Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Tammy Duckworth

May 9, 2022 / Mb Staffing

Tammy Duckworth is the first Thai American woman and the first woman with a disability to be elected to congress.

Born on March 12, 1968, Mrs. Duckworth was raised in Bangkok, Thailand to a Thai mother of Chinese descent and an American father who was a Vietnam veteran and U.S. Marine. Her father, Franklin, relocated his family to Singapore, Cambodia, and Vietnam in pursuit of well-paying jobs. Duckworth moved to Honolulu, Hawaii with her father and her younger brother to find any type of stability and income to buy a fourth ticket for her mother to visit. She was the hardest working 16-year-old, as she began to work a series of low-paying jobs to support her family who nearly struggled from homelessness. She spent long hours on Waikiki Beach after school handing out flyers, guiding tourists, and selling roses out of plastic buckets.

After graduating high school, Duckworth enrolled to the University of Hawaii. She continued working at low-paying jobs to support her college career and graduated with a B.A. in 1989. A year later, she studied International Affairs to pursue her M.A. at George Washington University. To save money as a graduate student, she joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) while at George Washington University. She enjoyed serving and was drawn to flying helicopters because it was the job that would allow her to get as close to combat as a woman possibly could in the 1990s. She finished as the best in her class with the highest test scores as the only woman in the helicopter training class.

Duckworth continued to rise through the military ranks after graduating with her M.A. in 1992. She met her husband while in the ROTC, Bryan Bowlsbey, where they moved to Illinois so she could start a Ph.D. in Political Science at Northern Illinois University. During her studies, she ranked as a Captain in the Illinois National Guard and was deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. She became one of the first handful of women to operate during fly combat missions in Iraq.

On November 12, 2004, Duckworth lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm when her Blackhawk helicopter was strike by an RBG. Duckworth was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. in a coma due to her injuries. During her recovery, she attended the State of the Union and began advocating for her fellow wounded warriors, in support of recovery, housing, or missing pension payments.

After her recovery, Duckworth became Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). She developed first-in-the-nation program to support veterans and wounded warriors. She was appointed by President Obama to be the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2009.

Duckworth served in the U.S. House of Representative for Illinois’s 8th District and continued her advocacy. She was elected to the Senate in 2016 and in 2018, she became the first Senator to give birth while serving in office. To her, her prosthetics are a symbol of strength and a “reminder of where I am now.” Now, she competes in marathons on a recumbent bike and spends her time with her two children and husband.