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Always Ready, Always There—that’s the motto of the National Guard, and during this challenging past year, they’ve certainly lived up to it.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guardsmen and women in Iowa, and across the country, have been at the forefront of our response. Whether it’s staffing COVID-19 testing sites and call centers or helping distribute meals to folks in need, National Guard soldiers have put in long hours to help save lives and mitigate the devastation caused by this virus.

As a former company and battalion commander in the Iowa Army National Guard, I could not be more proud of their tireless and selfless efforts. That’s why I immediately got to work to help provide hazardous duty pay, with back pay, for these hardworking men and women. I believe wholeheartedly that Congress should take this important step to help recognize the hard work our Guardsmen are doing during this pandemic. While I’m disappointed my Democratic colleagues unfortunately blocked this effort last year, in the Senate I’ll continue fighting to ensure these soldiers get the support they’ve earned.

I’ve also teamed up with a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to provide transitional health care benefits to National Guard troops who have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic for at least six months after their mission. This is a common sense, bipartisan measure that will lift a huge burden of worry off our military families and help ensure continuity of health care for our servicemembers who have rushed into action to help Iowans during this crisis.

Unfortunately, our state and nation have faced challenges beyond the pandemic. With swift action, our Guardsmen and women have risen to the occasion. When the devastating derecho storm swept across Iowa last August, the National Guard was on the scene immediately to help folks rebuild—removing around 15,000 tons of debris and assisting residents in distributing food, water, and other essential supplies. Having helped respond to the devastating floods in 2008 as a member of the Guard, I know firsthand the hard work that goes into these types of missions, and I’m truly grateful to all of the men and women who have stepped up to help out our fellow Iowans.

But their work didn’t stop there. This week, as our nation sent a strong message to the world by transferring power to a new presidential administration—a sacred tradition of our democracy—members of the Iowa National Guard were on hand to protect and secure our nation’s capital. I was fortunate enough to speak with our Iowa troops and even administer the oath for twenty guardsmen re-enlisting in the U.S. Army and two re-enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.

We owe these heroic men and women our sincerest thanks and appreciation. During our battles with a global pandemic, severe storms, and security threats, they’ve been steady and committed heroes for our state and nation. I hope all Iowans will join me in thanking them for their hard work and dedication. May God bless the men and women of the National Guard.

Author: Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.