A New Kind of PT: Female Vets Running…for Congress

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Four female veterans are making history by running for Congress this year. While women make up more than 50% of the population, they are severely underrepresented in public office. It’s about time that started changing.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Colonel Martha McSally (USAF, ret) announcing her intention to run for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district in the special election to fill U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s’ vacated congressional seat. You may remember Martha for her many accomplishments while in the Air Force. Martha graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988 and was the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, in the A-10 Warthog, and first to command a fighter squadron in combat in United States’ history.

She has over 2,600 flight hours, including over 325 flying in combat. She served in the Middle East, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. She has numerous awards and was a Legislative Fellow working with fellow Arizonan Senator John Kyl. You may also remember her for her bravery facing the Defense establishment in seeking to repeal a policy that required military women serving in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya garment. She was successful in getting legislation passed that once and for all overturned that policy.

After sending the announcement to my network of military women, I received an email from another woman veteran, Donna McAleer. Donna is a 1987 West Point graduate, served as an Army officer for four years, and is the author of the award winning book Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line. Written as a model for the teenaged girls she coached in volleyball, the book features women who exhibited courage, strength, and character in overcoming numerous obstacles, both in uniform and later after embarking on civilian careers.  Much like Donna herself, who embodies service above self and has practical experience in both the private and publics sectors.

She has put her hat in the ring for Utah’s 1st Congressional District. Donna has an MBA from Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and has put her numerous talents to work as a community activist and advocate for girls and women of all ages.

Later I found out that Tammy Duckworth is again running for office in the state of Illinois, 8th district. Tammy is a Wounded Warrior; she lost her legs in Iraq when her helicopter was shot down. Instead of leaving the Army on a medical discharge, she continues to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard. As the senior officer at Walter Reed during her recovery, she used her influence to become an advocate for her fellow soldiers.

After her lengthy recovery she continued in that role as the Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Illinois, and later was tapped to be the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Obama administration, where she worked to end homelessness, led initiatives for female Vets and increased accessibility and accountability with the new Office of Online Communications. This is her second attempt at running for office.

Heather Wilson, is a 1982 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Rhodes Scholar, Air Force Officer for 7 years, and Congressional Representative for New Mexico from 1998 to 2008. She has worked on the staff of the National Security Council and has her Ph.D. in International Relations. While in Congress she proved her mettle by voting her conscience rather than the party line. She is currently running for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

At no other place or time have four women veterans run for office.Women hold about 16% of the 435 House congressional seats and about 17% of the 100 seats in the Senate. Only one woman in the history of Congress was a military veteran: Heather Wilson. In a time and place where the number of military veterans in Congress is at a low ebb, it is remarkable that four military women have decided to continue their service to their country as political candidates, and I hope, elected officials.

Women bring a different perspective to political office, and they tend to focus on solving problems. Research has also shown that “women tend to include diverse viewpoints in decision making, have a broader conception of public policy, and are also more likely to work through differences to form coalitions, complete objectives, and bring disenfranchised communities to the table.”

At least two of these women veterans also bring a different perspective to the national security table, and can speak from personal experience about war and why the nation should think twice about sending our sons and daughters to fight in an ill-conceived conflict that bears little relationship to national security goals.

My hope, in knowing each of these women, is that they will put down partisan politics and reach out with bi-partisan legislation that is good for women, families, the military, and the nation. I thank all of them for starting the race, and I wish them victory at the finish line.