No one disputes that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, served with the National Guard in a combat zone.
So the recent round of questions about whether she counts as a “combat veteran” has made more than a few former service members uncomfortable and upset.
But they aren’t necessarily surprised.
“This kind of stuff has been going on for generations,” said Phil Carter, director of veterans programs at the Center for a New American Security. “We’ve seen conversations about peacetime service as opposed to wartime service. We’ve seen veterans from different wars trade stories about who had it tougher.
“But so few people have an appreciation for what military service is that these arguments start to take on a controversial quality about what ‘counts’ as service.”
Earlier this month, the Huffington Post questioned Ernst’s characterization of herself as a “combat veteran,” noting she had not been involved in a firefight during her 14-month Middle East deployment.
The Iowa Guard lieutenant colonel commanded the 1168th Transportation Company during the 2003-04 deployment, overseeing transportation runs in Kuwait and southern Iraq and running a protection detail in Kuwait.
She touted her “combat veteran” status in numerous campaign stops during the mid-term elections last year, and noted in response to the recent criticism that both Veterans Affairs and Defense Department guidelines classify her as one.
Fellow Senate Armed Services Committee colleague Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — himself a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war — called Ernst a combat veteran “by any definition.”
“Malicious claims to the contrary denigrate not only her service, but that of countless current and former service members who served honorably in a range of roles in our military,” he said in a statement.