The woman has heart—she’s an amazing person on every level. Regardless of your political leanings I think you’ll find the story of her courage, tragedy, recovery, cheerful persistence, and selfless dedication to helping others inspirational. It’s people like her that we should look up to as heroes, as true patriots.
WHEN I FIRST MEET TAMMY DUCKWORTH in her suburban Chicago campaign office, she nearly mows me over with her $4,000 titanium wheelchair as she cruises a narrow hallway festooned with military mementos. “I’m actually looking for scissors,” she says cheerfully. “They don’t let the candidate have scissors! They’re afraid I’m gonna roll over and hurt myself.”
Mission accomplished, she cuts a pair of shiny silver military insignia out of their packaging to send to a World War II vet she talked to that morning. As she fidgets with the box in her lap, her floral print dress shifts to reveal two carbon-fiber calves, one with a camo design, the other red, white, and blue. They connect to metal extensions that end in polymer-coated feet clad in black saddle shoes. A cane rests between her legs.
Whether or not Duckworth wins a seat in Congress, she’ll be celebrating this November. That’s because November 12 is her “alive day”—the day she and her three Black Hawk crewmates get together and remember the insurgent attack in 2004 in the skies near Baghdad that brought down their chopper and nearly killed them all. Duckworth left both legs behind.
If biographies alone won elections, Ladda Tammy Duckworth might be a shoo-in.It’s a loss that gave her “a great gift of perspective,” she tells me. “At the end of the day it’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s not about Obama or Romney. It’s about the fact that on that day, those men carried me out when they didn’t have to. They thought I was dead.”
Her copilot that day, Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Milberg (who’s preparing to deploy on his third overseas tour since 9/11), says if anyone is a hero it’s Duckworth. “Too many people, military people included, are too willing to have a pity party,” he told me. “Man, there’s no time for pity parties—look at this gal.” […]
IF BIOGRAPHIES ALONE WON elections, Ladda Tammy Duckworth might be a shoo-in. Her father, Franklin, was a World War II vet and lifetime NRA member who traced his lineage back to an ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. Her mother, Lamai, is a Thai woman of Chinese descent. Tammy was born in Bangkok in 1968 and grew up moving around Asia, where Franklin was working for the United Nations and multinational corporations.
While studying international affairs at George Washington University, Duckworth joined ROTC, which is how she met her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, now a major in the Army National Guard. When they were both cadets, she said on C-SPAN in 2005, “He made a comment that I felt was derogatory about the role of women in the Army, but he came over and apologized very nicely and then helped me clean my M16.” The couple married in 1993.
Soon she was sent to Germany and then on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, or the “amputee petting zoo,” as she liked to call it.Duckworth decided to fly helicopters because back then it was one of very few jobs with combat potential for women. She “got a lot of shit” as the first female platoon leader of her unit, she says. When she made her team cocoa before training exercises in the winter, the pilots took to calling her “mommy platoon leader.” “This is the military,” she says. “You find the person’s weakness, and you keep poking. They knew that I was hypersensitive about wanting to be one of the guys, that I wanted to be—pardon my language—a swinging dick, just like everyone else, so they just poked. And I let them, that’s the dumb thing.”
Duckworth’s unit was called to Iraq in 2004. That November 12, she was copiloting a Black Hawk with Milberg when insurgents lurking along the Tigris River launched a hail of small-arms fire. A rocket-propelled grenade exploded beneath the cockpit on the right side, directly under Duckworth. Milberg remembers the heat and force of the blast against his face. “I tried to make a mayday call, but the radio was dead,” he says. “Everything was dead.” Duckworth struggled mightily to reach the floor pedals, but the pedals—and her feet—were gone. Milberg fought the helo to the ground as Duckworth lost consciousness. “I immediately went to the other side and looked at Tammy,” he says, pausing to take a long breath. “I assumed at that point that she had passed. All I saw was her torso, and one leg on the floor. It looked like she was gone from the waist down.”
The next thing Duckworth knew, she was recovering from surgery at a Baghdad field hospital, minus two limbs. Soon she was sent to Germany and then on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, or the “amputee petting zoo,” as she liked to call it. “We had so many visitors,” she says, including Bush administration officials who were “there for the quick photo op.” But some showed a genuine interest, including former Sen. Bob Dole, who was injured in battle in WWII (and had been checked into Walter Reed for a slip-and-fall injury when Duckworth was there), and former Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee and decorated Vietnam War veteran. […]
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