Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth has many firsts to her name including the first disabled woman to be elected to the United States Congress, the first disabled woman to be elected to the US Senate, and the first Senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth used her experience in the Iraq war to become a voice for the US soldiers and soon her activism led her to pursue a political career which has been largely successful. From her early years to her time in the war and post-war achievements, here is all you need to know about the Asian-American politician.
Tammy Duckworth’s Bio
Duckworth was born Ladda Tammy Duckworth on the 12th of March, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand to Franklin Duckworth, a World War II veteran of British descent and Lamai Sompornpairin of Thai and Chinese heritage. Her father Franklin worked mostly in refugee assignments with the United Nations and as a result, Duckworth had to move often as a kid, spending periods of her early life in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Hawaii.
At 16 years of age, her family settled in Hawaii, a period when her father was out of a job and the family had to depend on public assistance – a part of her life that resonated with voters when she entered into politics.
Tammy Duckworth decided to follow in the footsteps of her father while she was studying for her Masters at George Washington University. She joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and became a commissioned officer in 1992. Interested in combat, Duckworth chose to attend flight school as flying planes was one of the few combat roles open to women. While studying for a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University, Tammy Duckworth was deployed to serve in the Iraq war in 2004.
What Happened To Her Legs?
While serving in the Iraq war, Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs in autumn 2004 when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that she was flying was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents. Her right leg was lost from around the hip while the left leg was lost from below the knee. Also, her right arm was broken in three places but doctors were able to save it by resetting the bones in her arms. Duckworth was the first female double amputee from the Iraq war.
Following her wounds, she was presented with a Purple Heart and was promoted to Major on December 21. She is now able to walk with the help of prosthetics. Despite her wounds, Duckworth obtained a medical waiver and continued to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard. She retired from the military in 2014.
While recuperating at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Duckworth became an activist advocating for better healthcare for veterans. Twice, she pitched her views to the US Congress. After fully recovering, Duckworth began her political career in 2006 as a Democrat.
After losing her first election to Congress, Duckworth was appointed as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. President Obama, upon his election to office, would choose Duckworth as his assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She resigned from the position in July 2011 to campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. Duckworth defeated incumbent Republican Joe Walsh.
Tammy Duckworth successfully ran for Senate in 2016 defeating Republican incumbent Mark S. Kirk.
Atypical of army brats, a teenage Tammy Duckworth had to relocate often and as a result, attended many high schools including Singapore American School, the International School Bangkok and McKinley High School in Honolulu, Hawaii where she graduated from with honors in 1985.
Immediately after high school, Duckworth proceeded to the University of Hawaii from where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1989. In 1992, she earned a Master of Arts in international affairs from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She also holds a Ph.D. in Human Services from the Capella University from where she graduated in March 2015. Duckworth in May 2010 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Northern Illinois University.
Tammy Duckworth is married to Bryan Bowlsbey. The couple met in the early 1990s when they were both part of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Her husband who is a Major still serves in the Army in the Illinois Army National Guard. Like Tammy, he is also an Iraq war veteran.
Their children include two daughters; Abigail, who was born in 2014 and Maile who arrived in 2018 making Duckworth the first Senator to give birth while in office. Shortly after her child arrived, the Senate changed the rules to allow a senator to bring her child under a year old to the Senate floor and breastfeed them during voting.