Sen.-elect Joni Ernst, R-Iowa strides through the halls of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014.

Sen.-elect Joni Ernst, R-Iowa strides through the halls of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Three Post-9/11 Veterans Named to Senate Armed Services Committee

The GOP has selected three freshman senators, all veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. By Molly O’Toole

A lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and the first female combat veteran in the Senate. A former Army Ranger and captain educated in the Ivy League. A lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves who worked on former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s national security staff. These are the three newly elected senators who will serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republicans announced Monday.

Senators-elect Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, all post-9/11 veterans who served in either Iraq, Afghanistan or both wars, will serve on the Senate’s defense committee, according to incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The Republican conference and full Senate will ratify the picks.

The three veterans are likely to serve under Vietnam veterans Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., as ranking member. Committee chairmanships are expected to be announced in January, after the committees vote on their new leaders.

Ernst is the first servicewoman to both fight in combat and also be elected to the Senate. She served in Iraq in 2003, commanding a company that ran convoys through Kuwait into southern Iraq. She will also serve on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

“They see me as someone who has actually served with boots on the ground, not just as a soldier, but as a leader … somebody who has credibility,” Ernst told Defense One just ahead of the midterm election in November.

Cotton comes to the Senate from the House, where he served on the Foreign Affairs committee. He is also a decorated infantry officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He graduated from Harvard University and Law School and clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals before joining the military. Cotton will also serve on the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Dan Sullivan, Alaska’s former attorney general, has spent some time in Washington, working as an Assistant Secretary of State and a member of Rice’s National Security Council team. Sullivan, who deployed to Afghanistan three times, will also serve on the Veterans’ Affairs committee.

All three incoming freshman were major pickups for the Republican Party, key to winning the Senate majority in the coming 114th Congress. In each of their matchups, the senators-elect made their military service central to their campaign when uncertainty over global threats from the Islamic State to Ebola dominated the midterm news cycle.

Many other incumbent Republicans and Democrats will keep their positions on relevant defense and national security committees. But because Republicans gained the majority, they picked up extra seats on committees, displacing some Democrats.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., will also join the Intelligence Committee next Congress. Blunt and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., are both leaving the Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the long-time majority whip and a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, will no longer serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Last week, he voiced his support for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State that the committee then passed, noting it would be his last markup.

Durbin spokesman Ben Marter told Defense One, “As assistant leader, he stepped off to allow other members to stay on the committee.”

Among potential 2016 candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will remain on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Rules committees. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Rand Paul, R-Ky., will stay on Foreign Relations. Rubio will also continue to serve on the Intelligence committee, and Paul on the Homeland Security committee. All three have used their positions to bolster their credentials on national security and defense.