Sen. Joni Ernst is standing firm in the face of charges that she is misleading the public about her military service, saying that just because she was not "an infantryman" does not exclude her from being considered a "combat veteran."
"I am very proud of my service and by law I am defined as a combat veteran. I have never once claimed that I have a Combat Action Badge. I have never claimed that I have a Purple Heart. What I have claimed is that I have served in a combat zone," said the Iowa Republican on Monday, according to the Omaha World-Herald
Ernst, who served from 2003-04 as a company commander of the Iowa National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq, leading supply missions, continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the guard.
She made her statement to reporters after an article in The Huffington Post raised questions about the validity of her claims that she is a combat veteran.
In the piece, titled "The Honor of Joni Ernst," Huffington Post reporter Andrew Reinbach
contends the freshman senator "calls herself a combat veteran at every turn," which he says is "technically true" because "she served in a combat zone."
However, he notes the Iowa National Guard's 1168th Transportation Company in which she served never engaged in a firefight and that "real combat veterans I spoke to don't think much of how the senator talks up her combat duty."
"Maybe you did not get shot at, but the possibility was certainly there," Randi Law, communications manager for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told The Herald.
On her Senate website
, Ernst describes herself as "the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the United States Senate."
Ernst defended the nature of her service, saying that it was "only by luck and the blessings of God that my soldiers did not encounter an assault" and because she was "not an infantryman and I wasn’t kicking in doors, I don’t believe I’m less of a player."
Reinbach acknowledges that an executive order signed by President George H.W. Bush on Jan. 21, 1991, designated the Arabian Peninsula as a "combat zone," so Ernst can legally identify herself as a combat veteran.
But, he writes, "nothing in the 1168th's tour of duty stands up to the average citizen's idea of combat duty" and by not being more clear, "she's betraying the code of honor she lets people think she stands for."
One of the individuals interviewed by The Huffington Post is Larry Hanft, who contended that Ernst does not qualify to be called a combat veteran. However, it is not the first time Hanft, a retired Iowa State University professor and an Army veteran, has criticized Ernst.
In an October 2014 letter published in the Iowa State Daily, Hanft writes
, "Mrs. Ernst and her soldiers served an important support role but not a combat role. This overstatement of service and accomplishments to gain political advantage does harm to those veterans that served and actually were 'Combat Veterans.'"
Another, Lt. Colonel Alayne Conway, said he was misquoted by the Huffington Post and that the article "insulted" those who have deployed in service to their nation.
"In a cheap attempt to besmirch the military service of Sen. Ernst, the Huffington Post instead has insulted all the men and women of the Armed Forces who have deployed in service to their nation," he wrote.
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