12/15/2011 04:02 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2012

Women and the Road Home From Iraq

Our country, under President Obama's leadership, is bringing the war in Iraq to an end, and our brave men and women are coming home. It's been a long road to get here, with champions both military and civilian.

I've been proud of the way Americans have been able to speak about their opposition without ever losing focus of our national pride, or our gratitude to our service men and women.

Women have been leaders in this respect, shaping our criticism of policy and strengthening our support for our troops. I'm proud of the roles women have played on and off the battlefield next to our brothers.

When Tammy Duckworth volunteered to go to Iraq in 2004, she already had real concerns about the war. But she felt a sense of duty to serve with her unit -- her buddies -- and she didn't want to stay behind and let others shoulder the burden.

It was that same sense of duty that made her speak out after she lost her legs in combat -- to call for a sane end to a war she never wanted, while advocating on behalf of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and Coast Guardsmen who were coming back with injuries, and without jobs. And our president shared her concern. When he asked Tammy Duckworth to serve in the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Tammy knew she was working for a leader just as dedicated as she was to helping our troops. That very first year, veterans' benefits were increased by the largest amount in 30 years.

Another woman, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, was one of the very first members of Congress to speak out against the war, and quickly became one of the leading voices calling for a swift end and the safe return of our troops. She joined the Out of Iraq caucus and made the human cost of war her focus.

Tammy Baldwin fought for female veterans, working to make sure they had equal access to health care and treatment for PTSD and sexual trauma. She recognized that the growing number of injured female veterans had to be addressed in Washington -- that it was our responsibility to take care of these women who had given so much.

Most members of Congress don't have experience in the line of fire. But that doesn't mean all they do is vote. There are things that a member of Congress does that I didn't understand until I had the honor of serving as Chief of Staff for my friend, Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

He entered the Senate in January of 2007 as the escalation in Iraq was happening. One of the very first days, we received a note from the Defense department about the loss of a Montana soldier. It was delivered to me as the Chief of Staff and I read the news.

Here was the name of a fellow Montanan, a young man, who gave everything for me. His family gave up a son for me -- for us. The United States fought a war where most of us gave little if anything -- but many families gave absolutely everything. Mothers lost sons and daughters. That young man that day was one of 28 Montanans we lost in Iraq and one of 4484 Americans we lost.

Senator Tester called that soldier's family that day. I will not forget that day, or any of the many days that we got the notice and made the call.

Though there are no words, I can only say today thank you to every American woman and man who served in Iraq. I will always be grateful for their sacrifice, and grateful for the women fighting to make sure that sacrifice is honored.