Today, Tammy Duckworth is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a candidate for the Senate.
Eleven years ago, she was an Army soldier flying Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq.
On the day after Veterans Day 2004, a grenadestruck her helicopter. The blast destroyed her legs and severely damaged an arm. Those injuries and her experience as a soldier made her want to become involved in politics, she says.
“So I got this second chance at life, and I see my time now as a bonus. And that’s really allowed me to speak up without fear. And stand up for what I believe in – for what we all believe in. After all, what are the folks who don’t agree with me and my political adversariesgoing to do – blow me up?”
Duckworth is part of a small but growing force in U.S. politics: veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress includes 25 lawmakers out of 535 who are veterans of America’s two most recent wars.
In the history of veterans in Congress, that number is both small and large. In 1971, veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War made up over 70 percent of Congress.
Since then, the overall number of veterans in Congress has declined.
One reason is that a lower percentage of Americans – only about 2 percent -- serve in the military. In addition, most American voters no longer consider military service to be a requirement to hold elected office.
But soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly running for office and winning seats. They include four female veterans. Among them is Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
“And I stand here before you today because my buddies didn’t leave me behind. They literally lifted me up and carried me off the battlefield and saved my life. After everything they did to save me, I really feel that I owe them.”
Vets in Congress
Congress has the highest number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to serve in national office, says the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Matt Miller is the chief policy officer for the organization, as well as a veteran himself. Miller says veterans want to bring some of the leadership and cooperation skills they learned in the military to politics.
But he notes that military culture is not partisan– in other words, soldiers do not usually express a strong political point of view.
“The only left and right in the military is the person to your left and right. And that all that you hope for, that when light turns green, and there’s action that needs to be taken, that they have your back.”
Miller says that veterans who become politicians are concerned about soldiers after they return from service. He says top issues include veterans’ health and benefits, and the ability for veterans to continue their education.
They also advise the president and military leaders on conflicts, including those in Syria and Afghanistan.
“What I think they’re advocating for is getting the job done. And whatever that takes in getting the job done with the best-trained, best-equipped military possible. So I think that is where their heart would lie.”
For example, Miller says, leaving U.S. troops in Afghanistan longer allows the military to “get the job done.”
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Words in This Story
grenade – n.a small bomb
adversaries- n. enemies or opponents
buddies– n.people who do some activity with you
partisan– adj.strongly supporting one leader, group, or cause over another