Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth Biography.com

Activist, U.S. Representative, General, Activist(1968–)
Tammy Duckworth is the first Asian-American congresswoman for Illinois and the first disabled female veteran to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2016, she became a U.S. Senator.


Tammy Duckworth was born on March 12, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand. She was deployed to serve in the Iraq War in 2004 and lost both of her legs when her helicopter was struck. In 2006 she became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Duckworth as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2012 she was elected to Congress, representing Illinois’ 8th District. Four years later, she won the battle for U.S. Senator defeating incumbent Mark S. Kirk. 

Early Life

Ladda Tammy Duckworth was born on March 12, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand, to a mother of Chinese heritage and a father of British descent. Because her father did refugee work for the United Nations, Duckworth's childhood took place against varied backdrops—spanning Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia and Hawaii.

Duckworth—along with her mother, Lamai, and her father, Franklin—moved to Hawaii as a teenager. After high school, Duckworth earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii. Afterward, she obtained her Master of Arts in international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In pursuit of yet more higher education, Duckworth then relocated to Illinois, where she enrolled in a political science Ph.D. program at Northern Illinois University.

Service in Iraq

While attending NIU, Duckworth enrolled in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps with the Illinois Army National Guard. Trained as a Blackhawk pilot, in 2004 Duckworth left NIU when she was deployed to Iraq. In Iraq, Duckworth flew Operation Iraqi Freedom combat missions until her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in the autumn of 2004. The explosion took both of Duckworth's legs and robbed her of full function in her right arm. Still believing in the worthiness of her mission amid questions of whether she felt her sacrifice was for naught, Duckworth responded, "I was hurt in service for my country. I was proud to go. It was my duty as a soldier to go. And I would go tomorrow." She did, however, express frustration that U.S. policy makers were failing to match the sacrifices of American soldiers.

Following her injuries, Duckworth was promoted to major and awarded the Purple Heart. During her year's recovery time at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she became an activist, advocating for better medical care for wounded veterans and their families. Duckworth presented her impassioned views to Congress, testifying on two separate occasions.

Leader of Veterans' Affairs

Tammy Duckworth's activism led her to pursue a political career after her recovery. In 2006 she ran for Congress but lost by a narrow margin. Instead, she took an appointment as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. In this role she worked toward developing an incentive program that would give employers a tax credit for hiring war veterans. She also initiated programs that would provide veterans and their families with better mental support, health care and housing resources.

After President Barack Obama was elected, he chose Duckworth as his assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In her new role, Duckworth focused largely on putting a stop to the cycle of homeless veterans. She also developed resources especially tailored to the unique needs of female veterans.

Joining Congress

In 2012, Duckworth took a second shot at a seat in Congress, as a Democrat representing Illinois, and won. Her victory was twofold: Not only did Duckworth now have the platform to advance her political agenda, but she also became a living example for fellow female veterans, as the first disabled woman ever to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time in the House of Representatives, Duckworth worked in a number of committees including the House Committee on Armed Services, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi. In 2013, during a House hearing, she made headlines when she took Virginia CEO Braulio Castillo to task for fraudulently representing himself as a disabled military vet and receiving millions of dollars in federal contracts. "Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws … [but] you broke the trust of veterans.” Duckworth added: “Twisting your ankle in prep school is not defending or serving this nation.”

In 2016, she successfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat against incumbent Mark S. Kirk.

Personal Life

Prior to her injuries, Duckworth married Major Bryan Bowlsbey of the Illinois Army National Guard. She recently resumed pursuing her doctorate at Northern Illinois University. Now a lieutenant colonel, as of 2013 she was still conducting drills for the Illinois Army National Guard.

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