"After serving our nation across the globe, I came home to find our country grappling with many of the same struggles I had witnessed abroad. I knew I had to stand up to make a difference again."
Born and raised in Menomonie, I learned the values of faith, family, and community. My parents were both from farm families, and we were rooted in the importance of agriculture in the economy. The oldest of six children, I assumed responsibility early in our household. I lost a brother to cancer when he was six. Another brother was born with spina bifida. We had to work together as a family to navigate health care costs and the challenges of treatments while my father sold insurance and my mom taught. My father, Al Baldus, saw the devastating toll of inadequate health care, farm loss, and economic crisis in our region, and this motivated him to run for the Wisconsin legislature and later, Congress. He was a champion for farmers, small businesses, and a healthy environment. We grew accustomed to the calls and visits of constituents, who shared their personal stories and concerns. As a result, I grew up learning to listen, and understanding that one had to stand up to make a difference in solving problems.
Because my father served in WWII and the Korean Conflict, he encouraged me to join the military. I was commissioned as an officer in the Army and took an oath to protect our nation. Trusted to lead, I took on advanced training and hardship assignments, including the DMZ in Korea. Later, as a military spouse and mother of three, I continued to serve by raising our family and supporting others during deployments. I advocated for those with special needs and won improved educational assistance within the military system. Even though we moved every few years, our family was active in church and our community, scouting, and serving in soup kitchens and on school boards.
After 9/11, my husband, an Army Ranger, deployed to support the fight against al Qaida. We bought a house in Menomonie, the only home our service family has known. About this time, I was recruited by the CIA and renewed my oath to defend our country. I supported CIA operations in a series of overseas assignments including hardship and combat zones. I earned multiple awards for mission accomplishment, empowering others, and personal courage. Leading in the toughest assignments, I unwaveringly supported the mission, my fellow officers, and the nation we served. We were united in our efforts and drew on each other’s strengths. I learned we never give up.
After serving our nation across the globe, I came home to find our country grappling with many of the same struggles I had witnessed abroad: discord that separates communities, lack of trust in government, and the enduring challenges of health care, infrastructure, and economic inequity. I could see threats to our democracy, particularly in regard to voting and basic rights. I knew I had to stand up to make a difference again.