9 more Iraq, Afghan war veterans joining Congress

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm •  Published: November 24, 2012
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Duckworth is one of two freshmen Democrats who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The other is Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who served near Baghdad for a year and was a medical operations specialist. Gabbard said she hopes the two of them can be a voice for female veterans and the unique challenges they face.

About 8 percent of veterans are women. They tend to be younger on average. Nearly one in five seen by the Department of Veterans Affairs responds yes when screened for military sexual trauma.

Seven Republicans served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Most had backing from tea party supporters who share their views that the size and scope of the federal government should be curtailed.

—Ron DeSantis of Florida was a judge advocate officer in the Navy who deployed to Iraq as a legal adviser during the 2007 troop surge.

—Brad Wenstrup of Ohio was as a combat surgeon in Iraq.

—Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan served in an administrative capacity with an artillery unit in Iraq and retired after suffering a neck injury. He also served as an infantry rifleman in Vietnam.

—Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma was a combat pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan.

—Scott Perry of Pennsylvania commanded an aviation battalion in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

—Doug Collins of Georgia was a chaplain in Iraq.

—Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Harvard Law School graduate, was an infantry platoon leader in Iraq and then was on a reconstruction team in Afghanistan. In between, he was a platoon leader at Arlington National Cemetery.

Cotton said the reason he ran for Congress is the same one that led him to enter the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I felt we had been attacked for who we are — the home of freedom," Cotton said. "And I worry now our liberty is threatened at home by the debt crisis we face, which in the long term will mean less prosperity and less opportunity, and therefore less liberty."

Cotton said he could easily see himself working with Duckworth and Gabbard on veteran's issues. "They've carried a heavy load and we owe them a great debt," he said.

At the same time, it's clear the freshmen veterans have clear differences of opinion over policy matters. For example, Gabbard is a strong critic of the war in Afghanistan. She says the United States needs to get out as quickly and safely as possible. Cotton opposes setting timetables for withdrawal.

"We're trying to win a counter-insurgency war where we can put a friendly, allied, stable government in place," Cotton said. "It's certainly been a long and somewhat winding road, but on the whole, America and our interests in the world are much better off for having waged the war in Afghanistan."

There also will be differences over spending priorities. Cotton is reluctant to trim spending on defense as a way to deal with the deficit.

Duckworth said certain programs need close examination, particularly in the area of government contracts. She said she "can actually stand up and talk about defense spending in a way that will be realistic without being attacked for lack of patriotism or not being strong on defense."

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