They are a diverse group: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) served in the military police in Kuwait. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) flew A-10s for the Air Force, and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) served in the Iowa National Guard.
But they are speaking together in Congress just as the Pentagon is implementing sweeping changes to the face of the military. And as they raise their voices, their colleagues are listening to them on issues such as sexual harassment in the military, expanding family leave and planning options for soldiers, and – most recently – whether women should be eligible for the draft.
“There’s still a lot of misperception that exists and a lot of misinformation, though by and large most people are sincerely interested in learning more and hearing more from us” about women in combat roles, Gabbard said in an interview. “We’re coming at this as a continuation of the service to our country.”
The foursome is hardly a sisterhood-in-arms – they are divided ideologically, and their interactions outside of the Armed Services committee rooms are relatively infrequent, although Gabbard and McSally belong to the same morning workout group.
But in a short period of time, the women have become go-to authorities in a legislative arena traditionally dominated by men – and especially male veterans. And their experience in the male-dominated military has taught them important lessons about how to survive in Washington.
“I mean, it [Congress] is a male-dominated institution … so it felt very, um, ‘familiar’ is probably the right word,” McSally said in an interview, laughing. “But I learned a lot along the way in the military on how to figure out how to be credible, respected and effective in that environment, when you are potentially the only woman at the table.”
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Image courtesy of Melina Mara