In every country, there are some citizens whose lives will never be forgotten even after they are long gone and for America, Tammy Duckworth is one of such persons. Tammy is a politician currently serving as the junior United States Senator for Illinois. She was elected to the position in 2017 under the Democratic Party.
Before coming into the political scene, Tammy served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot. In the course of her service, she lost both her legs in 2004 during Iraq war and would have also lost her right arm if not for the timely emergency surgery which lasted for 13 hours.
Who Is Tammy Duckworth?
Ladda Tammy Duckworth was born to Lamai Sompornpairin and Franklin Duckworth on the 12th of March, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand. Her father, who died in 2005, was an American development-aid worker and veteran of the U.S Army while her mother is a Thai of Chinese descent.
As a result of her father’s work, the family moved around Southeast Asia, living in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia (then the Khmer Republic), and Singapore before relocating to Hawaii when she was 16 years old. This made it possible for Duckworth to speak Thai and Indonesian fluently, in addition to English.
Abandoning her childhood dream of becoming an ambassador, the indefatigable woman decided to continue in the footsteps of her father and joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in 1990 as a graduate student at George Washington University. Two years later, she became a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve and because there were only a few combat roles available to women, she opted for one of them which was flying helicopters.
She moved on to a flight school where she trained to become a helicopter pilot and afterward, transferred to the Army National Guard. In 1996, Tammy joined the Illinois Army National Guard. A few years later, in 2004, the course of her life was altered while she served her country in Iraq when a day which began like most other days ended on a sad note.
While undergoing extensive rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Duckworth received a Purple Heart on December 3, 2004, and on the 21st of the same month, she was promoted to Major. Usually, injured veterans are discharged but being a woman with an unparalleled determination to keep pushing no matter the situation, Tammy Duckworth wrote a petition to remain in active service. She, however, switched to inactive service when she got involved in politics. By June 2006, she was working at irregular intervals for the Illinois National Guard as an aviation safety instructor and at the same time, conducting her first congressional campaign.
Tammy eventually came to grips with the fact that she wasn’t as useful to the Illinois National Guard as she had once been and although it was a tough decision for her, she decided to take a bow, retiring in October 2014 as a lieutenant colonel.
Between 2006-2009 Duckworth served as the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Before then, she contested for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives under the Democratic party but lost by less than 5000 votes. During the administration of former President Barrack Obama, she was made the assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (2009–2011).
Subsequently, she resigned to run again for the House of Representatives from the 8th congressional district of Illinois and this time, she won. In 2016, she contested again for Senate against Mark Kirk, the Republican incumbent and was elected. She took office in 2017. With this, she set some records in the Congress as the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois, the first disabled woman to be elected to Congress and the first member of Congress born in Thailand. She also became the first female double amputee in the Senate, the first Senator to give birth while in office and the second Asian-American woman serving in the U.S. Senate
Way back in 1982, Tammy’s family was resident in Singapore where she attended the Singapore American School. During her senior year, she also studied at the International School, Bangkok for some months and finally graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1985. Despite the change from one school to the other, her academic performance was not affected instead, she excelled so much that she had to skip the ninth grade.
In 1989, Tammy Duckworth graduated from the University of Hawaii with a Bachelor of Arts in political science amidst harsh financial condition in her family. Later, she moved to George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs from where she bagged a Master of Arts in international affairs.
Subsequently, she decided to further her education by pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University and was admitted. In 1993, however, she put her doctoral degree on hold to attend flight school for one year. Sadly, Tammy never got the chance to finish the academic programme having been deployed to Iraq just when she was in the middle of writing the proposal for her dissertation. Though her first Ph.D. was not completed, in March 2015, Tammy finished and obtained one in Human Services at Capella University.
During her time at ROTC, Tammy Duckworth met Bryan Bowlsbey, a fellow cadet. After a rough start, the duo fell in love and eventually got married in 1994; it was a private function which had only friends and close relatives in attendance. Like Tammy, Bowlsbey is also an Iraq war veteran.
The couple welcomed their first daughter, Abigail, in 2014 and on April 9, 2018, their second daughter, Maile, was born.
The Story of Her Legs
In 2004, Tammy was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. Unknown to her, the mission would be a turning point in her life and her military career. In the cause of the war, on November 12, 2004, the Iraqi insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter which Tammy Duckworth was co-piloting, shattering her legs and right arm.
She was flown to Baghdad in a medical evacuation helicopter and there, surgeons had no choice than to amputate both her legs due to the irreparable injuries she sustained. While her right and left legs were amputated near the hip bone and just below the knee respectively, the surgeons were able to set the bones in her right arm. She was later airlifted to the Landstuhl military hospital in Germany, and quickly transferred to Walter Reed in Maryland where she stayed for one year, going through surgical procedures and physical therapy. Tammy now makes use of prosthetic legs for getting around.
Since the event, Tammy Duckworth celebrates what she calls her “Alive Day” every year on November 12th.