CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, former assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a candidate for Congress in Illinois, addressed the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. Following are her remarks as prepared for delivery.
My name is Tammy Duckworth. I’m running to serve Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. My father served in the Army and the Marine Corps. A Vietnam vet, his family has worn our nation’s uniform since the American Revolution. My husband is an Army officer. My brother saved lives in the Coast Guard. My mom is Thai and Chinese. She proudly became a citizen in her fifties.
Dad’s work took us all over the world until he lost his job. It was a tough time. We used up our savings, moved into a studio apartment. But our family did the responsible thing and rolled up our sleeves. Mom took in sewing.
My 55-year-old dad tried to find work. But at 15, I was the only one with a job — after school, for minimum wage. Thank God for the food stamps, public education and Pell grants that helped me finish high school and college.
In time, we pulled through. With this start, I was able to earn my own commission as an Army officer. I became an assault helicopter pilot, working my way up to command a Blackhawk helicopter company. In 2003, my National Guard unit was mobilized, and I became one of the first Army women to fly combat missions in Iraq.
Almost a year into my tour I was wounded, and recovered at Walter Reed with other wounded warriors. Some of us had obvious injuries. Others had scars on the inside that were less visible, but no less real.
At the hospital, I realized my new responsibility: to honor the buddies who saved me by serving our military men and women. I became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. We led the nation in screening for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, and we created a tax credit for Illinois businesses that hire veterans.
Then President Obama asked me to help keep our sacred trust with veterans of all eras at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We worked to end the outrage of vets having to sleep on the same streets they once defended. We improved services for female veterans. I reached out to young vets by creating the Office for Online Communications.
Barack Obama has also lived up to his responsibilities as commander-in-chief, ending the war in Iraq, refocusing on Afghanistan and eradicating terrorist leaders, including bin Laden.
President Obama pushed for fairness in the military, listening to commanders as we ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and on how to allow women to officially serve in more combat jobs — because America’s daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons.
When it comes to our men and women in harm’s way, we have a clear choice on Nov. 6. Last week, Mitt Romney had a chance to show his support for the brave men and women he is seeking to command. But he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word “Afghanistan.”
Barack Obama will never ignore our troops. He will fight for them. That’s why he is my choice on Nov. 6. My choice is to do what my family did when times were hard: roll up our sleeves and get to work. My choice is to do what my crew did for me in a dusty field in Iraq.
On Nov. 12, 2004, I was co-piloting my Blackhawk north of Baghdad when we started taking enemy fire. A rocket-propelled grenade hit our helicopter, exploding in my lap, ripping off one leg, crushing the other and tearing my right arm apart. But I kept trying to fly until I passed out.
In that moment, my survival and the survival of my entire crew depended on all of us pulling together. And even though they were wounded themselves and insurgents were nearby, they refused to leave a fallen comrade behind. Their heroism is why I’m alive today.
Ultimately, that’s what this election is about. Yes, it’s about the issues that matter to us: building an economy that will create jobs here at home and out-compete countries around the world. But it’s also about something else. It’s about whether we will do for our fellow Americans what my crew did for me; whether we’ll look out for the hardest hit and the disabled; whether we’ll pull together in a time of need; whether we’ll refuse to give up until the job is done.
So let’s finish what we started. Let’s keep moving forward with Barack Obama. Let’s do what this country has always done: look adversity in the eye and work together to overcome it. God bless our military and their families, and God bless America.