WASHINGTON: Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of the US Congress and a Democratic presidential hopeful, has announced that she will leave the campaign trail for two weeks of training exercises in Indonesia that include counter-terrorism.
Gabbard, who has deployed to the Middle East twice in her time in the Army National Guard, heads to active-duty training during a crucial time in her 2020 presidential campaign.
“I look forward to joining my fellow soldiers for a joint-training exercise with the Indonesian military, focused on counter-terrorism and disaster response,” the 38-year-old congresswoman from Hawaii announced on Monday.
Gabbard is the first ever Hindu lawmaker in the US Congress. She is also the first ever Hindu to run for presidential elections. Currently, there are nearly 20 Democratic presidential aspirants in the race to challenge incumbent Donald Trump for the 2020 elections.
A practising Hindu, Gabbard is of Asian, Polynesian, and Caucasian descent.
“I’m stepping off of the campaign trail for a couple of weeks and putting on my army uniform to go on a joint training exercise mission in Indonesia,” she told CBS News.
Gabbard has also taken two weeks off to report for active service in 2017.
“I love our country. I love being able to serve our country in so many ways including as a soldier,” she said. “And so while some people are telling me, like gosh this is a terrible time to leave the campaign, can’t you find a way out of it? You know that’s not what this is about.”
“I’m not really thinking about how this will impact my campaign. I’m looking forward to being able to fulfil my service and my responsibility,” she said.
Gabbard represents Hawaii’s second congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, having first been elected in 2013.
Gabbard served in the Hawaii Army National Guard in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. She served a second deployment in Kuwait in 2008 and 2009, working with the Kuwaiti Army.
This week, she will be heading to Hawaii for preparation before her departure to Indonesia on Wednesday where her unit will participate in a training exercises that include counter-terrorism and disaster response, the CBS News report said.
The US has looked to work with Indonesian special forces on counter-terrorism in recent years. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Commenting on her impending deployment to Indonesia, Gabbard discussed her perspectives as both a soldier and an elected official.
“It’s impossible to separate the experience that I have serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Armed Services Committee, as we’re going through these exercises and I think it’s an added value in bringing these two different perspectives together — those of the policymakers in Washington and that of a soldier.”
Gabbard has argued that one of her main qualifications for the presidency lies in her experience as a soldier as well as her foreign policy expertise.
Despite a breakout performance at the second round of Democratic primary debates last month, Gabbard has yet to qualify for the third round of debates in September, CNN reported.
Outside of her military service, her campaign has largely been marked by low poll numbers and controversy surrounding her past views on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ equality, the report said.
A CNN poll released early last month found she holds just 1% support.
Gabbard said early this year in a statement to CNN that she regrets the positions she took in the past on the issue and has worked toward passing legislation that ensures equal rights and protections.
But her military experience has become a central selling point to her campaign, CNN noted.
During the second night of July’s debates — wherein Gabbard finished the night as Google‘s most-searched candidate — she wielded her credentials as an Iraq War veteran to speak about foreign policy decisions with a personal tone, it said.
A former Co-Chair of the powerful India Caucus in the US House of Representatives, Gabbard has been a close friend of India and a supporter of a strong US-India relationship.