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This year Congress could be invaded by female combat veterans


History was made last week when Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) brought her newborn onto the Senator floor for an official vote of the legislative body. Much has been written about this historical act and how it highlights the struggles faced by millions of working mothers across the country. 

To anyone who would trivialize this moment, please realize that it required an official rule change of the notoriously stuffy chamber which, until 10 years ago, still had a males-only policy for the office swimming pool.

{mosads}Duckworth is a female combat veteran, which gives her a certain leeway to take on institutional fights like this one. Currently, she is only one of four female veterans in either chamber of Congress, but reinforcements may soon be on the way in this year’s midterm elections. History shows that would be tremendously beneficial for our country.


From the high water mark of 75 percent in the 70s, we are now down to only 20 percent of Congress with military background. However, there are about 300 veterans currently declared to run for Congress this year; a turning point in the decades-long decline of veterans in Congress. Women veterans are surging in their own right. Nearly ten percent of the 300 veterans running for office are women.

Two post-9/11 wars involving service women in frontline roles combined with the official lifting of the combat ban by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December 2015, have changed the nature of military service for women. And according to a February 2017 VA report, by 2015, there were a staggering 700,000 women veterans since 9/11, many who saw deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Barrier-breakers, some are ready for the next challenge.

Women are just beginning to translate military service into a run for political office.

According to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics (as of 4/5/2018) and our research, there are at least 27 new female candidates with military experience running for the U.S. House and Senate this cycle. The prior record was 11. And while 27 may seem negligible, currently, there are only four female veterans in Congress.

What’s more, 90 percent of this cycle’s female veteran candidates include images of themselves in uniform or with military gear on their websites. They’re using a tactic common among male candidates with a military background — put combat credentials at the forefront to establish credibility. And a few have broken through. Mikie Sherrill is running in a toss-up district — according to the Cook Report on NJ-11 — and receiving substantial attention.

Amy McGrath is bringing in significant sums of money. But, beyond standouts like Sherrill and McGrath, female veteran candidates remain largely invisible. Despite the many organizations that exist to help female and veteran candidates, there was no publicly available list of women with military service backgrounds. We’ve created one with help from the Center for American Women and Politics and we’ll update it as the cycle continues.

Why should we care? Women with military experience bring unique perspectives to the legislative process. They’ve been leaders in addressing military sexual assault and (as Harvard researchers have shown) women, in general, are more likely to pass bipartisan legislation. Take Senator and veteran Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) who ran on a conservative record but has been working with Democrats on military and veteran bills since her election. In 2015, she told the Military Times, “certainly I could do these [bills] on my own.

But you know what? Republicans lost lives and Democrats lost lives overseas. This isn’t about party, it’s about men and women who served their country.” Interviews with this year’s veteran candidates show that they’re running partly out of frustration with Washington gridlock.

They want to fix government at a time when faith in Congress is at an all-time low. And with our current foreign policy largely determined by contradictory tweets, we desperately need new voices. Female veteran candidates, especially those with combat experience, could be our best hope.

As America’s first generation of women with (recognized) combat experience rises to a new challenge, let’s give them the attention they deserve.

Al Benninghoff is a political strategist, former Democratic Party operative, and previously worked as the director of Mmembership for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Heather James teaches Political Science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her research work focuses on women and campaign finance and includes 100s of interviews with female candidates and campaign professionals. Stephanie Szitanyi earned her PhD from Rutgers University. Her work has been published in the International Feminist Journal of Politics. Her research focuses on women in the military, female political representation and the militarization of American culture.

Tags Aftermath of war combat veterans Joni Ernst Joni Ernst Military personnel Military service Tammy Duckworth Tammy Duckworth Veteran Women in the United States Army

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