Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst was forced to defend herself from accusations made in a recent Huffington Post article that she is overstating her “combat veteran” status for political purposes.
“I am very proud of my service and by law I am defined as a combat veteran,” Ernst, a Republican, said on Monday in response to the Huffington Post article. “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.”
Ernst served in the Iowa National Guard’s 1168th Transportation Company in Kuwait and southern Iraq from February 2003 to April 2004.
Though her unit did not come under fire or drive upon an improvised explosive device, Ernst’s service in a designated combat theatre qualifies her — by federal law — for combat veteran distinction.
But that’s not good enough for Huffington Post, which strongly implied that Ernst is in some way being dishonest about her service.
“Senator Ernst calls herself a combat veteran at every turn — on her Senate web page, in campaign debates, and in her stump speeches. She can say this because she served in a combat zone,” Andrew Reinbach wrote for Huffington Post.
“And it’s technically true.”
“But nothing in the 1168th’s tour of duty stands up to the average citizen’s idea of combat duty,” Reinbach wrote.
The basis for Reinbach’s claim appears to be a complaint voiced by Larry Hanft, a Vietnam veteran and former physics professor at Iowa State University. Hanft wrote several letters to the editors of local newspapers during the 2014 senate campaign taking Ernst to task for calling herself a combat veteran.
“This overstatement of service/accomplishments to gain political advantage does harm to those veterans that served and actually were ‘combat veterans,'” Hanft wrote last October in The Iowa City Press-Citizen.
“Real combat veterans I spoke to don’t think much of how the Senator talks up her combat duty,” is how Reinbach characterized Hanft’s complaint.
Though Reinbach used the plural “veterans,” seemingly to lend more weight to the accusations against Ernst, Hanft was the only veteran to criticize the freshman senator.
In his article, Reinbach did quote Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, the chief of media relations at the U.S. Army, who appeared to agree with the assertion that Ernst was being dishonest for her failure — according to Reinbach — to correct people who claim that she led troops into combat during the war.
But Conway shot back to Reinbach in an email after his article was published. “Senator Joni Ernst is a combat veteran. Period,” Conway wrote.
“Andrew Reinbach manipulated my words, and I am angry and embarrassed that a so-called journalist would deliberately take out of context a small portion of our 15 minute discussion,” Conway continued.
On Monday, Ernst said that she doesn’t believe she was any less of a player in the Iraq War “just because I’m not an infantryman and I wasn’t kicking in doors.”
“It was only by luck and the blessings of God that my soldiers did not encounter an assault, that we did not run over an IED. And to dishonor our service by saying we’re not worthy of being called combat veterans is insulting to the majority of men and women who serve their country honorably,” she said.