POLITICS: PennAve

Female veterans highlight military experience in quest for Congress

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Congress,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Tim Mak,Veterans,Gender Issues

One of the first things Wendy Rogers would do if elected to Congress is to call up other female veterans.

"Among all women veterans there is a special bond," she told the Washington Examiner. "The first people I'm going to look up when I'm elected are going to be women veterans, Democrats and Republicans."

Rogers, a retired lieutenant colonel who was among the first 100 female pilots to serve in the Air Force, is running to unseat Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona's 9th Congressional District. The Arizona Republican is highlighting her military experience, as one of several female vets running for Congress this election cycle.

"We have nurturance and compassion qualities that are unique to our gender," she said. "It's indicative of the unique blend of compassion and leadership that female vets bring … firm but feminine."

The transition from being in the military to being in public service is a natural one, said Abigail Gage, the director of operations and outreach for HillVets, a bipartisan veterans group focused on congressional networking, activism and education.

"Once a woman's been willing to put their life on the line for their country, it's a natural transition to fighting for your constituents and your home state," Gage said. "We fought alongside our brothers-in-arms in Iraq and Afghanistan because there were no front lines … and it definitely has been empowering."

Only two female vets currently serve in Congress: Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost her legs when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Blackhawk helicopter she was flying during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who also served combat duty in Iraq.

If Rogers has her way, she would be joining those two in Congress next year, along with fellow Arizona Republican Martha McSally, the first American woman to fly in combat, who is running against Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., for the second time.

"She's a great gal, I'm very proud of her," Rogers said of McSally, noting that they sat together at a recent AIPAC dinner in Washington, D.C.

But is there a unique bond between female vets that goes beyond the bond they feel toward male vets? McSally doesn't think so, and neither does Gage, a captain who spent more than five years on active duty in the Army.

"It's a bond among veterans themselves, more so than a gender [phenomenon]," Gage said. "I feel a common bond in that when you get a group of vets together … and you start sharing stories, there's always a bond there."

Currently 89 members of the House are veterans, and a recent HillVets survey suggests there aren't many more than that working on Capitol Hill.

After polling all 535 offices in both the House and Senate, HillVets confirmed that at least 98 veterans worked on Capitol Hill.

Since only 55 percent of offices responded to the survey, HillVets used the figure to estimate that no more than 178 veterans worked in personal offices on the Hill.

As a point of comparison, the Congressional Research Service projected that in 2012 more than 6,000 staffers worked for members of Congress.

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