Congresswoman and former presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has left the Hawaii Army National Guard after 17 years and has a new part-time military assignment : civil affairs officer with a California-based Army Reserve unit.
The Hawaii National Guard confirmed that Gabbard, who holds the rank of major, made the switch in June. The transfer to an out-of-state unit was not formally announced, even within the Hawaii Guard.
Gabbard, 39, has made reference to “Army Reserve duty ” and her new civil affairs role in press releases since about mid-August.
“The House in Congress isn’t scheduled to be back in session til Nov. 16th so I’m taking advantage of the time to do some great Army Civil Affairs training ! I’m grateful to be able to do it in Hawaii, ” the Democrat posted Thursday on Facebook.
The question is whether the unpredictable Gabbard is retooling away from Hawaii politics–or just away from the Hawaii National Guard.
Her office did not respond to a request for comment.
Gabbard has often said a 2005 deployment to Iraq and Kuwait duty in 2009 with the Hawaii Guard greatly shaped her outlook on life.
Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center, said it might be an indication that Gabbard–rumored to have been interested in running for governor–doesn’t have plans to run for another office in Hawaii.
She will be out of a congressional job in January. Her expected successor is Kai Kahele, who coincidentally also is in the Hawaii National Guard.
“My only read on this is it wouldn’t make any political sense to me to leave the Hawaii National Guard ” for duty in another state if Gabbard had her sights set on another high-profile political role in Hawaii, Moore said.
“So maybe she is prioritizing and this was a better nonpolitical career opportunity where it sets herself up for other opportunities that don’t involve running for office in Hawaii, ” he said.
Gabbard served in the Hawaii Legislature and Honolulu City Council before being elected to the U.S. House in 2012.
Her new command, the 351st Civil Affairs Command, is based in Mountain View, Calif., but has subordinate units in several other western states.
The Army Reserve, which has a support role for the active duty Army, has a lot more commands and promotion opportunities than the National Guard. Like the National Guard, most Army reservists serve part time.
The 9th Mission Support Command, an Army Reserve command headquartered at Fort Shafter Flats, has about 1, 700 reservists on Oahu.
It also has a civil affairs unit in Hawaii, the 322nd Civil Affairs Brigade.
Another question is whether Gabbard will move from Hawaii or commute to the mainland for her new Army Reserve role, in which she retains the rank of major.
Like the National Guard, the Army Reserve is generally at least a commitment of one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
But there’s flexibility there, notes Maj. Melodie Tafao, a spokesperson for the 9th Mission Support Command. Some Reserve soldiers come to Hawaii for drill duty but live as far away as California, Kansas and Wisconsin.
“With the Reserve and with the 9th it just depends on the leadership, ” she said. “In my experience I’ve had units where they allow soldiers to drill quarterly so that they fly out here once every three months.”
For soldiers who are able to travel on a monthly basis from some of those locations, “they do travel–especially from California, where it’s not too far, ” Tafao said. “They tend to come every month.”
Gabbard has frequently noted her Hawaii Army National Guard service and overseas deployments. A news release Monday said she was beginning four weeks of Army Reserve duty in training as a civil affairs officer.
“Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has served as a soldier for over 17 years and is a highly-decorated veteran of two Middle East deployments, ” the release states.
She received a Combat Medical Badge in 2005 for “participation in combat operations under enemy hostile fire in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, ” a Hawaii Army Guard memo states.
Based at Logistics Support Area Anaconda north of Baghdad, and assigned to Charlie medical company, Gabbard “expertly developed and managed a tracking system for line-of-duty injuries ” and became the “subject matter expert ” for the entire 29th Brigade Combat Team, according to a separate Army record.
She was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal at the end of the Iraq tour.
Most recently with the Hawaii Guard, Gabbard was a branch chief in the education and incentives branch. During drill duty she coordinated special projects in the personnel section, including efforts to assess the impacts of existing policy.
Gabbard in an Aug. 20 release said she was leaving to fulfill her “annual two-week Army duty requirement ” by joining an Army Reserve civil affairs team in assisting an Alaska native tribe through a defense program called “Innovative Readiness Training.”
The release said the program provides key services such as health care, construction and transportation to help with community needs.
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