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Lost in the shit storm of the presidential election were several key House and Senate races, which included the election of Tammy Duckworth to represent the State of Illinois in the U.S. Senate. And it’s a shame, because Duckworth undoubtedly has the best story and background you will hear from any politician in this (or any) election.
When Duckworth was in graduate school at George Washington University in 1990, she joined ROTC. Not because she needed a scholarship or other benefits like many kids in the program do, but because of her innate desire to serve her country. That desire likely stems from her family’s history of military service, which includes her dad, who served in World War II, and another ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. Needless to say, fighting for the country that one of her ancestors fought to found in the first place runs through Duckworth’s veins.
After grad school she became a commissioned officer in the Army Reserve and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the only combat jobs available to women at that time. If learning how to fly a helicopter would be the only way Duckworth would get onto the battlefield, then dammit she was going to do it. That’s the sort of determination she had to serve our country.
In 2004, she finally got the call when she was deployed to Iraq.
Unfortunately, Duckworth’s time in Iraq came to an end when her UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by an RPG in November of that year. Here’s the harrowing description of that attack, taken from The Daily Herald:
“We were almost home,” Duckworth said.
Their sister helicopter was flying to Duckworth’s right. On that second helicopter, Spc. Matt Backues was manning the machine gun on the left side.
He saw a trail of smoke rising from the trees toward Duckworth’s helicopter.
It was a rocket-propelled grenade.
Backues saw the bottom of the right side of her cockpit explode.
On board, the impact was devastating.
“We were approximately 15 miles northeast of Taji airfield, when I heard what I recognized as gunfire underneath my aircraft,” Milberg wrote in an account two days later. “It sounded like three rounds and I thought that I felt the impact from the gunfire. I immediately heard an explosion come from the right side of the cockpit. I felt heat and small particles of debris on my face.”
Duckworth’s right leg was gone in an instant, shredded in a flash of heat and a spray of shrapnel from a grenade. Her left leg was terribly injured, and her right arm was nearly severed.
The blast blew out the clear bubble at the bottom of the cockpit, destroyed the window above her head and severely damaged the helicopter’s flight system stored behind her seat.
Hannemann could tell Duckworth was hurt, and he didn’t know if anyone was still flying the helicopter.
Duckworth was trying.
She said she frantically tried to pull on the controls. She thinks she went in and out of consciousness, unaware she had lost her legs because she could still feel them. She tried to push on the pedals even though the sophisticated controls used to fly the 5-ton helicopter had failed. She tried to pull on the stick, which likely was no longer connected.
The crew members could not speak to or hear one another.
Duckworth didn’t realize that just to her left, Milberg was still flying the helicopter. Fighting for control using the cyclic, the control stick that governs pitch and direction, Milberg at first saw nowhere to land.
Sadly, the attack resulted in the loss of both of Duckworth’s legs and severe injuries to her arm. Fortunately, though, doctors were able to put her arm back in place despite it nearly being severed in the attack. Duckworth received the Purple Heart later that year and continued to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel until 2014.
Yeah, that’s right. Not even losing both her damn legs stopped her from continuing to serve for another decade.
Since that devastating crash, Duckworth has also served on both the Illinois and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and will now serve in the Senate come January. Incredibly, she has also regained her ability to walk with the help of prosthetic legs. At every step along the way, she has fought hard for the care and benefits our veterans deserve, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the Senate.
Despite all the adversity she has faced in her life, Duckworth continues to persevere and excel at whatever she does. I am from Illinois, and I could not be more proud that my fellow citizens and I are being represented in the Senate by a badass, decorated, Purple Heart veteran who is as dedicated to our country as Tammy Duckworth..