Lawmaker’s military experience provides insight to veterans’ issues

As a freshman legislator, state Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon, believes his experience in the Air Force has provided him with the credentials to effectively pursue legislation supporting Missouri veterans.

A home-schooled student from the O’Fallon area, Bahr graduated in 1997 and attended Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

“I was always interested in serving in the military,” Bahr said, “but the school I was attending was so small that it didn’t have an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program.”

His girlfriend was the daughter of an Air Force veteran and told him about a program known as officer training school (OTS).

Finishing college in 2001, Bahr was accepted to the Air Force OTS program. He completed his initial training at Maxwell Air Forice Base, Ala., and was commissioned a second lieutenant.

Bahr immediately received an overseas duty assignment to Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, where he served as a finance officer for three years — a position which he describes as somewhat routine and uneventful.

He was then transferred to Los Angeles Air Force Base, a site which he describes as “not much larger than a city block.” The base served as an acquisitions site where USAF purchasing agents worked with contractors in the construction of defense satellites.”

While stationed in Los Angeles, Bahr worked with an Air Force program designed to review existing defense programs to identify potential cost savings measures.

“Maxwell Air Force Base had privatized certain areas such as food service and transportation, and had realized some savings,” Bahr said. “Our priority was to see what services could be performed more efficiently by the Air Force, or on the private side, without sacrificing quality.”

Congress was assessing the Air Force for potential cuts as part of a force reshaping, and Bahr’s career field was identified among the potential cuts.

“I knew if I stayed in someone else would likely get cut, and I was interested in running for political office anyhow,” he said.

Bahr left the military in June 2006 and returned to O’Fallon. He started working for his father, a painting contractor, and attended Regent University on his GI Bill benefits, He completed a master’s degree in public policy in early 2008.

He decided to open his own paint contracting business in 2009 and a few months later began campaigning for state representative.

“I spent over 600 hours during the election knocking on doors,” Bahr said, “and I was still working. That was a pretty tough time.”

Winning the election, he is now in the closing stages of his first term. Bahr is seeking a second term as state representative and continues to operate his contracting business when not at the Capitol.

“As a freshman legislator, I may not have a significant amount of authority within the Legislature, but my experience in the military has allowed me to see who the leaders are with regard to certain issues,” Bahr said.

He said this insight has helped him identify with whom to coordinate on specific issues affecting veterans and members of the military.

A member of the House Veterans Committee, Bahr notes part of his recent focus has been on helping to identify funding sources for the state’s veterans’ homes.

“This is an issue that has a significant impact on the lives of our veterans.”

He is also interested in promoting legislation which will help ease the transition for military spouses.

Bahr explains that “many spouses must accompany their military loved ones during a reassignment to Missouri and have a license or certification that may take months to transfer,” which may delay their entry into the local workforce.

“The legislation advocates would ease these requirements allowing the spouse to practice their trade until the transfer is completed” Bahr said.

“Overall, we are a very veteran-friendly state and this type of legislation makes the transition easier for both the military member and their spouse during a difficult point in their careers.”

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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