U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst is eligible to retire from her career in the Iowa National Guard, but she may continue to serve in the military long after she’s sworn in as a senator in January. “It’s caught somewhere in between,” Ernst says. “I’m going to keep it as is for just a little bit and then likely make that decision probably later this spring.” Ernst, who joined the Iowa National Guard in 1993 and is now a lieutenant colonel, was a company commander in 2003 when her unit was sent to Iraq. She then commanded the Iowa Guard’s largest battalion, of more than 12-hundred soldiers, before recently shifting to serve as a senior officer at the Iowa Guard’s headquarters in Johnston.
“I’m out of battalion command, so the outside time commitment is not as much,” Ernst says. Ernst was off the campaign trail this summer for a week of active duty, then — about 34 hours after being declared the winner of Iowa’s U.S. Senate race — Ernst reported for two days of active duty. Other members of congress serve in the guard and reserve, including South Carolina Lindsey Graham, who is in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and is a senior instructor for the Air Force Judge Advocate General program. Graham has encouraged Ernst to remain in the Guard. During a campaign swing through Iowa with Ernst in October, Graham emphasized Ernst’s previous role as a battalion commander.
“A military commander is a unique job in the Army. Very few people get it and to be a good commander, you have to bring out the best in those under you who are diverse. They have different political views, different religious views and you mold it into a team, ” Graham told reporters after an event in Des Moines. “…Very few members of the Senate have military experience.” There is no prohibition against members of the Guard serving in the U.S. Senate. Half a dozen Guard members are currently serving in the House and the newly-elected Senator from Alaska is in the Marine Reserve.
“I know there are other ways of doing two-week duties and things like that which might work a little better with my schedule, so we’re still sifting through that with the Guard before I make that decision to retire,” Ernst says. Ernst’s husband, Gail, is a retired Army Ranger.