WASHINGTON — Miranda Luke, whose husband died four years ago during a training weekend at Fort Chaffee, has been invited to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., invited Luke to witness the address as his guest. The Greenwood mother of four will have a seat in the public gallery that overlooks the House chamber where the annual speech is delivered.
“I’m incredibly honored and excited,” Luke said in a telephone interview on Monday.
Members of Congress are able to invite one guest each to witness the address. There is no standard protocol for doling out the invites.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has invited Dr. Ben Burris, an orthodontist from Fort Smith, to be his guest. Dr. Burris will otherwise be in D.C. for a meeting of the American Association of Orthodontists.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, has invited his sister, Margaret Robinson, as his guest. She is principal of Atkins High School, and this is her first time attending the State of the Union.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, has invited his fiancé, Anna.
Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, gave his ticket to Jessica Kloss, a senior at Beebe High School, who was selected from 115 entrants in an essay contest Griffin held for students in his district wishing to attend.
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, was bringing his wife but a sick child is keeping her home. He has instead turned the ticket to Griffin to give to Kloss’s parent.
Pryor’s choice gives him an opportunity to highlight his work on behalf of an Arkansas constituent – a theme that will likely be repeated often during his 2014 Senate campaign.
In 2011, Pryor successfully fought for Luke’s family to receive death benefits that the Army had initially denied them on a technicality.
Luke’s husband, Capt. Samson Luke, died in January 2010 during a required training weekend at Fort Chaffee. The Army declined to pay the family a $100,000 death gratuity or funeral expense benefits because he died at home on Saturday night. He lived close enough to be authorized to sleep there rather than take up space on base.
The Army later overruled the initial denial of benefits.
Miranda Luke said she understands that Pryor invited her in part because she highlights his service in the Senate to Arkansas – a key theme for his 2014 re-election.
“I am a very clear case of how he has helped someone. He completely affected my life and the life of my children,” Luke said. “His support has continued. His staff has kept in contact, calling about every six months to check on me and answer any questions I have. They are just good people and are genuinely concerned about their constituents.”
Luke has been to Washington before but has never attended an event like the State of the Union. Ahead of the address, she has a lunch scheduled with Pryor and then a tour of the U.S. Capitol.
As for the State of the Union, Luke said she would pay particular attention to what the president has to say about foreign affairs and the potential for military engagements in places like Iran and Syria.
“I can tell you as a military wife those topics are very important to me,” she said. “I would just like to see where he thinks our military will be going in the next year and what his expectation are for our men and women fighting for our country.”