More veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are headed to Capitol Hill next year, despite an overall drop in the number of representatives and senators with military experience.
At least 27 veterans of the recent wars won congressional races on Tuesday night, with a handful of races still in the balance. The current Congress includes 26 veterans with time in those two war zones.
The number includes 18 incumbents who won reelection and three senators not facing contests this cycle.
The only incumbent veteran from either war to lose Tuesday was Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who served a series of two-week reserve deployments in Afghanistan. He lost his Senate seat to Democratic Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq in 2004.
Among the newcomers to Congress is Brian Mast, a Florida Republican who also lost both legs in combat. The Army veteran was injured in Afghanistan in 2010 attempting to defuse an improvised explosive device. He used his military experience to help win one of the few vulnerable Democratic seats in the House this cycle.
He’ll join three other Republican newcomers from the recent wars: Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, a Navy Reserve officer who deployed to Afghanistan; Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL who fought in Iraq; and Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Marine Corps intelligence officer who deployed to Iraq twice.
Jimmy Panetta, son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, is a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer who served on active duty with a special operations task force in Afghanistan. The Democrat held onto California’s 20 congressional district for his party.
Anthony Brown, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, won his bid to to represent the state’s suburban district bordering the eastern border of Washington, D.C. He still serves as a colonel in the Army Reserve. Two years ago, he was unsuccessful in his bid to become the first Iraq War veteran to win a governorship.
Instead, that historic footnote now goes to Republican Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who was elected as governor of Missouri on Tuesday. Greitens is also the former president and founder of the veterans nonprofit group The Mission Continues.
At least four other House races involving veterans from the current wars were still too close to call Wednesday morning.
While the number of young veterans in Congress has increased every election since 2006, the overall number of lawmakers with military experience has continued to fall. With multiple races still undecided on Wednesday, the total veterans count in the House and Senate appeared poised to drop under 100 for the first time since the 1950s. A full list of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for Congress this cycle is available here.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.