L. Tammy Duckworth

2011 Distinguished Alumni Award

BA in political science, 1989, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
MA in international affairs, The George Washington University

A major in the Illinois Army National Guard, L. Tammy Duckworth served in Iraq as an assistant operations officer and also flew combat missions as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. During a mission north of Baghdad in 2004, her aircraft was ambushed and a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter she was co-piloting. She continued to attempt to pilot the aircraft until passing out from blood loss. As a result of the attack, Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of one arm. She received many decorations for her actions, including the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

Since her recovery at Walter Reed, Duckworth has dedicated her life to public service, advocating on behalf of disability rights and veterans. She testified several times before Congress regarding medical care and employment for veterans. In 2006, Duckworth ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, losing by less than two percent of the vote. In 2007, she received the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award and was named the 2008 Disabled Veteran of the Year by the Disabled American Veterans. In 2008, she was selected by Candidate Obama to deliver the presidential campaign’s key address on veterans’ rights at the Democratic National Convention. In 2009, she was named as an American Veterans (AMVETS) Silver Helmet award recipient as well as The George Washington University’s Colin Powell Public Service Award Recipient.

Duckworth served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs from 2006-2008. Prior to her deployment to Iraq, Duckworth worked as a manager for Rotary International, supervising employees in Tokyo, New Delhi, Sydney, Seoul and Chicago. She speaks fluent Thai and Indonesian and is a published author on the health risks of environmental radon and lung cancer. She has declined her Army medical retirement to continue her service in the National Guard. In 2008 and 2009, she completed the Chicago Marathon, fulfilling a promise made at Walter Reed. She has also resumed flying as a civilian pilot.