Houlahan: “There is no greater calling than service to country”
Originally Published in the Ripon Society Vol. 55 No. 5
Over 11,000 members have roamed the storied halls of the United States House of Representatives, but fewer than 10 have been female veterans. As one of those female veterans, I feel an enormous honor and responsibility to be a strong voice for all veterans, but especially for the fastest growing demographic of veterans – women. For many of us, Veterans Day is profoundly meaningful and as our nation evolves and grows, so does our veteran community. Despite our country’s changes and challenges, our commitment to our nation’s values is the constant that unifies us. This year, we must renew our calls for a nation rooted in service to others.
For me, the call to serve our nation began many years ago. It’s not an exaggeration to say my earliest memories are of the military – I was born on base, at my father’s duty station, NAS Pax River, on the Patuxent River in Maryland.
My father, Andrew “Andy” Jampoler, was born in war torn Poland to Jewish parents in 1942. He was hidden in plain sight with a Christian family as a “Hidden Child.” Immediately after the war, he came to America with his young mother. They were refugees. As a young man, he joined the Navy where he would serve for more than 30 years as a naval aviator, including a year in Vietnam. In fact, my parents met when my father and grandfather flew P-3s together in the same Navy squadron. Eventually, the ‘skipper’s daughter’ caught my dad’s eye. And, well, the rest is history.
Like many kids in military families, I moved a dozen times before finishing high school. But through it all, I felt the call to serve too. I attended Stanford on a ROTC scholarship to study Industrial Engineering and went on to serve three years on active duty at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, working on air and space defense technologies. After 13 years in the Air Force Reserves, I hung up my uniform, but I was not done with my service to country.
I tell this story because the thread of service is often woven through generations of families. When I think of Veterans Day, I think first of my dad and grandfather (and my mom and grandmother), and then my many friends and family members serving on active duty right now. Now, as a Member of Congress, I also think of the countless veterans I’ve met and spoken to in our community. Their stories inspire my work down in Washington every day. Especially this time of year, I’m reminded that there is no greater calling than service to one’s nation.
And if there’s one thing veterans understand, it is that service never stops.
When I was elected to Congress, I felt it was a continuation of my service to the country that decades ago welcomed my dad as a refugee and gave us both the educational opportunities to grow and succeed. In joining Congress, it was again my turn to give back in a new way, and I knew I could be a strong advocate for our veterans.
As a Member of Congress, I helped found and lead the bipartisan For Country Caucus, a powerful voice to shepherd veterans’ issues through the House. Recently, we visited Quantico, VA to ensure our Afghan allies who helped us abroad were getting the resources they needed once they safely arrived in the United States.
I also co-founded and co-chair the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Caucus, which brings members of both parties together to address issues facing our servicewomen and women veterans. As co-chair, I led an effort to oppose the elimination or restructuring of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). In September, we received notification that DACOWITS would resume operations to fulfill the essential work it has done for decades for women in service.
As a strong advocate of improving mental health services for servicemembers and veteran, I was thrilled that in 2020 my IMPROVE Act was signed into law. This bill authorizes the VA to take a new, effective approach in fighting the veterans suicide crisis by making grants to – and coordinating with – community organizations that provide lifesaving services to local veterans.
The threats to our nation are constantly shifting, and to meet these threats effectively, our armed forces must represent the best and brightest of our country, regardless of gender. That’s why I introduced a bipartisan measure to modernize the selective service system to ensure both women and men are registered and poised to protect and defend our nation if ever called to serve during an emergency.
Right here in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of our democracy, we have a strong and multi-faceted history of service. Like those who came before us, it is now our solemn duty and responsibility to continue to answer this call. I am a proud veteran, and I want veterans and their friends and families to know that on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your service.Chrissy Houlahan represents the 6th District of Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representative. She earned her engineering degree from Stanford with an ROTC scholarship that launched her service in the U.S. Air Force. After graduating from Stanford, Chrissy spent three years on Air Force active duty at Hanscom Air Force Base working on air and space defense technologies. She left active duty in 1991 and served in the Air Force Reserves before separating from the service in 2004 as a captain.