Just one percent of the U.S. population steps up to serve our country in uniform. That’s one percent of Americans that we call upon to sacrifice time away from friends and family to defend our nation from our adversaries. We owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to these Americans who give so much to protect our great nation and the freedoms we all enjoy.
After 23 years of military service, I know firsthand the sacrifice our men and women in uniform make. On this Memorial Day, we must all take time to remember the servicemembers, and their families, who have paid the ultimate price—laying down their life for our country.
Iowa has lost 158 of our sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan, two in Panama or Grenada, seven in the first Persian Gulf War, and 867 in Vietnam. The number of Iowans who sacrificed their lives for our county in the Korean and World Wars is in the thousands. While each of these men and women deserves to be honored individually, this week I honored a few heroes on the Senate floor.
I had the privilege of recognizing Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey E. Bohr Jr., from the tiny town of Ossian, who served a twenty-year career as an Army Ranger and then a Marine before he was tragically killed after a seven-hour gun battle in Baghdad in 2003. Gunnery Sergeant Bohr—who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star—was the first Iowan killed by enemy fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom and left behind his wife, Lori, also a native of our great state of Iowa.
I also spoke in commemoration of Army Sergeant James C. Kearney III, an Iowa National Guardsman from Emerson. Sergeant Kearney was only twenty-two years old when he died in 2004 in Salerno, Afghanistan, from injuries he sustained when his convoy was attacked by enemy forces. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Sergeant and awarded a Bronze Star Medal with a “V” device for valor.
The most recent Iowa fatality was Lance Corporal Adam Franklin Wolf from Eldon. He was twenty-five years old when he was tragically killed in 2014 in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan after an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
As we honor these heroes—and all we have lost—on this Memorial Day, let’s remember it’s not just these fallen soldiers that deserve recognition. Lance Corporal Wolf left behind his twin brother and family. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaime S. Jaenke from Iowa Falls—who died in 2006 in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq—left behind her daughter, Kayla. The strength and resiliency of our Gold Star Families also deserve to be recognized. They are the ones left behind in battle and war—and we owe it to the heroes who gave their all to protect and care for their families.
This Memorial Day, I encourage Iowans, and all Americans, to take a moment to commemorate our fallen service members and their families. We are so blessed to live in the greatest nation on the planet, and that wouldn’t be possible without the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
Joni Ernst represents the state of Iowa as the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. In 2003, Joni served as a company commander in Kuwait and Iraq, leading 150 Iowa Army National Guardsmen during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Joni retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard after 23 years of military service.