Before taking a leave of absence while serving in the US Navy in Afghanistan, Senator Banks took his oath of office via Skype. Here is the footage from the Organization Day ceremonies.
Craig Dunn: Sen. Banks’ Election Day in Kabul
KOKOMO – It was a different kind of Election Day for Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, from the day experienced by his fellow senators. Instead of celebrating his uncontested reelection as District 17 state senator in the friendly confines of Whitley County with his family, friends and fellow Republicans, Banks spent a lonely day in Kabul, Afghanistan.
While many of his fellow senators and their numerous supporters throughout the Hoosier State figuratively talked about going to war with the opposition, coordinating ground attacks and waging an air war on television, Jim Banks was literally going to work wearing his flak jacket and Kevlar helmet.
How did this 35-year-old family man from the cornfields of Indiana find himself in Kabul toasting his victory with a canteen instead of with a champagne glass at a Republican victory celebration? It’s funny where a strong sense of duty will lead you.
I asked Sen. Banks what possessed him to join the naval reserve in March, 2012. Banks was at a loss to explain other than to say that he had a strong sense of duty to serve his country. A brother served in the air force and both of his grandfathers served in the army. The father of three girls, ages one, three and five, wants his daughters to grow up with a legacy of service and understand the tremendous sacrifices that our ancestors made to preserve our freedoms. Banks told me that his family is learning firsthand that “freedom is not free.”
Sen. Banks has been married to his wife Amanda for nine years, but their 10-year anniversary celebration in February will be put on hold until Banks returns stateside in May, 2015.
Banks told me that his initial reaction to the news that as a lieutenant junior grade in the navy supply corps he would be sent with his unit to the ISAF Headquarters base in Kabul was a mixture of excitement and sadness. He was excited that he would get a chance to use his skills, education and training in the service of his country and sad at the thought of leaving his family.
After telling his family and close friends of his deployment, Banks’ next call was to Indiana Senate Pro Tem David Long. Banks knew that his deployment would present what might be viewed as a sticky wicket. Long and his chief of staff, Jeff Papa, went to work immediately to research Indiana law in an effort to understand the ramifications of Banks’ leave of absence from the Indiana Senate.
Although Banks was prepared to resign his elected seat, understanding that his Senate district needed to be represented during the General Assembly session, Pro Tem Long learned that Indiana law would allow Banks to stand for reelection and be represented by a substitute senator for the next session. Long even supported Banks’ wife Amanda as his substitute for the coming session. Banks expressed overwhelming gratitude to the pro tem for what he viewed as Long’s willingness to do whatever it takes to make Amanda Banks service in her husband’s absence successful.
Banks related that telling Amanda he would be leaving her and his three girls for nine months to go to Afghanistan was the hardest thing he had ever done. He reported to his unit on Sept. 5 and entered into an intense Army combat training course at Fort Jackson, SC. His trip to Kabul lasted five days and included seven stops on six continents. You know the saying, “Join the Navy and see the world.” His last travel destination brought him to Kabul on Oct. 17, just as the harvest festival parades and Oktoberfests that politicians love were kicking into high gear.
Instead of courting votes and shaking hands with the locals in northeast Indiana, Sen. Banks found his new mission to be equipping and sustaining the Afghan army and the Afghan national police to prepare them to function independently in the future. As the American military mission progresses from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Resolute Support, the emphasis has evolved from supporting our ground forces to shaping the military of a new democracy.
Banks has enjoyed working with Afghan leaders as they rebuild their country and work to sustain it for generations to come. He says he has gained a great perspective in a short time of what a society and a country must do to develop stability. Banks, a graduate of Indiana University with an MBA from Grace College, has had ample opportunity to put his business skills to good use in the challenging job of providing logistical support for an entire country. He believes that the experience he gains in Afghanistan will serve him and his constituents well upon his return to Indiana.
What advice would Sen. Banks what advice have for his wife should she be selected to serve in his absence in the Indiana Senate? Banks was quick to point out that Amanda Banks has been a thoroughly engaged senator’s wife. She knows District 17 and its people well, including the critical issues that are important to his constituents. Although he told me that Amanda needs no advice, he said he would tell her the same thing that he would tell any new legislator, “Stay consistent to the values you’ve espoused and communicate with constituents at home more than you do the many voices in the statehouse.”
Sen. Banks stated that his own legislative priorities upon his return to Indiana would remain the same as before his service. “I will continue to work to make higher education in Indiana more affordable and accountable to Hoosier students and taxpayers and make Indiana the greatest example in the country of a state that takes care of its veterans.”
An experienced senator at age 35, with a great resume, political friends in the right places and a supportive family, Jim Banks certainly looks poised for bigger and better things in his governmental career. With characteristic modesty about his future, Banks deflected my question by telling me that he was just beginning to feel comfortable and understand his role in the Indiana Senate. He indicated that he was personally satisfied serving in his capacity as state senator, but that he would certainly weigh opportunities that might avail themselves in the future.
So while the celebratory confetti drops at Republican victory celebrations around the state and politicos return to their normal workaday routines, Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks finds himself working to support the same freedoms to the citizens of Afghanistan as those enjoyed by his District 17 constituents. My gut instinct tells me that Senator Banks is poised for a significant and stratospheric political career in service of the people of Indiana. Thank you Jim Banks for your service to your country. Godspeed and a safe return to your family and to your state.
Dunn is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.