Linda Upmeyer, Joni Ernst during forum.

The number of female officers in the U.S. military has quadrupled since the turn of the century. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst retired from the Iowa National Guard in 2015 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, but when she joined the military in the early 1990s, women were not allowed to serve in combat roles.

“Through the Army Reserves and then later on in the Iowa Army National Guard there were very few women engaged in the military,” Ernst says.

By 2003, Ernst was the commander of a transportation unit that deployed to Kuwait and she says 12 percent of the unit’s soldiers were women.

“That company that I commanded was originally an all-male unit,” Ernst says. “So when I was just coming into the armory where we were located in Red Oak, Iowa, quite literally the women didn’t even have their own locker room. Their bathroom was built into a broom closet underneath the stairs.”

The latest data shows about 16% of Iowa National Guard members are women. The senator’s daughter is enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy and Ernst says 25% of the West Point cadets are women.

Ernst made her comments today during an online forum hosted by the Iowa GOP to mark the end of women’s history month.