GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Republican Shane Osborn wants to become the first combat veteran since the 9/11 terror attacks to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Osborn, 39, a former Navy pilot hailed as a hero in 2001 after he successfully landed a plane hit by a Chinese fighter jet, officially launched his campaign for Senate on Thursday at a veterans park in Grand Island.
Osborn is one of two Republicans currently running to replace outgoing Sen. Mike Johanns. The other is Omaha trial attorney Bart McLeay.
“Would it surprise you to learn that there are no United States senators who have served overseas in combat since 9/11? … It is time for that to change,” said Osborn, who entered the race in the company of about 60 family members and supporters.
Osborn's military background and the Chinese incident that brought him national attention were on full display Thursday. Three men who served with Osborn on the plane attended the gathering, including the plane's second-in-command.
In 2001, Lt. Osborn and 23 others were on a routine reconnaissance mission near China when a Chinese fighter plane began to harass Osborn's slow-moving EP-3 surveillance plane. A collision sent the Navy plane into a inverted dive for about 8,000 feet. Osborn, who was the lead pilot, eventually righted the plane and was able to land at a Chinese air base.
He and his crew were taken into custody and interrogated for 12 days, fueling anger and indignation in the United States.
Former Lt. John Comerford, who was the second-in-command on the plane and in charge of the surveillance operation, said Osborn showed “real leadership” that day and the days to follow.
“I thank God that Shane was at the flight controls that day. He saved my life, and he saved the lives of all 24 of the men and women on our crew,” said Comerford.
This is not Osborn's first foray into politics. In 2006, he was elected state treasurer. After four years, he left to re-enter the business world, starting a financial services company.
One of the goals of the company is to hire and train disabled veterans.
If elected to the Senate, Osborn said he would fight for the rights of veterans, many who are coming home after serving in war zones overseas. “You can measure the moral integrity of a society by how it treats the sick and elderly. And, you can measure the integrity of a nation by how it treats the men and women who volunteered to fight and defend it,” said Osborn.
Osborn also laid out a traditionally conservative message, saying he would fight to pass a balanced-budget amendment and repeal the Affordable Care Act. He also argued that the nation was moving in the wrong direction under President Barack Obama, with individual liberties taking a “back seat” to government mandates.
If elected, Osborn vowed to protect personal freedoms and the free market system.
“When you are flying an airplane and you lose airspeed — and I flew a very large, slow airplane — a warning light goes off in the cockpit,” said Osborn. “It is warning you that if you keep doing what you're doing, your plane will become dead weight and you will fall out of the sky.
“We are seeing the same kind of warning signal about our free enterprise system and our individual freedom in this country right now.”