On November 12th, 2004, Illinois Army National Guard Major Duckworth was piloting a Blackhawk over Iraq when it took Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fire.
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON (12/27/2004) — Army National Guard officer Ladda “Tammy” Duckworth did not give a room full of men, including a couple of generals and a legislator from her state of Illinois, any time to feel sorry for her when she was promoted to major on Dec. 21 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The lady in the wheelchair was too busy swapping stories about flying helicopters, asking about her outfit’s 300 or so Soldiers still serving in Iraq, and making her point that she plans to continue serving this country. There was no chance for anyone to lament the fact that most of her two legs are missing and that her severely damaged right arm was encased in a hinged splint.
“I hope this is the worst thing that happens to anyone in the 106th during this deployment,” the UH-60 Blackhawk pilot smiled warmly on the first day of winter. “This is not so bad. There is always somebody worse off than you are. I’m just glad it was me and not one of my guys out there.”
Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, and other leaders from the Army Guard’s Readiness Center in nearby Arlington, Va., were there. The adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Randal Thomas, and five other Guard members from Illinois were there. So was State Senator Chris Lauzen from Illinois’s 25th District.
They gathered in the afternoon, four days before Christmas, to surprise Duckworth with her promotion from captain to major and to present her with an Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal. She was presented a Purple Heart on Dec. 3.
Duckworth is a native of Hawaii, and her mother and father flew from their home in Pearl City to spend the holidays with her and her husband. Her brother and members of Bowlsbey’s family also visited.
Life for Maj. Tammy Duckworth, 36, and her husband, Illinois Army Guard Capt. Bryan Bowlsbey, has changed dramatically since the afternoon of Nov. 12. That’s when a rocket propelled grenade hit the chin bubble of the Blackhawk she was piloting in Iraq and exploded between her legs, according to the on-line journal her husband is writing.
Her copilot, from the Missouri Army Guard, landed the crippled Blackhawk before other crewmembers, air ambulance personnel and doctors began working feverishly to save her life, Bowlsbey stated. The helicopter’s crew chief, Spc. Kurt Hannemann, from Illinois was apparently hurt but “was listed as not seriously injured,” Illinois Guard officials reported.
Duckworth lost half of the blood in her body, said the woman who had served in Iraq with the Illinois Army Guard’s 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation, an assault helicopter unit, since last March. All three bones in her right arm were broken but have since been pinned and plated together.
Nearly all of her right leg has been amputated, and she has lost her left leg beneath the knee. Her left leg will be fitted with a prosthesis, and Duckworth is grasping at every hope that she can also be fitted with a right-leg prosthesis, her husband explained, so she can again fly helicopters or fixed-wing airplanes or at least remain in the Army Guard.
“Remaining a Soldier is her fall-back position,” her husband told a reporter while Duckworth talked and joked with her visitors. “She will try to fly Blackhawks with prostheses after a long recovery period. She will go before a medical review board in six months or a year. Their decision may depend on whether she can pass a physical fitness test.”
“It’s always a privilege to wear the uniform,” said Duckworth who has been assured she can return to her civilian job when she is able, her husband added. She is the manager of Rotary service clubs in the Asian-Pacific area for Rotary International.
Bowlsbey knows the drill because he is also an Army Guard officer, a captain and the commander of Charlie Company, 133rd Signal Battalion. He works fulltime for the Army ROTC program at Northern Illinois University, in De Kalb, where, coincidentally, Duckworth earned her commission in 1992.
She joined the Army Reserve and went to flight school and then joined the Illinois Army Guard in 1996, said her husband of more than 10 years. It is important for her to keep her wings.
No one was betting against the determined woman who had undergone surgery many times by Dec. 21 and who gave every impression of having come a long way in the 39 days since being shot down. She was still learning to maneuver her electrically powered wheelchair because it was only the third time she had been up from her bed since arriving at Walter Reed on Nov. 18.
“We’re so proud of one of our finest,” praised Lauzen. “My first priority is taking care of Soldiers who we are fortunate enough to have come home to us. I’m here to express the love, respect and appreciation of the people of Illinois.”
“She is a person of unusual strength and unusual courage and tremendous personal discipline,” said Lt. Gen. Schultz. “Just being around her gives you a sense of appreciation for the people who make our Army the organization that it is.”
Walter Reed is filled with patients and practitioners who accentuate the positive.
“The medical team here has done an incredible job of fixing Tammy so far,” Bowlsbey stated. “They did a miracle job of rebuilding her right arm. They reattached her triceps, and they rebuilt all three bones.”
Other patients are equally upbeat about their lot.
“I’m doing OK. This could be a lot worse,” North Carolina Army Guard Sgt. Dale Beatty, a double amputee, told LTG H Steven Blum who visited the medical center on Dec. 15. Beatty’s six-month-old son Lucas lay beside him on his bed.
Beatty, with a certain sense of pride, showed his visitors a photo of the Humvee in which he was riding when an antitank mine shredded the front of the vehicle and cost Beatty both legs beneath his knees. President George Bush pinned a Purple Heart to the left sleeve of Beatty’s T-shirt, bearing the slogan “Strong to the Finish,” on the same afternoon that Duckworth was promoted.
“We saw probably some of the most magnificent Citizen-Soldiers who have ever volunteered to answer the call to colors for this country,” said Blum after visiting Beatty and other Guard Soldiers. “They are battle wounded, some with life-altering wounds, but their spirit has not been broken. They still have the warrior ethos. They still live the Army values.”
That means, in the words of The Soldier’s Creed, ”I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.” It also means, as Soldiers frequently say, “driving on.”
“In the final analysis, from the time she swore the Oath of Enlistment, ... she has been honored to ‘obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over’ her,” wrote Bowlsbey in Web journal. “This applies to all lawful orders, and nothing can negate that obligation. She still does not regret that commitment. Tammy has rededicated herself to the mission, chosen some long and short-term goals, and is moving forward.”
If anyone knows of Tammy Duckworth's blog, please let me know.
Update: Chris posted the blog's url in the comments section (thanks, Chris!). However, Tammy's husband doesn't want the url posted on the main site of any blog so it'll remain in the comments.
I'll send him an email and ask him to reconsider.