From politics to basic training, state official excels

Danielle Chrysler hasn’t met a challenge yet that she hasn’t embraced–and conquered.

After growing up in Whiteland in a family of modest means, Chrysler paid her way through college—first at Indiana State University and later at Butler University—by bartending at night, working another job during the day and balancing it all with classes. It was while earning a bachelor’s degree in political science that she "got the bug," she said.

In 1995, Chrysler was doing an internship with the Indiana Healthcare Association, an Indianapolis-based group lobbying f or long-term-care services. John Holmes, then vicee president for legislative and political affairs, said the 19-year-old was "mature beyond her years."

"Dani showed a real knack for the legislative and poliitical process," he said. "She communicated well, soaked up information like a sponge, [and] was extremely loyal, committed and hardworking."

The internship became a full-time, paid position and pointed Chrysler toward a career in politics.

She worked for former Indiana Republican Congressman Ed Pease for a while before returning to Indiana to work on the Indiana House of Representatives Republican staff. A member of then-candidate Mitch Danniels’ campaign offered her a position.

"I didn’t know what I would be doing, but the governor is very driven by his time and schedule," Chrysler said. "I ended up doing all of the coordinating of his travel in the RV and his personal schedule."

Daniels offered her a job doing his advance scheduling and as chief of staff for first lady Cheri Daniels. Within 18 months she was offered the position of legislative director in the governor’s office.

In January, Chrysler accepted the position of deputy chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and hit the ground running. Skillman, who met Chrysler when the former was a state senator, calls Chrysler "our secret weapon" with the Legislature in getting the governor’s agenda passed in the General Assembly.

It came as no surprise to either Holmes or Skillman that Chrysler took on another challenge recently—she joined the Indiana National Guard and just returned from basic training in early January.

"I’ve had an undying need to serve but never had the guts," Chrysler said. "I don’t know if getting older I got more courageous. Most people do it the opposite way—military first, then education, career."

Because Chrysler already held degrees, she could have opted to forego basic training and immediately enter officer training school.

"I felt the need to see what [enlisted men and women] go through, so I went through basic just like any 18-year-old," Chrysler said. But at age 32, she was the oldest enlistee.

"I was running 15 miles with 70 pounds on my back—not the easiest task," she said. She also persevered through a dislocated shoulder, pneumonia and a sprained knee. The experience was an "eye-opener" in many ways.

"There are a lot of young kids who have very rough lives who decide to go into the military," she said. "They need more mentors and leaders—people who really care about them."

Chrysler was there with gang members whose choice was the military or jail. She said their transformation was "humbling."

"Being in politics, sometimes that’s not the real world," she said.

Although she doesn’t come from a military family, Chrysler’s sister has served two tours of duty in Iraq with the Indiana Guard, and Guard Adjutant Gen. Martin Umbarger is a close family friend.

After the 2009 legislative session, Chrysler will complete military police training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri before returning to her job with Skillman. She will complete officer training one weekend a month over the next 18 months.

Lt. Gov. Skillman said she "doesn’t know which arena is more intimidating—the legislature or the military—but Danielle is tough enough to handle both. Her decision to join the Guard after having a career should inspire both young men and women," she said.

Chrysler’s husband, Mike, has been supportive of his wife’s desire to serve. "You’ve heard the adage that behind every man is a good woman," Chrysler said. "I always say there are about five men behind me. From Congressman Pease to Gov. Daniels, my husband, my grandfather and Gen. Umbarger—there’s always been these strong mentors who don’t let me get off the path."

Joining the military has given her focus and balance, she said, adding, "Work took all of me. Going into the military put it all back into perspective. When you’re away from your family for an extended period of time, you see what’s important."

She hopes to use her military, legislative and political experience to work on the financial, marketing and budgetary side of the military.

"We all tease that I had to go to basic training to get a vacation," Chrysler said with a laugh. "I would suggest not doing it that way. I’m firing my travel agent immediately."

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