TheBlaze will be featuring regular interviews with newsmakers that we think would be of interest to our readers. As part of this ongoing series, we sat down Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).
Ernst was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014. In addition to being the first woman from Iowa to be elected to a federal office, she was also the first female combat veteran in the Senate.
Senator, in your opinion, what is the most crucial piece of legislation facing Congress or the Senate right now?
From providing necessary equipment and resources, to ensuring our servicemembers are in top condition, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act improves military readiness. The FY19 NDAA that the Senate Armed Services Committee passed included over 30 measures that I worked hard to secure to strengthen our nation’s security and support the people who defend our nation.
You recently introduced a bill with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to address traumatic brain injuries in the military. I know that you yourself are a military veteran. What's so important about this bill specifically?
Traumatic brain Injury is a nearly invisible, yet very serious, physical trauma with long-term effects that has become prevalent among hundreds of thousands of servicemembers in recent years. I’ve seen first-hand how it affects our soldiers, veterans, and their families. Sen. Warren and I believe it is Congress’ job to ensure the safety and health of our men and women in uniform as they defend our country. The Blast Exposure and Brain Injury Prevention Act addresses the serious threat posed by TBI in combat and in training and will provide the Department of Defense with greater guidance to treat, but most importantly prevent, TBI.
What skill do you find most invaluable in helping you to do your job?
The values of hard work, service, and sacrifice, instilled in me at a young age by my parents growing up on our farm and the leadership skills I gained as a company commander leading 150 Iowa Army National Guardsmen have been invaluable here in Congress and in every aspect of my life. I also have four pillars that I strive to reach every day, and encourage others to strive for as well, which are assuming prudent risk, leadership, service to your community and country, and an attitude of gratefulness.
What do you think is the most important story in the news right now?
I think the most important stories are the ones the news is not covering and that deeply affect people’s everyday lives. For example, our farmers have the highest suicide rate of any occupation. That is alarming for agricultural states like Iowa. This is an issue that is very important to me, and I have introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the FARMERS FIRST Act, to address this issue. Improving access to and the quality of mental health care for not only our farmers, but folks across all occupations and backgrounds is a top priority of mine.
Can you describe the moment when you decided to run for Senate? What led you to make that decision?
When I was deployed overseas with the Iowa Army National Guard, I became increasingly concerned over the rise of ISIS in the same places in the Middle East where I was deployed. I also was concerned over the state of our economy and our growing national debt, and ultimately decided I wanted to earn a seat at the table to help find solutions to these problems.
I am fortunate and thankful for the support of Iowans, for entrusting me with this responsibility and sending me to Washington to make a real difference for them, which has included protecting their hard-earned dollars and ensuring a strong national defense to protect Americans at home and serving abroad.
What is one thing that you wish people knew about you?
I think some people may know this already, but I enjoy doing “ruck marches” as often as I can on the National Mall. Besides it being a hobby of mine, I use it as an opportunity to honor our veterans and take time to remember those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. My staff, fellow veterans, members of our military, and other members of Congress join in and we “march” with our rucks, usually weighing anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds, often before the sun comes up, in recognition of the sacrifices made by all our veterans. In some ways, these ruck marches symbolize what we’ve experienced in the military, in terms of leadership, camaraderie and physical fitness, but most importantly it is a way we can honor veterans by simply remembering their selfless service and sacrifice.
What's your favorite thing about your home state?
Iowans are resilient, and in times of need and in times of plenty, we show up and help our neighbors and communities. It’s the Iowa way. June marked the 10-year anniversary of the cresting of the 2008 Cedar Rapids flood that devastated the community and resulted in a loss of $5.4 billion to the local community. What we saw after the flood embodied the people of Iowa … resilience, kindness and generosity. And, we are calling on the federal government to do their part to help the Cedar Rapids community with funding so Cedar Rapids can protect itself from future floods.