Yes, Senator Ernst is a Combat Veteran...

The Huffington Post has run a hit piece on the military service claims of freshman Iowa Senator, Joni Ernst, claiming that she has repeatedly overstated her role as a combat veteran. That opinion emanates from an organization notable for a staff that generally avoids military service and specifically, combat zones, with the focused circumspection one would normally apply to travel to Ebola outbreak areas.

Andrew Reinbach, a so-called* journalist, and whose HuffPo bio shows him to be a financial writer, seems to have embarked on a sugar-coated witch hunt for Senator Ernst, offended (you just know how easy that is for liberals to be) by Ernst’s campaign claims that she is a combat veteran. Worse, he fumes is that Joni allowed her husband, a retired Ranger Sergeant Major, to claim twice that she led troops into combat when she led a deployment of her Iowa National Guard transportation company into the Iraq war zone. Reinbach quotes other veterans’ opinions to buttress his argument:

This gets scant respect from serving soldiers. Asked what a soldier should do in a case like that, Lt. Col. Alayne Conway says, "You'd clarify, and say 'Sure, I had friends who were in firefights every day, and those are the guys you should roll out the red carpet for.'" Lt. Col. Conway serves in the Army's Press Office in Washington.

But interestingly there’s an update at the end of Reinbach’s piece from that same LTC Conway which seems to say otherwise:

From Colonel Conway:

Alayne Conway · Media Relations Division Chief at Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA)

Senator Joni Ernst is a combat veteran. Period. Andrew Reinbach manipulated my words, and I am angry and embarrassed that a *so-called journalist would deliberately take out of context a small portion of our 15 minute discussion. I never questioned Sen. Ernst's service, or that of my brothers and sisters in arms; to allow the Huffington Post's readers to think otherwise is not only a disservice to Sen. Ernst, but to all those who wear the uniform of the United States. In a cheap attempt to besmirch the military service of Sen. Ernst, the Huffington Post instead has insulted all the men and women of the Armed Forces who have deployed in service to their nation. LTC Alayne Conway.

Also interesting is that I happen to know that Reinbach phone-interviewed a web acquaintance of mine for almost an hour trying to gain material for this hit piece. My colleague, a former combat infantry NCO in Iraq who earned the Combat Infantryman Badge and who also was an embedded combat reporter for a major U.S. service organization, offered Reinbach no red meat and therefore his supportive remarks for Ernst remained unquoted. Reinbach claims that he did not misquote LTC Conway, which is doubtful since she’s a PR pro. Perhaps finding veterans critical of Ernst during Reinbach’s little witch hunt was so unfruitful as to require a bit of liberal colorization of Conway’s actual remarks. But it’s just so hard to imagine an author at HuffPo doing that.

If you insist on a definitive, legal description as to what constitutes a combat veteran, here’s the applicable U.S. Code as used by the Veterans Administration to determine who is eligible for care as a combat veteran:

Title 38, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 1710(e)(1)(D) states that a veteran who served on active duty in a theater of combat operations (as determined by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense) during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War, or in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after November 11, 1998, is eligible for hospital care, medical services , and nursing home care for any illness, even if there is insufficient medical evidence to conclude that such condition is attributable to such service. For purposes of this policy, such veterans are considered to qualify as “combat veterans.” Treatment provided under this authority is not subject to copayment requirements.

Now by this old combat veteran’s reading that makes Joni a statutory combat veteran and entitled to refer to herself as such whether for political purposes or not, even if it causes an old hippie Huffpo journalist to get his panties in a twist. The only way I see Ernst straying into the weeds on this issue is if she says she led troops into combat with that into being the operative term because, while remaining technically true, it suggests leading troops into actual battle. I say it’s technically true because young Captain Ernst did in fact lead a unit into a combat zone. A much safer description of her service is to say she led troops in combat which is a certifiable fact. She led a unit of the Iowa National Guard which was serving in a combat zone when she led it; therefore she led troops in combat service in a combat zone.

What is most curious to me is Reinbach’s contention that Ernst’s claim is invalid because her unit never came under fire or encountered an IED. That is a curious distinction to me for it would prevent a number of general officers and admirals of many wars from claiming that they were combat veterans of those wars since they never came under direct fire. And the fact that convoy operations in Iraq were exceedingly dangerous is demonstrated by the experiences of PFC Jessica Lynch, who was badly injured, then captured in an ambush of her convoy and brutalized by her Iraqi captors until being freed by a special operations hostage rescue team. Perhaps Reinbach should have considered that every time Captain Ernst led those convoys she was exposing herself to the same risks and hazards that befell PFC Lynch.

It so happens that I’m now reading Liberation Road, a WWII novel by David L. Robbins which relates the exploits of the Red Ball Express, the Army truck convoy system set up in August 1944 to ferry supplies from the Normandy beaches and the captured port of Cherbourg to the rapidly advancing allied forces across Europe, after their breakout from the beachhead. While a few of those almost endless truck trains occasionally came under fire from strafing German fighters, most didn’t. Nor did they actively engage in ground combat. They simply drove.

So I’m really curious as to how Reinbach would characterize those drivers and their service. Were they combat veterans? Somehow I suspect ol’ Andy might have a different take on those Red Ballers for a very politically-correct reason: 7,500 of those 10,000 truck drivers were black. But poor Joni is southwest Iowa-white, which is about as white as white gets in this country. Does anyone really think Reinbach would have written his article with a much more serious violator, Senator Richard Blumenthal, as the subject? Blumenthal, who did serve in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam War but only in Washington, D.C., and then only because he’d run out of college draft deferments, told audiences that he was disrespected when he returned from Vietnam. That’s not a semantic distinction like Joni’s but rather an outright lie meant to bestow an undeserved honor on a dishonorable politician. Yet even after being exposed for his Stolen Valor claims his party organization stood behind this phony combat veteran and helped him get elected. And he’s still serving, Reinbach. How about a story on this true phony? Oh, that’s right; Dickie boy is a Democrat senator so he’s off limits to liberal rags like HuffPo.

Finally, I would offer this cautionary statement to the bearded, balding, greying, and professorial looking Reinbach who’s lacking only the defining ponytail: Senator Joni is a Harley-riding, pistol-packing farm girl who used to castrate hogs that were much harder to manhandle than your usual beta-male HuffPo writer.

Oh, and she’s a combat veteran, Andy.

The author was an NCO in the 2d Bn, 327th Airborne Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, Vietnam 65-66