This week’s “Sunday Spotlight” shines on a freshman congresswoman with a unique resume. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is an Iraq war veteran, the first Hindu member of Congress, and the youngest woman serving in Congress, at age 32.
Gabbard told ABC’s “This Week” that she doesn’t mind standing out on Capitol Hill.
“Someone asked me recently when I went back to Hawaii — they said, ‘So, you know, how’s it going in Congress? Are you fitting in there?’” Gabbard said. “And I told them not fitting in is actually a good thing.”
Gabbard served two tours of duty in the Middle East and said her military service gives her a unique perspective in Washington.
With the military planning to integrate women into combat units by 2016, Gabbard reflected on her own experience in Iraq.
“During my deployment, there were missions that I volunteered for and was not allowed to go on, simply because I’m a woman,” Gabbard said. “They said, ‘Sorry, no. No girls allowed.’”
Gabbard argued that there should be equality on the front lines.
“As long as we’ve had a United States military in place, women have been raising their hands to serve our country,” Gabbard said.
“If you can pull your weight and if you can do the job, you should be able to do it,” she continued. “What we see in the policy change, now that we’re seeing starting to be executed, is just a reflection of what women have already been doing in the military.”
While critics argue that men and women don’t have the same abilities to handle the challenges of war, Gabbard said she and her fellow servicewomen recognize the harsh realities of combat.
“Some of the so-called uncivilized parts of what occurs when you are in combat, when you’re at war, that’s the reality that we train for,” Gabbard said. “This is not something new and it’s not something that any woman who raises her hand to serve in uniform finds as a surprise. We know what we sign up for.”
Another issue facing the military is the rate of sexual assault, highlighted by rising statistics and recent high-profile cases. Lawmakers are currently moving forward with legislation designed to curb the number of sexual assaults in the military.
On “This Week,” Gabbard urged lawmakers and military leaders to address the skyrocketing number of sexual assaults in the military.
“That just places a greater responsibility on those in leadership to do something about this,” she said. “We have to do something about this now.”
Gabbard said that being concerned about sexual assault while serving in the military was “an eye-opening experience.”
“When I was deployed to Iraq, we heard and saw incidents that were being reported or incidents that were occurring within our camp,” Gabbard said.
She also spoke about preventative measures in place during her tours of duty.
“We got issued rape whistles so that, you know, as we walk out of our tent or walk out of our hooch, we’ve got our body armor, we’ve got our helmet, our weapon, and we’ve got our rape whistle,” Gabbard explained.
When she’s not speaking out on behalf of servicemen and women, the Democratic rising star travels over ten hours to her home district in Hawaii.
“You can smell the ocean breezes as soon as you get off the plane,” she said. “Immediately I feel my shoulders drop, the stress goes away.”
Gabbard said time spent in Hawaii allows her to escape the hustle and bustle of Washington and “hold on to the aloha spirit.”
“I hold on very tightly to my surfboard when I’m home,” Gabbard said smiling. ”I appreciate having the opportunity to not only be home, but to understand why I’m working in Washington.”
Gabbard first assumed public office in 2002, when she was elected as a Hawaii state legislator at the age of 21, and today believes that the “next generation” of leaders can make a big impact.
Check out our web extra HERE for Gabbard’s thoughts on being a freshman representative and the need for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
The congresswoman is also featured in the upcoming issue of Vogue magazine, which hits newsstands on June 25.