Heard on the Hill

Former ‘military brat’ Deb Haaland honors dad at Marine Corps Marathon

The congresswoman’s father fought in the Vietnam War as a Marine

Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico at the starting line of the 2019 Marine Corps Marathon (Courtesy @repdebhaaland / Instagram)

Rep. Deb Haaland grew up a “military brat,” bouncing from base to base as the daughter of a U.S. Marine Corps officer. The New Mexico Democrat’s father, Maj. J.D. “Dutch” Haaland, served in the military for 30 years, and during that time he deployed for a two-year tour in Vietnam, where he earned two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for “conspicuous gallantry” in Con Thien.

Haaland wrote her dad letters almost daily. She would later find a trove of those notes after his death in February 2005. As a child, Haaland didn’t exactly understand the stakes of war, but when her dad returned home from Vietnam, she noticed that he would sometimes cry during evening news broadcasts on the war.

[Haaland recalls struggles as single mom, Thanksgiving and being homeless]

All of this was on the congresswoman’s mind when she completed the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. Haaland endured an early morning torrential downpour before finishing the race in the bright sunshine. While she may have turned in the “slowest time” she’s ever had, an outcome of her busy schedule and “sporadic” training, she says she enjoyed the leisurely pace and the opportunity to interact with the Marines.

“It’s really awesome,” says the 58-year old Haaland. “At the end of the race, there are Marines lining both sides, shaking your hand and saying, ‘Congratulations,’ and then you get a medal.” She describes one section of the race as particularly moving. The “wear blue mile” honors those killed in action by hanging up their photographs.

(Haaland wasn’t the only lawmaker competing in the race. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia completed her first marathon.)

Meanwhile, a childhood spent on military bases led Haaland to team up with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on a bill that would tighten standards for privatized military housing after reports of lead paint, vermin infestations, fecal and urine trails, and flooding caused by inadequate maintenance. The bill was included as a provision in the House-passed version of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Haaland didn’t begin running regularly until she turned 40. She’d started out just jogging a mile at a time until she saw her neighbor come back from a run one day and learned her neighbor was getting in 6 miles per outing.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I should increase my mileage,’” Haaland says. She eventually worked her way up to 10 miles before trying her first of several marathons.

But Haaland, the first Native American woman to serve in Congress, wasn’t surprised she enjoyed the experience, considering the prevalence of distance running in her heritage as a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe.

“You know, we Pueblo Indians, we’re known for our running,” she says, noting a family member who won the Pikes Peak Ascent, an almost 8,000-foot rise across 13.3 miles in Colorado. “There are a lot of Pueblo Indian runners who have run those who are tremendous athletes, and I just feel like that’s one of our traditional points of athleticism.”

Haaland has also helped her brother run several 100-mile ultramarathons. She assisted him on his crew for a couple of races to see if she’d like to try one herself. She has yet to do it but says she’d better decide soon, acknowledging that her “time’s running short.”

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