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She closed her eyes and fought back tears. The piece of paper had four names on it.
It was the worst part of her job, looking at this list. Every day she sat praying that she wouldn’t see a name she recognized. And today, she recognized all four soldiers that had been killed.
She walked outside in the sweltering Iraqi sun and splashed her face with water. She allowed her mind to race. She remembered their faces.
But that was life in the place they called “Mortaritaville.” Daily attacks and death were the norms.
She picked up a case of water outside and went back into her office to get to work.
This was war, people died, and she had signed up for it.
She thought back to more relaxing times.
Her childhood was spent on the beach, surfing all the best breaks in Hawaii. At home, she learned rapidly through homeschooling and helping her parents run their family-owned businesses.
That freedom allowed her to explore her passions. The lessons she learned about life and business provided a platform for her imagination to run free on.
By the age of 15, she had co-founded a non-profit environmental agency called Healthy Hawaii Coalition with her father. As she learned how to run a successful non-profit, she met people from all walks of life. The biggest thrill for her was helping those people. She considered them all ‘her people’ and she wondered how she could help more of them.
When she was 21, a seat in the Hawaii State Legislature opened up. She spotted an opportunity and ran for the seat.
Despite a crippling fear of public speaking, she stuck out the race and learned how to address the ever-growing crowds with confidence and charisma. When the results came in, she was overwhelmed. She had won, becoming the youngest person in history elected to the Hawaii State Legislature.
A year after being elected, she felt a calling to do more for her state and her country. She decided to join the Hawaii Army National Guard and within a year, she volunteered to deploy to Iraq.
It was 2004 and Iraq was an active war zone. National Guard troops like her unit had to get up to speed quickly. Many of the soldiers were used to training one weekend a month. Now, they were being asked to step up and deploy to Iraq for twelve to fifteen months.
This did not deter her. If men and women from her state were putting their lives on the line, so would she.
It was during her tour to Iraq that she would have to do one of the hardest jobs of her career.
She was tasked with cataloging the belongings of soldiers that had been killed in action.
She later reflected on that deployment:
“This daily experience is something I always remember and keep very close to me. It’s not just a reminder, but a slap in the face to remind you what the hellish cost of war is.”
With that experience guiding her, she returned to Hawaii, determined to do more. However, reintegration was a challenge, and as soon as she got used to being home, another deployment overseas came up. After her second deployment, she returned home for good.
The woman set her eyes on her political career. In 2012, she ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives for Hawaii and won.
Her election made her one of the first two women combat veterans ever elected to the United States Congress.
The “she” in this story is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who serves Hawaii’s 2nd District.
Although she is no longer at war, for Tulsi, her fight never ends.
Every day she works to make life better for veterans. Every day she strives to bring more peace and prosperity to Hawaii, the place she is proud to call home.
Ever since that very first business she started when she was 15, Tulsi has chosen service every time.
She will soon be returning to Washington, D.C, to serve her fourth term in the House of Representatives.
Tulsi hopes to build on the progress she’s already made, which included passing the first bill she ever introduced, the Helping Heroes Fly Act. The bill ensures that disabled and severely wounded veterans are treated with dignity and privacy while going through airport security checkpoints.
She has bold positions and is not afraid to take on the establishment, whether in her own party or those on the opposite side of the aisle. She is there to make change in whatever way possible. She has taken meetings with top Democrats as well as President Trump. She envisions more bills being passed to help veterans, those who need healthcare and for fair schooling and affordable housing.
She will continue to serve her people. Whether it’s as a Congressional representative from Hawaii, or who knows… maybe even in a white house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Perhaps there will be a new wave of veterans on capitol hill? If there is, Tulsi will be ready for it.
That’s her story. What’s yours going to be?
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