Completing the Mission: An Interview with Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth

In 2004, Tammy Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. She was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by an RPG on 12 November 2004.

Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries. Following her recovery, Duckworth ran for Congress in 2006. After a narrow loss, she became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. In Illinois, she worked to create a tax credit for employers who hired veterans, established a first-in-the-nation 24/7 crisis hotline for veterans, and developed innovative programs to improve veterans’ access to housing and health care. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Duckworth to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs. At Veterans Affairs, Duckworth led an initiative to end homelessness among veterans. Duckworth ran for Congress in 2012 to advocate for the practical solutions and cooperation needed to rebuild our economy. She is now the U.S. representative from the 8th Congressional District of Illinois.

Bryan Jung is a second-year joint degree student at Harvard Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Before graduate school, he worked at the White House as director of special projects for Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president.

While in this capacity, he coordinated internal processes in the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and managed outreach to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Prior to that, he worked as the special assistant to Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council, to support the director and the economic policy development process. Jung has also worked on numerous political campaigns, Democratic conventions, and at the American Federation of Teachers. He received his bachelor of arts degree in politics and economics from Brandeis University.

Bryan Jung interviewed Tammy Duckworth on 28 February 2013.

AAPR

How has your diversity of experiences serving in the military, the Obama administration, and now Congress prepared you for your current role today, and what lessons are there for people trying to shape the arc of their own careers?

DUCKWORTH

The military gave me leadership skills. It taught me to stand up and express myself. It taught me, then, to defend what I think is the best solution. I can ask those tough questions in Washington, DC, on military that others aren’t able to ask. One of the things about being in the military is it’s all about the mission. It’s not about you or your personal ideologies; it’s about getting the mission done.

AAPR

What do you think are the key issues facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in your district and across the country? What do you think the key issues will be for next decade?

DUCKWORTH

It is crucial that we continue our economic recovery and create jobs for the 8th Congressional District and the Asian American community. Many hard-working Asian Americans own small businesses, and I will work with my colleagues in Washington to make sure that government is working with small businesses and not against them.

It is also important for the Asian American community that we move toward comprehensive immigration reform. We need a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants who are willing to take part in a rigorous citizenship process.

AAPR

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in public service?

DUCKWORTH

In 2006, I was sort of called out on it by Senator Dick Durbin and then-Senator Barack Obama. Senator Obama was on the Veterans Affairs Committee and called me to testify several times. Senator Durbin was working with constituents, and he called me, and Barack and I had been talking, and they said we think you should run for Congress.

I decided to run in 2012 because my congressman was bragging that he was going to shut down the government. I was at Veterans Affairs and I knew that a government shutdown would hurt the veterans I served. I ran to bring about common sense solution to our nation’s challenges.

AAPR

With a seat on the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, what issues are you looking forward to addressing?

DUCKWORTH

America faces serious national security challenges, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on Armed Services to keep America safe by continuing to have the strongest military in the world. As a combat veteran, I will also be a voice for the members of our military and their families.

My position on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will allow me to be a unique voice during these difficult fiscal times. We must provide accountability at the Pentagon and across government so that my constituents’ tax dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently. In order to create jobs and grow our economy it is necessary to reduce government waste so that we can cut the deficit, protect programs such as Medicare, and invest in the infrastructure projects that are badly needed in the 8th Congressional District.

AAPR

As a combat veteran and the first woman injured in combat to be elected to national office, can you describe your reaction to the Pentagon’s decision to give women the opportunity to serve in frontline combat?

DUCKWORTH

I applaud the decision by Secretary Leon Panetta to begin the process of lifting combat restrictions on women in the military. Throughout American history and in the last decade in particular, women have served in combat zones with distinction and honor. In fact, the Army has adopted the Combat Action Badge and given it to all troops who engage in combat, including women.

This decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the frontline to keep America safe. There has always been some level of opposition to increasing the diversity in our military whether it has been minorities or women. It is clear that the inclusion of groups like African Americans and Asians has made our military stronger. As a veteran who saw combat action, I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer and provide inspiration to women throughout our country.

AAPR

The recent string of gun violence these past several years has brought gun control back to the forefront of the policy debate. What are your thoughts on gun control?

DUCKWORTH

The recent tragedy in Connecticut and other tragedies throughout our country illustrate the need for reasonable bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I come from a family that owns firearms, and I fully respect the rights that the Second Amendment guarantees. It is time for reasonable, responsible gun ownership. It is time for members of both parties to come together and show the courage to enact policies that will protect our children.

AAPR

Many Asian American and Pacific Islanders still view a political career as nontraditional. Having run for Congress previously and having been elected this past cycle, what advice would you give to aspiring politicians or public policy makers?

DUCKWORTH

My advice would be to get involved. There are so many ways to get involved. There are so many members of the Asian American community who have so much to offer, and I am inspired that we have started to get involved in larger numbers. Whether it’s volunteering or running for office, Asian Americans have a great deal to offer our country.