Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat from Hawaii and presidential candidate, will be taking a two-week absence from her campaign Monday to report for active duty with the Hawaiian Army National Guard in Indonesia, she said in an interview with CBSN's Caitlin Huey-Burns.
"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 said. 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 fulfill my service and my responsibility."
Gabbard represents Hawaii's second congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, having first been elected in 2013. She is one of three Democrats running for president with military experience, along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Congressman Joe Sestak.
"You know, it's part of what I really appreciate and I'm grateful for being able to serve our country," she said.
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 counterterrorism and disaster response.
"There's the supplies and the logistics and the uniforms and just getting all the things that I need to get packed and get ready," she said. "And then there's the actual preparation that we need for this training exercise. The putting together the operations orders and all of the different background pieces that we need so that once we get there we'll be able to dive straight into the work that we have to do."
The United States has looked to work with Indonesian special forces on counterterrorism in recent years. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority country. Referencing 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. Even so, Gabbard has come under fire for "apologist for Assad," a phrase Gabbard dismisses.she took in 2017 to meet with Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo. The visit drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, as it wasn't sanctioned by Democratic leadership. Senator Kamala Harris, one of Gabbard's rival for the Democratic nomination, called her an
"It's a baseless smear that has been used to try to undermine my campaign, unfortunately, by people who refuse to actually debate the issues," she told Huey-Burns. "Assad is a brutal dictator in the vein of Saddam Hussein being a brutal dictator in the vein of Gadhafi being a brutal dictator. That doesn't mean that we should be sending more of my brothers and sisters in uniform to go and fight, acting as the world's police topping these brutal dictators."
Gabbard said she prefers diplomacy in confronting the global threats facing the United States. She even said she supported President Donald Trump's decision to meet with North Korea's Kim Jong Un without preconditions and pledged she would continue to do so if elected president.
"I have no regrets and make no apologies for pursuing diplomacy, understanding that the only alternatives to diplomacy is war," she told CBSN. "We need leaders who will have the courage to meet with brutal dictators, to meet with adversaries in the pursuit of our national security, in the pursuit of keeping the American people safe, and in the pursuit of peace."