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AA&PI combat veteran is role model for perseverance

USACE Sacramento District
Published May 10, 2021
Updated: May 10, 2021
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One of the more recognizable Asian-American and Pacific Islanders with a proud history of contributions to the United States is Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois). Duckworth’s journey to Congress includes being called to active duty in support of Operation Iraqi freedom in 2004, where the Blackhawk helicopter she piloted was struck by a rocket propelled grenade.

Asian-American and Pacific Islanders include persons with origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, South Asia, or the Pacific Islands. This area includes, China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Samoa; and in South Asia, includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Fiji, Guam, and the U.S. Trust Territories of the Pacific or the Northern Marianas.

With such an expansive group, contributions from Asian-American and Pacific Islanders are as diverse as the people themselves. From Medal of Honor recipients and generals to astronauts, engineers, and members of Congress.

Today, one of the more recognizable Asian-American and Pacific Islanders with a proud history of contributions to the United States is Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois).

Ladda Tammy Duckworth was born on March 12, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand, to a mother of Chinese heritage and an American father. The family moved to Hawaii when she was a teenager, and Duckworth began to work her way up the academic ranks. She received an undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii in 1989, her Master of Arts degree from George Washington in 1992, and then enrolled in a political science Ph.D. program at Northern Illinois University. At this same time, Duckworth had also risen to the rank of Major with the Illinois Army National Guard.

Her education was interrupted in 2004 when she was called to active duty in support of Operation Iraqi freedom. Unfortunately, while flying a combat mission just outside of Baghdad, the Blackhawk helicopter she piloted was struck by a rocket propelled grenade. Duckworth lost both of her legs in the attack and would regain only partial use of her right arm.

Following a year of grueling recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and despite the loss of her legs, Duckworth remained driven, setting a sterling example for disabled veterans. She became a passionate activist, advocating for better medical care for wounded veterans and their families.

In 2006, as she continued to recover from her wounds, Duckworth went on to take an appointment as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and in 2009 was appointed by President Barack Obama to be the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Duckworth won a seat in Congress in 2012 representing Illinois. In doing so, she became the first Asian-American from Illinois in Congress, the first member of Congress born in Thailand, and the first disabled woman ever elected to Congress.

Adding further to her amazing list of accomplishments, Duckworth was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, becoming just the second female Asian American to win a seat (Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was first, and California's Kamala Harris would soon follow as the third – all Asian American & Pacific Islanders).

For more about Asian American & Pacific Islanders in United States Military History check out this informative video