In the debate over who former Vice President Joe Biden should pick to be his running mate, a new name has begun to gain traction: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Becoming the first female vice president would add to Duckworth’s long list of historic accomplishments, which includes being the first Thai American woman elected to Congress.
Before becoming a member of Congress, Duckworth served in the United States Army and fought in the Iraq War that began in 2003. As a helicopter pilot, she lost both of her legs when her helicopter was struck by enemy fire. Despite receiving the Purple Heart for her service, Duckworth has recently come under fire from conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, who questioned her patriotism.
Tammy Duckworth’s early years
Ladda “Tammy” Duckworth, was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1968 and is the daughter of Franklin Duckworth, a US Marine veteran, and Lamai Sompornpairin, a native Thai. Her father served in the Marine Corps through World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Franklin also worked for the United Nations, which is how he came to live in Thailand. Once there, Franklin met Lamai. The couple had a daughter, Ladda, and a son, Tom, and lived among American communities across Southeast Asia before moving to Hawaii when “Tammy” was 16.
Duckworth attended college at the University of Hawaii, initially studying Marine Biology and International Relations. But, in Duckworth’s own words, “I did better in social science classes than biology, so I switched to political science.” Following graduation, she completed a Master of Arts in International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
In 1990, while at GWU, Duckworth signed up to the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and was commissioned to the Army Reserves in 1992. She rose through the ranks to become second lieutenant and earned her helicopter pilot’s license. It was through the ROTC that Duckworth met her future husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, with whom she now has two daughters.
Following the completion of her master’s degree, Duckworth transferred to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois to pursue a doctorate in Southeast Asia studies. However, before she could complete her dissertation, she was deployed into service.
Tammy Duckworth’s military career
Duckworth’s first deployment, in 1995, was in Egypt as part of Operation Bright Star, a NATO training exercise. Following the deactivation of her unit, she left the Army Reserve for the National Guard. During her time with the National Guard, from 1996 to 2003, she continued her flight training and earned the rank of Captain.
In the winter of 2003, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq and spent time in Balad, north of Baghdad. The first eight months of her time in the Iraq War went by “without incident.” Then came November 12, 2004.
Duckworth was co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter back to the Balad Air Base when they came under attack. The helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and took both of her legs and almost cost Duckworth her right arm. She lost half the blood in her body. Nonetheless, she was able to land the helicopter before ultimately passing out.
For her service, Duckworth received multiple military medals and commendations, including the Purple Heart, awarded to those who are injured in battle. In receiving the medal, Duckworth followed in her father’s footsteps, who earned a Purple Heart at Okinawa, Japan.
Tammy Duckworth’s political career
Duckworth spent a year recovering from her injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The time she spent there with other wounded soldiers led to her becoming the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affair in 2006.
In 2009, President Barack Obama selected her to be the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
In 2012, Duckworth took on Tea Party favorite Rep. Joe Walsh for a seat in the US House. She defeated Walsh to become the next Representative for the 8th District of Illinois. After serving two terms in the House, Duckworth proved to be one of the few bright spots for Democrats in 2016, defeating an incumbent Republican to become the junior senator for Illinois.
As a member of the Senate, Duckworth’s voting record has placed her in the center of the Democratic ideological spectrum, not as far left as Senator Kamala Harris, but not quite as centrist as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Duckworth has received a 100% rating from both the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood and a 0% rating from the conservative FreedomWorks advocacy group.
Duckworth entered the Senate the same year that Donald Trump began his presidency. She has voted against the president’s agenda nearly 75% of the time.
She has also sponsored six bills that have passed Congress, including the Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act of 2018, which “provide[s] access to and manage[s] the distribution of excess or surplus property to veteran-owned small businesses.”
As a member of Congress, Duckworth has accomplished multiple firsts. In addition to being the first Thai American member of Congress (and the first to be born in Thailand), she was also the first female amputee to serve in the governmental body. Additionally, in April 2018, at the age of 50, Duckworth became the first sitting senator to give birth.
Tucker Carlson versus Tammy Duckworth
Despite a career of milestones and civic service, Duckworth has earned the ire of conservatives for her liberal politics and her opposition to Trump. In 2018, she made headlines for “blasting” Trump as a “draft dodger” (Trump avoided Vietnam service through multiple medical deferments for alleged bone spurs).
Fox News host and vocal Trump supporter Tucker Carlson recently attacked Duckworth on his show. Carlson was angered by Duckworth’s response to a question about removing statues of historical figures who had owned slaves, including the first US president, George Washington.
“I think we should listen to everybody,” Duckworth had said. “I think we should listen to the argument there.”
Carlson unloaded on the senator during two successive episodes of Tucker Carlson Tonight on July 6 and 7, calling Duckworth a “callous hack,” a “coward,” a “moron,” and a “fraud.” Carlson added that Duckworth was a “deeply silly and unimpressive person” and openly questioned her patriotism, saying she “hates America.”
Following the Monday night episode, Duckworth responded on Twitter, writing “Does @TuckerCarlson want to walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America?”
In addition to Carlson’s attacks on the veteran’s patriotism, the Fox News host (who has not served in the military) was accused of trading in racial “nativism” for a caption that appeared on his Tuesday night show that read, “We have to fight to preserve our nation & heritage.” Atop the caption was an image of Duckworth and Somali-born House Rep. Ilhan Omar, another woman of color.
The attention brought by Carlson’s attacks have led some to suggest Duckworth may now be a front-runner to be Biden’s VP choice. Biden has vowed to pick a woman to be his running mate and many hope he will pick a woman of color.
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