I counted the doctor’s footsteps as she left the room, gauging how much time I had before she returned. My sweaty fingers pulled out my cellphone and I quickly tried to take video of the room and my growing pregnant belly — but I miscalculated. My doctor stepped back inside. I felt my face grow red.
“I’m alone,” my voice cracked as my doctor sat down and held my free hand. “I’m alone. My husband is deployed — I just don’t want him to miss any of this. He won’t return until our baby is born.”
Without missing a beat, she grabbed my phone, turned the ultrasound back on and helped me record a video of my baby sucking his thumb, growing big and strong. I sent it to my husband immediately.
There is nothing easy about being a military family. It certainly is not easy for the service member, but the toll it takes on the spouses and children left at home wafts into conversation as whispers that are soon forgotten.
During my sixth month of pregnancy, my husband was sent to a forward location in Syria, where it was difficult to maintain a regular supply chain. He relied upon the assistance of local Kurdish allies for necessities such as food. Not long after, pro-Syria militants, including Russian mercenaries, attacked American soldiers in the region, including my husband’s unit. It was the deadliest battle in Syria at the time. No American lives were lost, but hundreds of pro-Syrian fighters were killed.
Because of the strength of the U.S.-Kurdish alliance, my husband returned home safely — and earlier than expected, just in time for the birth of our son, Jace.
Not long after my husband’s return, we watched the president of the United States not only disregard guidance from career U.S. intelligence officials, but also shake the hand of Russian President Vladimir Putin — the man who had his militants attack American troops. Then, the president indicated his preference to betray our Kurdish allies while embracing our enemy.
This reckless foreign policy made America less safe and it put my family in jeopardy. I immediately reached out to Rep. Vicky Hartzler, asking for her office’s help and influence. Her office ignored my family. It was difficult for me — a person who grew up in Ike Skelton’s 4th Congressional District — to understand how the current holder of the seat could ignore our military family.
One evening, I saw Hartzler post a photograph next to an Apache helicopter, the same model my husband flies. The photo was taken in Arizona — odd because there are no Army bases flying helicopters in Arizona. But she wasn’t visiting troops — she used our taxpayer dollars to visit a defense contractor.
Hartzler has a long, seldom-discussed history with bomb-makers. In 2011, when she went to Washington as a freshman congresswoman, she joined the “Lucky 13” fundraising group, made up of 13 freshman Republican representatives on the House Armed Services Committee. The Lucky 13 was organized by Rep. Buck McKeon, then-chair of the committee, who mentored the new members and introduced them to defense contractors. He hosted a Lucky 13 fundraiser for $5,000 a plate. Less than a month after the event, Hartzler received thousands from Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
After McKeon left Congress to work as a lobbyist, he continued funneling money to Hartzler and his other protegees. McKeon was later accused of paying off members of Congress with political donations in exchange for authorized procurements from his mentored politicians to his defense contractor clients.
Hartzler was one of the highest-ranking Republican members of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee at that time. During its appropriations markup, her committee added a provision allowing the Navy to award contracts for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works — McKeon’s client — received a $3.9 billion contract for the project. Hartzler received $3,000 from McKeon for her election that year and $5,000 from General Dynamics.
In the following year, on the eve of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act appropriations markup, Hartzler hosted a $500 per plate fundraiser with defense contractors. She later advocated for the F-35 aircraft rebuild program on behalf of McKeon’s client, Lockheed Martin. That year, McKeon contributed additional funding to Hartzler. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $35 billion dollar contract — the largest one ever — and Hartzler received $8,000 from Lockheed Martin.
In recent months, Hartzler has pushed for the sale of F-35s to the United Arab Emirates, despite protest from Israel. One might wonder her stake in the matter. The lobbyist for both the United Arab Emirates and for Lockheed Martin is her mentor McKeon. Between Lockheed Martin and McKeon, she’s received $10,000 this election cycle.
This is the revolving door of the military-industrial complex, and Hartzler isn’t just a cog in the machine — she fuels the entire engine. It took her less than one month to begin working for defense contractors — and it took me, an Army wife of a deployed soldier, literally running for Congress ever to hear back from my congresswoman.
You cannot possibly work to protect military families while you’re representing the interests of and profiting from the bomb-makers.
It’s been one year since we betrayed our Kurdish allies, creating a vacuum for Russian influence to thrive. When my husband opened the video shot by my doctor — the very first time he saw our son with his own eyes — at that base in Syria, an American flag waved. It was replaced with a Russian flag last year.
Now our son is 2, and my husband is deployed again. This time, there is a bounty on his head that experts believe was a direct reaction to the Syrian air fight his unit engaged in the last time he was deployed. Rep. Vicky Hartzler may not have time to help military families — but I know Missourians do.
Lindsey Simmons is an attorney and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Missouri’s 4th District.