The New Team: Tammy Duckworth

The New York Times

November 28, 2008 – As he prepares to take office, President-elect Barack Obama is relying on a small team of advisers who will lead his transition operation and help choose the members of his administration. Following is part of a series of profiles of potential members of the administration.

Name: Tammy Duckworth

Being considered for: Secretary of veterans affairs (if she is not tapped by the governor of Illinois to replace Mr. Obama in the Senate seat he gave up).

Would bring to the job: Intensely personal experience as a disabled veteran of the Iraq war, where she lost her legs when the helicopter she was flying was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on Nov. 12, 2004. She became an advocate for veterans while still a patient at Walter Reed Medical Center, and she began speaking out – before Congress and later in an unsuccessful bid for Henry J. Hyde’s former seat in the House – about unmet needs regarding health care, employment and housing. Still a major in the Illinois National Guard, she has credibility with other service members (especially other Iraq veterans), whom she often refers to as “my buddies.” She has dealt with the nitty-gritty of a veterans affairs office – albeit on a far smaller scale than the federal agency – as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which claims more than $70 million in new initiatives during her nearly two years in the post.

Is linked to Mr. Obama by: The 2005 State of the Union address, which Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois invited her to attend as a veteran still recuperating in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. There, she says, she met Mr. Obama, who later visited her at the medical center and went on to support her unsuccessful 2006 campaign for Congress (as did Mr. Durbin and Rahm Emanuel, the representative who led the House Democrats’ fund-raising efforts that year and has been tapped to be Mr. Obama’s chief of staff).

In her own words: “I had my legs blown off in Iraq, and because I had my legs blown off in Iraq, people are listening to me. I’m not going to get my legs back, and that’s fine, but if that gives me a platform to talk about the things that are important to me, like education and jobs, that’s great.” (A 2005 interview in The New York Times)

Used to work as: A manager at Rotary International handling offices in Tokyo; Seoul, South Korea; New Delhi; and Sydney, Australia; and helping to open a Rotary club in Afghanistan. She also coordinated the Center for Nursing Research at Northern Illinois University. In 17 years of military service (in the Army Reserve and National Guard), she was deployed several times, including for humanitarian trips and training missions to Guyana, Iceland and Egypt.

Carries as baggage: At 40, Ms. Duckworth has never held elective office. And though she has testified repeatedly before Congress, she is virtually untested in Washington. Some suggest that her blunt support for veterans would be met with a tough, complicated reality of financial limits and the bureaucratic morass in the capital. The Department of Veterans Affairs is also a vast enterprise with enormous problems that will test the leadership, organizational and management skills of whoever gets the appointment.

Is otherwise known for: Despite using two artificial legs and, at times, a wheelchair, completing the Chicago marathon this fall on a hand-cranked bicycle (time: 2 hours, 26 minutes and 31 seconds). She is working on regaining her scuba certification. With a father of English descent (whose family has roots in this country since the American Revolution) and a mother who is ethnically Chinese, was born in Thailand and is an American citizen, Ms. Duckworth is fluent in Thai and Indonesian. She is returning to flying small aircraft (“I’m not going to let some dude in Iraq who got lucky with an RPG decide when I will stop flying”).

Résumé includes: Born in 1968 … grew up in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia and Hawaii, because of her father’s work with United Nations development programs and international corporations … bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii and a master’s in international affairs from George Washington University … was working toward a doctorate in political science at Northern Illinois University when she was sent to Iraq, and says she still plans to complete it … is married to Bryan Bowlsbey, a major in the Illinois Army National Guard who returned from a deployment to Kuwait earlier this year … they live in Hoffman Estates, a northwest suburb of Chicago.

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