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U.S. Senator Joni K. Ernst

2017 Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Honoree: U.S. Senator Joni K. Ernst

“In an era when women in the military are being given the same advantages and opportunities, including combat positions, Senator Ernst led the way…in each of her elected positions, Senator Ernst has been a leader. She has not been afraid to enter an unfriendly room of citizens. She has always conducted her discussions with respect for her opponents, her critics and her constituents.”
--Written by nominator Mary Whisenand from Des Moines, Iowa in her nomination of U.S. Senator Joni K. Ernst

Photo of US Senator Joni K Ernst

U.S. Senator Joni Kay Ernst is not only a military veteran, she is the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate. Born in Red Oak, Iowa, she graduated as valedictorian at Stanton High School and went on to earn her undergraduate degree at Iowa State University. While earning her degree, she joined the R.O.T.C. and upon graduation embarked in a 23-year career with the U.S. Army Reserves and the Iowa National Guard where she retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel. During her tenure with the Iowa National Guard, she led convoy missions from Kuwait into Iraq as the company commander of the 1168th Transportation Company.

In civilian life, Senator Ernst served as the Montgomery County Auditor, elected in 2004. In 2011, Senator Ernst ran and was elected in a special election to the seat vacated by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. She went on to win re-election to the seat in 2012 and then, in 2013, she announced her intent to run for the seat being vacated by Senator Tom Harkin, later winning that seat.

After being elected to the U.S. Senate, Senator Ernst resigned from the Iowa National Guard to focus on her new duty assignments. She currently sits on the U.S. Senate committees for Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. As a freshman Senator, with only days in office, she was chosen to deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and was a featured speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

In her private life, she is married to Gail Ernst, a retired U.S. Army Ranger. They have one daughter, Libby. She continues to be an active community member in her local church, the Montgomery County Republican Party, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2265. She is also a member of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.