at the State House one afternoon, Brown squeezes his eyes shut as he recalls the Cold War deployment. They snap open and his bass voice booms: "It was exciting!"
On his return stateside, he enrolled at Harvard Law School, entering a year behind President Barack Obama. Brown called Obama a man he "could just see was going places." (Nonetheless, Brown joined O'Malley in supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, largely because the Clintons had helped them in the 2006 gubernatorial race.)
Though in law school, Brown said, he "wasn't ready to take the uniform off," so he joined the Army Reserves and flew out of the Tipton Army Airfield in Anne Arundel County. In 1995, with a budding law practice and a young family, he transferred to the Judge Advocate General's — JAG — unit of attorneys.
His legal career included years at a Washington law firm representing investment and securities firms. In 1998, Brown was elected to the House of Delegates as a Democrat representing Prince George's County. He rose quickly through the legislative ranks, becoming vice chairman of the House Judiciary committee in 2003 and majority whip a year later.
And he continued to serve. In 2004, a fellow lawmaker asked him whether he'd be going to Iraq.
"I told him, 'I doubt it. If Uncle Sam is calling people like me, we must be in real trouble,' " Brown said.
Weeks later, he received word of his deployment.
Deployed to Baghdad
Brown was stationed in Baghdad for about 10 months, until July 2005, as part of a civil affairs team that tried to help set up a new government. He said he relied "much more on my experience as a lawmaker than as a soldier."
But he found it a "frustrating and disappointing" deployment, in some ways. "Certainly before I got there, I had high hopes of helping to rebuild Iraq," he said. "While I was there, things were actually moving in the opposite direction."
Soon after Brown returned to Maryland, O'Malley tapped him as his running mate in his first campaign for governor. Brown received word of his promotion to colonel just before the November 2006 election.
A recently divorced father of two, Brown said he has no plans to try for another promotion, which would place him in the ranks of generals.
The main work of the 153rd Legal Support Organization, the Norristown, Pa.-based unit Brown now commands, is to provide assistance to soldiers who are about to deploy. Some of the unit's attorneys are assisting in the prosecution of Maj. Nidal Hassan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the deadly shootings of 13 last year at Fort Hood in Texas.
That duty ends in December, but Brown said he wants one more assignment — perhaps as a legal adviser to a two-star general or in the Army Reserves' group of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. He must decide soon.
He doesn't talk about whether he will run for governor in four years, beyond saying he hasn't ruled it out. For now, he says, he's focused on November.