One very determined woman
Describes Iraqi war veteran Tammy Duckworth-
CHICAGO -- Tammy Duckworth’s last thoughts when a rocket-propelled grenade tore into the cockpit of her Black Hawk helicopter were: 1. Stay awake, and 2. Fight like hell to get the crew on the ground.Some thing tells me that Ms. Duckworth will be successful in her drive to pilot again. Thank you for serving our country Tammy. Good luck and God bless.
Ten days after the insurgent attack in Iraq, Duckworth woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Her right leg and most of her left leg were gone, her right arm was shattered. And she was convinced she’d failed as a co-pilot.
“I was just in the depths of despair,” she says. “I thought I deserved to lose my legs because when push came to shove, I didn’t do my job.” But her husband, Bryan, showed her a picture of the helicopter. She learned her co-pilot was already at the controls and had landed the chopper. Everyone survived.
For Duckworth, an Illinois Army National Guard pilot, it was an enormous relief and a turning point.
“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 and 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?”
Duckworth’s dramatic story attracted the attention of some Democratic political heavyweights in Illinois who recruited her to run for Congress this fall. She was narrowly defeated, but hasn’t ruled out another bid for office; she has been appointed to direct the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Duckworth recently celebrated the second anniversary of her “Alive Day” — her name for Nov. 12, 2004, when she defied death. Now a major in the Guard, she’s itching to get back to the sky as a pilot.
“I want to do everything that I can to regain what I had as best I can or at least give it a shot,” she says. “I just don’t want to be 10 years down the road looking back thinking I could have flown after all. ... If I don’t make it, that’ll be OK. It’s not even trying that I’m not willing to live with.”
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