Sen. Joni Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in federal elective office. She was also the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. This interview was conducted by email and the responses have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

I was reminded of the great strides women have made over the years, including in Iowa, as I was taking part in the confirmation process for now Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She truly is an inspiration and role model – just as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was – for young women across the country, and to be able to be part of confirming Justice Barrett to the court was pretty special.

It’s an honor to be a voice and a leader for women and young girls in my state, and across the country. As a U.S. senator, I have a platform, and I believe an obligation, to lead and show young women that they truly can do anything they set their mind to. 

Since running for Montgomery County auditor, and throughout my time in state, local and federal government, I’ve been motivated by my fellow Iowans and the call to service that I felt after being part of an agriculture exchange program to the Soviet Union while I was in college. I truly love and believe in this country, our great state, and I want to do everything I can – including serve in federal elective office – to defend our way of life. I just happen to be the first woman from Iowa to do so.  

I’ve spent my entire life — both in the military and in public office — as a woman in male-dominated fields. I believe that whoever is the best person for the job should get or do the job; it shouldn’t be about being a man or woman. 

The advice I give to young folks, especially girls thinking about their future – whether that’s in elected office or not – is to always be the subject matter expert. Whatever your passion is, know that passion inside and out. Know what the advocates are advocating for, and know what the naysayers are going to push back against. And then, know how to debate it properly. Own the room.

I also challenge young women in our country to remember the sacrifices it took to secure the freedoms and opportunities they enjoy today — and to continue to build on these opportunities for the next generation. Get involved, whether that’s in your local community, or state or federal government. 

We are a better nation because of the contributions of women in all walks of life, in all fields of service, and in both chambers of Congress — and I will continue to remind folks of just that.