Joni Ernst Defends ‘Combat Veteran’ Status, Explains Why Questioning Her Status Dishonors Those Who Served

Senator Joni Ernst is classified as a “combat veteran” because she served in a combat zone for the Iraq War from February 2003 to April 2004. However, there’s just one issue a number of news outlets have questioned and criticized – she never saw any actual combat.

According to Politico, Sen. Ernst served as commander of the Iowa National Guard’s 1168th Transportation Company, but never came under fire. Many news outlets and democrats have taken the opportunity to blast Sen. Ernst for the seemingly contradictory status. However, the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs does classify her as a combat veteran based on the fact that she did serve in an area classified as a combat zone. On Monday, Feb. 10, Ernst also defended her “combat veteran” status.

“I am very proud of my service and by law I am defined as a combat veteran,” Ernst said. “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,” she explained.

“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,” Ernst said. “Just because I’m not an infantryman and I wasn’t kicking in doors, I don’t believe I’m less of a player.”

“Our fighters would be nowhere if they didn’t have the support coming from folks like those that served with me,” Ernst said

She also explained just how unfortunate it is to have her status criticized because no soldier should be viewed as “less valuable” than another, regardless of whether they saw actual combat or not, reports Radio Iowa. “To dishonor our service by saying we are not worthy of being call combat veterans, is insulting to the majority of men and women who served their country honorably,” Ernst said.

The controversy follows a Feb. 7 article published by the Huffington Post where Sen. Ernst’s combat status was questioned. The definition of “combat veteran” was also broken down from a different perspective.

“When most people hear “combat veteran,” they think firefights with the enemy. But the military defines combat veteran differently — as soldiers who served in a combat area.”

Although Sen. Ernst’s classification has been verified, the Huffington Post also included a number of statements from veterans who aren’t too pleased about it. However, it’s not exactly for the reason most would assume. Apparently, some people have also argued that she’s using her military status simply for the purpose of political gain, when it should be more about honor.

Larry Hanft, one of Sen. Ernst’s constituents who earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for fighting in Vietnam recently voiced his frustrations. He also accused her of using her military experience for “political edge.”

“By her definition, everybody who stepped off the plan in Kuwait is a combat veteran. Joni Ernst is using her military experience to gain a political edge and pull the wool over the eyes of the American people. She’s a fraud…” Mr. Hanft is one of Sen. Ernst’s constituents.

However, Lt. Col. Alayne Conway of the Army’s Press Office in Washington also released a statement in response to the Huffington Post publication defending Sen. Ernst. The statement echoes Sen. Ernst’s statement about the dishonor of service when a veteran’s status is questioned.

“Senator Joni Ernst is a combat veteran. Period. 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. I never questioned Sen. Ernst’s service, or that of my brothers and sisters in arms; to allow the Huffington Post’s readers to think otherwise is not only a disservice to Sen. Ernst, but to all those who wear the uniform of the United States.”

[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]