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Blumenthal: Year Shaped by Desire to Reach Across Aisle, Protect Troops in Harm’s Way

From the first moment in this job — my swearing-in just more than a year ago — I have been awed and inspired by the amazing opportunity to represent the people of Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. This sense of excitement and responsibility drives me to move our state and country forward — despite deep, indeed destructive, partisan divisions.

One of my main goals has been to reach across the aisle — to seek common ground on issues that are about the public’s interest and that transcend partisan differences.

Like many Americans, I see divisions deepening in our democracy and engendering dysfunction. While progress may seem slow, I am proud that we’ve made some headway on issues of importance to families in Connecticut and across the country. One of my highest priorities has been protecting our service members and ensuring that they have the resources they need to stay safe overseas, as well as programs enabling health care, jobs, education and training when they return as veterans.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I have been honored to work with colleagues on the dangers and threats our troops face in combat and to develop common-sense solutions to making our war fighters safer and more effective. I have also been humbled during visits with service members in Afghanistan, as well as here in the United States, to hear about their needs and ways we can support defense programs vital to our national security and their mission.

Learning firsthand about improvised explosive devices — the roadside bombs that so horribly maim and kill our war fighters — I traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan this summer, focusing on the flow of calcium ammonium nitrate and other explosive ingredients, which are smuggled across the border and used in the manufacture of IEDs. The trip was an eye-opening, deeply moving, life-changing experience.

After returning to Washington, I joined my colleagues in writing to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, asking him to expedite shipments of ballistic gear that provides protection against IEDs. I am pleased to report that the Department of Defense and Joint IED Defeat Organization met the aggressive shipment schedule to get the equipment to our troops in Afghanistan by Dec. 15. This gear, worn at the groin and upper leg areas, will help save lives and reduce the severity of wounds for amputees.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and I also successfully added an amendment, which garnered bipartisan support, to the National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the secretaries of Defense and State to certify that the government of Pakistan is implementing a strategy to counter IEDs before releasing Pakistan counterinsurgency funds. The Senate unanimously agreed to our amendment.

Looking forward, I hope to build on this record — particularly in protecting our troops and keeping faith with our veterans, working on the many issues where the opportunity for bipartisan action is clear, present and pressing. My service will continue to be shaped by listening to Connecticut’s people, and I will continue to advocate and fight for Connecticut’s interests.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal is a member of the Armed Services; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Judiciary; and Aging committees.

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