For those who don't know about Major Duckworth, her helicopter was shot down in Iraq (not "crashed" as the story states; shot down). She lost both of her legs and one of her arms. She ran for congress as a Democrat in Illinois, though she was defeated. She continues to work with the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Illinois. She was interviewed by News Week on her experiences as a recovering wounded soldier and her efforts with the VA.
NEWSWEEK: What kind of rehabilitation did you receive when you returned from Iraq?
Tammy Duckworth: I lived at Fisher House, at Walter Reed, from the end of February 2005, until December. It was a huge difference in the quality of my life and the quality of my family’s life on so many levels. It does that for all of the soldiers. One of the benefits of having a Fisher House on the campus of any of the Army medical centers is that they’re able to discharge you as an inpatient but you’re near enough that doctors feel OK about letting you go. It keeps you from having to stay in a hospital bed that whole time. If it wasn’t for Fisher House, I would have spent the last 13 months in a hospital bed and I would not have progressed as well as I did.
In a recent interview, she talked about realizing she could do anything after surviving the attack:
"I can do anything I want in my life," she says, "because I know ... until my last breath, I was trying to do my job as pilot, as a soldier, as an officer and I don't have to prove anything to anybody ever again. It's been very much a freeing experience to learn that when it got tough, I hung in there."
Duckworth, now 38, would need every ounce of grit during 13 months at Walter Reed, enduring dozens of surgeries, learning to walk with prosthetic legs.
She had her husband, a captain in the Guard, post a copy of The Soldier's Creed -- "I will never accept defeat, I will never quit" - on a wall across from her bed to serve as inspiration.
She was determined to be a model for other soldiers.
"I could be bone-tired and my husband would know that if he said to me, 'There's a new private in another room who's scared and needs somebody to come and talk to them,' he could get me out of bed," she says. "It's not anything heroic. ... If you sit around and feel sorry for yourself, then how do you expect an 18-year-old ... to get up and do what he needs to do if I don't set a good example?"
She's a real inspiration as a woman, a soldier and a human being.
The Chicago Tribune reports that her husband is going to Iraq with the Illinois National Guard.
While the reporter focuses on the difficulties she will face while her husband is gone and that her injuries were enough of a sacrifice, Duckworth doesn't whine.
It's Bryan's turn. He would not want someone to be deployed in his place," Duckworth told me Tuesday, seeking to head off any discussion that Bowlsbey remain behind because of her circumstances.
"It's not anything we can't overcome," she said.
But that doesn't mean the couple haven't started discussing the special preparations they'll need to make before he departs: everything from moving the heavy mixing bowl and pans to the lower kitchen shelves so she can more easily reach them to building another wheelchair ramp in the garage because he won't be around to shovel the snow off the other one.
"It's a lot of little things you don't really think about at first," Duckworth said, noting how it's usually her husband who picks up the dry cleaning and fuels her pickup truck because those tasks are difficult for her in a wheelchair.
"We'll just deal with it, I guess," said Duckworth, insisting, "all of our Guard families have to go through this."
Even though Duckworth ran on the Democrat ticket and opposed the President's policies on Iraq, she still said in the interview:
Duckworth, who has remained in the National Guard and continued to train during her recovery, told me during her unsuccessful campaign for Congress last year that she would go back to Iraq if called upon -- even though she had called the war a "mistake" and criticized President Bush's handling of it.
"I would go again, yeah," she reiterated Tuesday, but noted that her prosthesis is not in any condition for her to take on such an assignment.
From all past stories, I believe it.
Goodluck Major Bowlesby.