The Continuing Pursuit of Equality

August 26 is celebrated as Women’s Equality Day in the United States (US) to commemorate the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. The Nineteenth Amendment not only guaranteed women the right to vote, but paved the way for them to hold positions of leadership at the highest levels of government.

The Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971 that designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day declared that the day would be a symbol of the continued fight for equal rights. It is, therefore, fitting to highlight the women in the military making history in 2018.

In furtherance of the goal to achieve 50×50 leadership by 2050, the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) presents an assessment of how women with former military experience are seeking to run for public offices in these mid-term elections. They are poised to smash the glass walls and ceiling in national public offices. By periodically assessing where women are in government, how they got there and how much power they wield, we can comprehend barriers and opportunities for women’s leadership around the world.


Breaking Glass Ceiling and Walls

Currently, women comprise 20% of the Congress (Senate and House). There are 4 women veterans - 2 in the House and 2 in the Senate. These numbers are distributed along party lines, with both parties having one woman veteran each in the House and in the Senate. There are currently no women veteran governors or delegates.

The mid-term elections, however, could see an increase in that number. There are 318 women candidates (as of August 24, 2018) in the race for Congress – the Senate, the House and as Delegates, and for Governorship. Twenty nine of those women have been in various roles in the military. We could see a substantial increase in the number of military women in Congress and as Governor.


Perception and Reality

According to the Leadership Index, women do not rise to leadership in elected office in large numbers, despite surveys that show people view women as capable candidates for elected office.  A recent survey by Pew Research found that 61 percent of adults viewed the record-breaking number of women candidates to be a good thing, with just 5 percent of those surveyed saying it was a bad thing. Further, 79.6 percent of the population disagrees with the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do”.

Despite having positive perceptions, the percentage of women in Congress has never risen above 30 percent. According to the Leadership Index, the US scores 1.48 on the Positions Pillar (on a scale of 0-5, 3.19 being the current highest score), signifying that women have yet to be adequately represented in the highest echelons of power.

The increased number of women running for office and winning primaries, signifies that the mid-term elections could see a rise in the number of women in political office. Notable in 2018 is the unprecedented number of women who have previous military experience.


Women in the Military Contending for Political Office

We have compiled a list of the 29 women by using data from our partner in the  Women Rule Candidate Tracker , Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University. Of these, 28 women are Congressional candidates (26 House and 2 Senate) and 1 is a gubernatorial candidate. Presented below is a brief description of each candidate’s time in service. Each of these women has served to safeguard the national security of the US and is now seeking to serve as elected politicians. To learn more about each of these courageous women, see below:

House Candidates

Wendy Rogers (R – AZ)

In 1981, Wendy Rogers became one of the first 100 women pilots in today’s Air Force by earning her wings at Williams AFB in Arizona. She led three different operational divisions at Headquarters US Air Forces Europe and is the recipient of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.


Mary Sally Matiella (D – AZ)

Mary has served at the Pentagon for the Undersecretary of Defense. In 2010, she was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller, a position designated by the Department of Defense as the civilian equivalent to a four-star general.


Dr. Sandra Dowling (R – AZ)

She enlisted in the US Marine Corps soon after graduating high school.


Aja Smith (R – CA)

Aja joined the US Air Force Reserve in 2002.  She was stationed at the Al-Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar during Operation Enduring Freedom.


Jessica Morse (D – CA)

Jessica served as Advisor to the Commander of US Pacific Command. She worked to counter terrorist threats in South Asia as well as on US-India defense relationship using renewable energy.


Morgan Murtaugh (D – CA)

Morgan worked as Assistant Protocol Officer to the Commander, Naval Air Forces.


Stephanie Murphy (D – FL)

Stephanie has worked as a national security specialist in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense and has been the recipient of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service. She worked on a wide range of security issues from counterterrorism, foreign military relations to strategic planning for the department. 


Pamela Keith (D – FL)

Pamela was commissioned into the US Navy, as a Judge Advocate. She served in Bahrain as the Officer in Charge of the Legal Services Office. Thereafter, she was stationed in Washington, DC to serve as the Staff Judge Advocate for the Navy Computers and Telecommunications Command.  


Carla A Spalding (R – FL)

As a US Navy veteran, Carla has worked at the VA Medical Center.


Elizabeth Ketshia Adadi (R – FL)

Elizabeth was the Distinguished Honors Graduate in her class at the U.S. Army Warrior Leaders Course. She also worked with the Department of Defense's Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program to help service members and their families reintegrate back into society after going through their deployment cycles.


Tulsi Gabbard (D – HI)

Tulsi has served with the Hawai‘i Army National Guard. She was a part of two tours of duty in the Middle East, and continues her service as a Major in the Army National Guard. For her role in 12-month tour in 2005 at Logistical Support Area Anaconda in Iraq, she was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. She became the first woman to ever be awarded the Kuwait National Guard for her work in their training and readiness program.


Tobi Beck (D – IN)

Having enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in college, Tobi enlisted in the Army upon graduation. She was branched to the Military Police and assigned to a Strategic Force (STRAF) Unit. She was assigned to the 571st Military Police Unit and was deployed on missions to Cuba for Operation Safe Harbor helping Haitian refugees, and in Somalia.


Amy McGrath (D – KY)

As part of the U.S. Marine Corps, Amy was deployed to Kyrgyzstan for support of Operation Enduring Freedom where she flew combat missions in Afghanistan. In 2003, she completed her second combat tour for Operation Iraqi Freedom. That same year, she was certified as an Air Combat Tactics Instructor. From 2005-06, Amy transitioned to become an F/A-18 pilot. She flew approximately 350 combat flight hours, and flew 89 combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, bombing Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.


Dr. Tammy Savoie (D – LA)

While enrolled in the University of New Orleans, Tammy enlisted in the Louisiana Air National Guard as a security specialist. As Mental Health Flight Commander at Laughlin Air Force Base, she formed the first-ever Critical Incident Stress Team, coordinating the city's emergency response teams, Border Patrol, and base agencies to provide crisis intervention services to the base and community.


Alexandra Chandler (D – MA)

Alexandra has served in Naval Intelligence for 12 years, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction from countries like North Korea and Iran and targeting arms smuggling to war zones and terrorist groups. She was also assigned to the Pentagon to enforce high standards of excellence and professional ethics across all military intelligence agencies.


Amie Hoeber (R – MD)

As a former Deputy Under Secretary of the Army under President Reagan, Amie worked towards strengthening America’s defense and national security.  She oversaw the Army’s research and development programs and managed the environmental cleanup of decommissioned bases. She also led the Pentagon’s efforts to protect our troops from chemical and other unconventional weapons and to destroy the existing U.S. stockpile of chemical materials.


Elissa Slotkin (D – MI)

Elissa served in the Central Intelligence Agency as a Middle East analyst, and was deployed to Iraq. She was a member of the national security staff in the Bush and Obama Administration. As Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, she oversaw policy at the Pentagon on Russia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where she negotiated some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive national security matters.


Lynne Blankenbeker (R – NH)

Lynne was deployed to the Middle East as an operating room and trauma flight nurse, in support of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. She joined the Navy Reserve Nurse Corps in 2000, and was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Lynne is currently the commanding officer of the Navy Reserve Medical Unit assigned to Navy Medical Center San Diego.


Maura C. Sullivan (D – NH)

Maura is an Iraq veteran. She served as Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Obama.


Mikie Sherrill (D – NJ)

Mikie spent almost 10 years on active duty in the US Navy, flying missions throughout Europe and the Middle East as a Sea King helicopter pilot. She worked on the Battle Watch Floor in the European Theater during the Iraq invasion, and served as a Flag Aide to the Deputy Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. She also served as a Russian policy officer and worked on the implementation of our nuclear treaty obligations and oversaw the relationship between the U.S. Navy and Russian Federation Navy.


Chrissy Houlahan (D – PA)

Chrissy served as Captain in the US Air Force Reserve, where she was on active duty for 3 years and in inactive reserve for 13 years.


Shirley J. McKellar (D - TX)

Shirley is a retired member of the US Army Nurses Corp. In December 2002, she was called to active duty, serving 18 months overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She received two war ribbons & two war medals, the Meritorious Service Medal and Army Commendation Medals.


Gina Ortiz Jones (D - TX)

Gina entered the US Air Force as an intelligence officer, where she deployed to Iraq. Following active duty service, she has provided advice on operations in Latin America and Africa, on military operations that supported South Sudan’s independence referendum. She has also served in the Libya Crisis Intelligence Cell.


M J Hegar (D – TX)

M J is a US Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter Pilot. For her efforts on three tours in Afghanistan as a rescue helicopter pilot, being shot down by enemy fire, and for defending her crew and patients, she earned a Purple Heart.


Elaine G Luria (D – VA)

Elaine has served for 20 years as a Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear engineer. She has been deployed in Japan and has conducted operations in the Middle East and Western Pacific on destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers. She is one of the first women to attend the US Naval Nuclear Power School.


Margaret R. Engebretson (D – WI)

Margaret has served three years on active duty working as an Electrician’s Mate in the US Navy. She has also worked for twenty-one years in the Naval Reserve and Minnesota Air National Guard. 


Senate Candidates

Martha McSally (R - AZ)

Martha is the first woman in U.S. history to have flown a fighter jet in combat as well as the first woman to have commanded a fighter squadron. She has flown 325 combat hours and earned a Bronze Star and six air medals. She was deployed to Saudi Arabia on 9/11 and was a part of the leadership team that planned and executed the initial air campaign in Afghanistan.

Kerri Evelyn Harris (D – DE)

Kerri was a loadmaster in the Air Force, where she transported troops and equipment from Dover to bases across the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.


Gubernatorial Candidate

Lupe Valdex (D – TX)

Lupe has worked abroad as a captain in the U.S. Army.