WASHINGTON — Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, on Monday stood by her self-description as a “combat veteran” for her service in Iraq and criticized those who have questioned her use of the phrase.

Ernst’s comments to reporters came after a piece in the Huffington Post highlighted that she never came under fire as she led an Iowa Army National Guard transportation company in 2003 and 2004.

The piece raised the idea that Ernst is giving the public a misimpression about just how harrowing her time in Iraq and Kuwait really was.

Ernst said it’s entirely appropriate for her to use the phrase combat veteran. The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs classify Ernst as a combat veteran based on her service in a combat zone.

“I am very proud of my service and by law I am defined as a combat veteran,” Ernst said. “I have never once claimed that I have a Combat Action Badge. I have never claimed that I have a Purple Heart. What I have claimed is that I have served in a combat zone.”

She said there are many serving in uniform who haven’t been under fire or “actually been hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy.”

“It was only by luck and the blessings of God that my soldiers did not encounter an assault, that we did not run over an IED. And to dishonor our service by saying we’re not worthy of being called combat veterans is insulting to the majority of men and women who serve their country honorably,” Ernst said. “Just because I’m not an infantryman and I wasn’t kicking in doors, I don’t believe I’m less of a player.”

A transportation company such as Ernst’s was responsible for making sure those on the front lines had enough fuel, food and bullets to carry on the fight.

“Our fighters would be nowhere if they didn’t have the support coming from folks like those that served with me,” Ernst said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars has a simple definition for what constitutes a combat veteran, said communications manager Randi Law.

It’s anyone who receives imminent danger pay, typically received by those serving in a combat zone.

“Maybe you did not get shot at, but the possibility was certainly there,” Law said.

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.