Assembly candidate Jeff Banasz may be "a young guy with no political experience," but he knows what it takes to lead and make tough decisions.
A former Marine who did a tour in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War, Banasz—today an insurance broker for the Graham Company in Philadelphia—was always drawn to a life of service. Right after he graduated from high school, soon after the end of the Gulf War, Banasz remembered talking to his father about his interest in serving in the military.
There was a certain allure to military service—Banasz's grandfather was a Marine and was awarded a Navy Cross (the second highest military decoration for valor) for his service in Okinawa during World War II—and also, the idea of being able to get a job right out of college "sounded like a good deal to me."
Banasz, who grew up in Voorhees and Haddon Heights, enrolled in the Naval Academy and, upon graduating, served for five years in the Marine Corps. During his time in Iraq, he regularly led a platoon of soldiers whose average age was 19-20 years old.
"I would argue there's probably nothing more challenging than being a 26-year-old platoon commander in Iraq with 58 men under my command," said Banasz. "Leading at that level is one of the biggest challenges I ever had in my life."
So it didn't phase him terribly when local Republicans asked him to serve take an open county committee seat soon after he moved to Moorestown seven years ago. He became involved in local elections, and was also appointed to the zoning board, on which he now serves as vice chair.
Most recently, he filed to run for state Assembly alongside Delran's Anthony Ogozalek, on the same ticket as Sen. Diane Allen.
"Politics is very similar (to military service). It involves being a leader, people trusting you, being able to think on your feet," Banasz said. "I've always enjoyed having the opportunity to serve, and this is just another opportunity to serve."
Though he and his running mates are still in the process of crafting their campaign message, Banasz said he's excited to be part of Gov. Chris Christie's "New Jersey Comeback."
"He's energized me," said Banasz.
The deadline for candidates to file petitions for the June primary is 4 p.m. Monday, April 1. Check back with Moorestown Patch next week to see who else is running.