Iowa Senator Joni Ernst has retired from the Iowa Army National Guard after more than 23 years of military service.
“Today is my first day as a full-fledged civilian,” Ernst said this morning, with a laugh.
Ernst, a lieutenant colonel who is the first female combat veteran to serve in the United States Senate, officially retired Monday, November 30, 2015.
“It was really hard to step away from the National Guard, but it was a commitment that I had made in the campaign and I’m ready to move forward and separate from the Guard,” Ernst said. “It’s been such an honor to serving in the National Guard. I really truly served with some of the finest men and women in uniform. I will continue to serve them as a United States Senator.”
Ernst was the commander of a battalion of 150 soldiers who did a 14-month tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 and 2004. After her election in 2014, she shifted to duty at Camp Dodge as the assistant to the Iowa Army National Guard chief of staff.
“Obviously serving as a United States Senator does take a lot of time, a lot of energy and I, of course, want to continue serving Iowans, but it will be in a much different capacity here in the United States Senate,” Ernst said, “and, of course, I would love to spend more time with my family as well.”
Ernst in the past year has kept up her duty and training requirements.
“That’s where we do run into time constraints and I think my family has been on the short end of that,” Ernst said. “…I will spend more time, of course, with my family and more time out on the road focusing on the senate as well. I did the 99 county tour, was able to do that this past year, but this will allow a little bit more flexibility with that schedule.”
Ernst’s husband is a retired soldier and the couple’s daughter attends Stanton High School. Ernst joined the Army ROTC at Iowa State University when she was 19 years old, so she’s been in the military her entire adult life.
“It is very difficult for me to step away because of the great people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” Ernst said.
Ernst discussed her retirement with Iowa reporters during a conference call late this morning. Ernst, who is 45, will receive a military pension when she reaches the age of 59.