Today, the 114th Congress opens. This year’s class features three new senators who are post-9/11 veterans, and five members of the House of Representatives who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans bring a unique perspective to the national security debate. With the number of members of Congress who have actually served in the military at its lowest point in 25 years, our elected officials who can speak with this unique authority have become a rare commodity.
Dan Sullivan, a Marine out of Arkansas, Tom Cotton, an Army veteran from Arkansas, and Joni Ernst, an Army veteran from Iowa, all served our country in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and begin their service to the United States Senate today. Senators Sullivan and Ernst will serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Senator Cotton will take a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Additionally, Senator Sullivan will serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Initially a Marine reservist, Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan was activated from 2004 to 2006, 2009, and for a six-week tour in Afghanistan in July, 2013. Sullivan was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. Cotton was a captain in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) after his graduation from OCS in 2005 and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Ranger Tab. Ernst, the first female veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan to serve in the Senate, is the commanding officer of the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion of the Iowa National Guard.
At approximately 3:00 p.m. today, “The People’s House” welcomes five veterans of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: Ryan Zinke (MT), Lee Zeldin (NY), Ruben Gallego (AZ), Mark Takai (HI), and Seth Moulton (MA). They will all serve on key committees including the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and Intelligence committees. (As of the time of this writing, the Steering Committees of their respective caucuses have only recommended committee assignments. They will all receive their official committee assignments after their party caucuses have endorsed them.)
Commander Ryan Zinke was a Navy SEAL from 1985 to 2008 and a member of United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group from 1990 to 1993. He has been awarded The Bronze Star and The Meritorious Service Medal, among others. Major Lee Zeldin, currently a member of the Army Reserves, served in Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne Division. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Takai of the Hawaii National Guard was camp mayor at Camp Patriot in Kuwait in 2009.
Ruben Gallego served with Lima 3/25, 1st Platoon in Iraq, facing some of the fiercest combat action in the war. Major operations the battalion participated in during its deployment included Operations Matador, New Market, Spear, Sword, River Bridge, Outer Banks, and Quick Strike. Seth Moulton did four tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine from 2003-2008. In the Battle of Najaf in 2004, Seth “fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire” as his platoon was pinned down under heavy fire, and then directed the supporting fire that repelled the attack. He received the Bronze Star for his actions.
Bucking the trend of modern politics, Moulton downplayed his actions in Iraq, only telling his campaign manager (and fellow Marine) of his service. In a previous interview, Moulton said he was uncomfortable calling attention to his own awards out of respect to “many others who did heroic things and received no awards at all.” An interesting fact is that Gallego and Moulton were classmates at Harvard University.
In all, 97 members of the 114th Congress have served in the U.S. military. This means less than 18 percent of the new congressional delegation served in the armed forces. Seth Lynn, Executive Director of Veterans’ Campaign, a non-partisan group dedicated to teaching veterans to run for political office, says, “For years, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have continuously and unfailingly done what America has asked of them, even when doing so has placed them in imminent danger. These are the types of men and women we need in elected office.”