Blackhawk Helicopter Pilot Was One of the First Army Women to
Fly Combat Missions During Operation Iraqi Freedom
More than 240 students, faculty and staff packed Social Hall on Tuesday, Arpil 23, to hear Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth – it was standing room only! She told the crowd, and especially the students, that their voices matter. She described the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in Congress, and how while it at first it appeared the measure would fail, public support encouraged members to pass the bill. She told Trinity students to learn from their failures instead of holding themselves back. She spoke about her childhood, when her family went from a comfortable life to living on food stamps. She shared her experiences as one of a small number of women in leadership positions in Iraq, and spoke candidly about the discrimination she faced and how she rallied back. She told the audience how the loss of her legs in combat has motivated her to be more fearless, more determined, and more outspoken about issues that matter to her and to the nation’s citizens. At the close of her speech, she answered questions from students and Trinity student Natasha McKenzie presented her with an official Trinity Washington University hat.
Congresswoman Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs, now represents the 8th Congressional District of Illinois.
The Honorable Barbara Bailey Kennelly ’58, Trinity’s distinguished professor of political science and a former member of Congress, invited Congresswoman Duckworth to come to Trinity’s campus to share her story, and talk about her commitment to a number of major issues, including economic rebuilding, women’s rights, nursing and health care, and support for active duty military, veterans and their families.
According to her official biography, Congresswoman Duckworth attended college at the University of Hawaii and then went on to the George Washington University, where she earned a masters of arts in international affairs. Following graduation, Duckworth, who is fluent in Thai and Indonesian, moved to Illinois, where she began pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University. While at NIU she also worked at the School of Nursing researching public health and environmental causes of cancer. Later she worked for Rotary International as a manager for administration of Rotary’s clubs in the Asia Pacific region.
In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. She was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by an RPG on November 12, 2004. Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries.
Duckworth spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As one of the highest-ranking patients, she quickly became an advocate for her fellow soldiers and testified before Congress about caring for the nation’s veterans and wounded warriors.
Following her recovery, Duckworth ran for Congress in 2006. After a narrow loss, she became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. In Illinois, she worked to create a tax credit for employers who hired veterans, established a first-in-the-nation 24/7 crisis hotline for veterans, and developed innovative programs to improve veterans’ access to housing and health care.
In 2009, President Obama appointed Duckworth to be assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs. At Veterans Affairs, Duckworth led an initiative to end homelessness among veterans. She created the Office of Online Communications to improve the agency’s accessibility, especially among young veterans, and also worked to address the unique challenges that Native American and female veterans face.
Duckworth ran for Congress in 2012 to advocate for the practical solutions and cooperation needed to rebuild the nation’s economy and ensure that every American has a chance to achieve the American dream.
Duckworth lives in Hoffman Estates with her husband Bryan, an Army major. Since her recovery, Duckworth has taken up scuba diving, surfing and skydiving and flies as a civilian pilot. Fulfilling a promise she made at Walter Reed, she has also completed several marathons. She has resumed her Ph.D. studies at Northern Illinois University and is also working toward a Ph.D. in health and human services at Capella University. In her spare time, she volunteers at local food pantries and enjoys couponing and flea markets. Duckworth declined a military medical retirement and continues to drill as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.