Take care in defining 'combat veteran'

It didn’t take Joni Ernst long to make a name for herself in the U.S. Senate.

The Iowa Republican is now defending her military record in which she defines herself as a “combat veteran.”

I would caution her to speak very carefully when using such terminology.

At issue is her service in an Iowa National Guard transportation company in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003 and 2004. She calls herself a “combat veteran” even though she didn’t face enemy fire during her deployment in the Middle East.


Sen. Ernst defends her record, saying that because she drew hazardous duty pay while deployed, she has earned the right to call herself a combat vet.

“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.”

Technically, she is correct. But it is a technicality that can be misconstrued. She needs to be careful how she uses such language in the future.

I understand where she’s coming from. I, too, served in a war zone for a time. The Vietnam War was raging when I arrived in-country in the spring of 1969. I received hazardous duty pay while serving as a U.S. Army aircraft mechanic and later as a flight operations specialist at the I Corps Tactical Operations Center in Da Nang.

Do I refer to myself as a “combat veteran”? No. I didn’t see direct combat — except for having to run for cover while the Viet Cong lobbed mortars into our position on occasion.

Sen. Ernst is rightfully proud of her service in Iraq and Kuwait, as I am of my service many years ago during another armed conflict.

But be careful, senator, when using terms such as “combat vet,” especially around those who’ve actually seen the real thing.


Leave a Reply