by Jess Clackum
Rep. Tammy Duckworth was born in Thailand to an American father, a Marine veteran and a Thai mother. Her father, descended from a long line of veterans, served in the USMC and in Vietnam, later working for the United Nations Development Program. As a child, her family moved around because of her father’s work with the United Nations. Eventually they settled in Hawaii where she graduated from high school.
Rep. Duckworth earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at the University of Hawaii and Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University. While studying for her Masters, she joined the Army ROTC.
Commissioned in 1990, Duckworth chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the only combat positions open to women. She attended flight school, transferring to the Army National Guard and later the Illinois National Guard.
While studying for the PhD at Northern Illinois University in 2004, Duckworth and her National Guard unit deployed to Iraq. One of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, she lost her legs and partial use of her right arm when the Black Hawk helicopter she piloted was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. She was promoted to Major that same year during her recuperation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was during her recovery at Walter Reed that she was inspired by Senator Bob Dole to pursue public service.
Duckworth served as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs from 2006 to 2009. She created tax credits for employers who hired veterans, established a 24-hour veteran crisis hotline and developed programs to improve veteran access to housing and health care.
In 2009, President Obama appointed her Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the US Department of Veterans Affairs. During that time, she led efforts to end veteran homelessness, improve accessibility to the VA and address challenges faced by Native American and women veterans. She also created the Office of Online Communications to improve accessibility to the VA, particularly among younger veterans.
In 2012, Duckworth became the first disabled woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and one of four women veterans serving on the United States Congress. Currently in her second term, she serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Rep. Duckworth has introduced legislation to assist veterans in transitioning to civilian life and employment in the private sector and has worked to cut wasteful spending in the Pentagon, extend maternal leave for military women and eliminate abuses in the VA system. She has worked to improve veterans health care by pushing for replacing discretionary funding with mandatory funding, improvements in transitional assistance, especially disabled veterans, and encouraging the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire more veterans as doctors and nurses because of their unique understanding of the issues and problems faced by combat veterans.
Rep. Duckworth retired a Lt. Colonel with the Illinois National Guard in 2014 after 23 years in the Army Reserve and completed her PhD in Human Services at Capella University in 2015. She continues to fly as a civilian pilot and has competed in several marathons.
Duckworth supports equal opportunity for women in the military especially in combat. Recalling when she was one of only two women in flight school, “We fought as hard as we could to make sure people understood we were just as good (as pilots) as the guys were”.
Rep. Duckworth is one of the Illinois members of Congress who supported H.R. 4336, the bill to restore the inurnment rights of the WASP in Arlington National Cemetery.
We thank her for supporting the WASP and for her courageous service to our country!