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Postcard: Friends of the Military

Location: Unknown

Friends of the Military

Dear Friends,

Seven years ago, the first time I was being introduced to the Republican members of the House of Representatives, the person introducing me said that I was an Air Force Academy graduate. A guy in the back of the room shouted, "Zoom!!"

That's what West Pointers call Air Force Academy grads, and sometimes what we call ourselves: Zoomies. And that's how I met John Shimkus, West Point class of 1980, who represents southern Illinois. Since then, we have become good friends. We sit next to each other on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Our children are about the same age and have gotten to know each other during summer visits to the Capitol. An Army Ranger, John still serves in the Reserves and teaches at West Point.

A few weeks ago, when the House Armed Services Committee began its effort to put language into law limiting the assignment of women in the military, I saw John on the floor and he asked me about it. I told him that I thought it was wrong. He agreed and we started to work together to get this fixed.

Ike Skelton of Missouri is the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. He and I have worked together before and I like him. He's honest and he cares about the military and our national defense, and everyone knows it. He thought the provisions on women in the military were wrong too. His Subcommittee Ranking Member, Vic Snyder of Arkansas, served in Vietnam with the Marines. He was of the same mind.

So, we offered an amendment to strike the language limiting the assignment of women in the military from this year's defense bill. But, perhaps more importantly, we offered our thoughts to our colleagues and our leadership in innumerable private conversations.

In the 217 years Congress has been meeting, we have never passed a law limiting the assignment of women in the Army. There was a 1948 law that limited women from flying aircraft in combat and from serving on navy ships. Those laws were repealed in 1991 and 1992. The Army has a policy that limits women from serving in direct ground combat jobs. But we have never frozen these policies in statute. This wasn't the time to sow confusion in the Army about how they can use their people to do the difficult missions we are asking them to do.

I also approached another group of friends in the Congress - the Tuesday Group. It's a group of moderate or independent minded Republicans who meet for lunch on Tuesdays. There are about 30 of us and the co-leader of the group this year is Mark Kirk. Mark pulls his Navy Reserve duty in the Pentagon as an Intelligence Officer and he is married to an Annapolis grad - a Squid. The Tuesday group strongly supported our effort to remove language limiting the service of women from the defense bill, and Mark started to help too.

The Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense both opposed the proposed limitations in the law and supported removing them.

By Tuesday afternoon, it was clear to all that we had the votes. In fact, our amendment to strike the language would have passed overwhelmingly.

There are some rules of legislation that don't show up in the civics books.

Rule 1: When you are falling, it hurts less if you tuck and roll. Those who proposed the provisions limiting women's service in the military knew it was best to remove the provisions themselves rather than have a vote forcing them to do so.

Rule 2: Graciousness is a virtue. It's okay to accept "yes" as an answer without having a fight and even give someone a little cover if they need it. The policy result is the same. Of course, you don't get the opportunity to be gracious unless you are willing to fight, work hard and have the votes.

And thus ends the civics lesson for this week. A group of friends who respect each other removed a provision that shouldn't have been there in the first place from a draft piece of legislation without having to offer an amendment to do so.

As John would say, Hooah.

Wish you were here,

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