- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rep. Tammy Duckworth was one of the first female Army helicopter pilots to fly combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and, after she lost both legs in a rocket-propelled grenade attack, she began a fight for veterans’ rights that’s taken her to the halls of Congress — and has earned her recognition as part of Women’s History Month.

The National Women's History Project has named Ms. Duckworth, Illinois Democrat, one of 12 honorees for this year’s theme: “celebrating women of courage, character and commitment.”

Ms. Duckworth, a freshman who won election in 2012, joins the ranks of other female pioneers in Congress who have been honored in previous Women’s History Months, including Rep. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress; Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman elected to the Senate; and Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a senator from New York.

“I’m incredibly honored because of the ability to join in the company of amazing women who have done really extraordinary things,” Ms. Duckworth said. “I’m proud of my service in the military, but I’m more proud that I get to be among some luminaries, folks who have broken through many frontiers.”

When she deployed in 2004, Ms. Duckworth became one of the first women to fly combat missions in Blackhawk helicopters during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She specifically choose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat jobs open to women at the time when she served in the Illinois National Guard.

She lost both legs and some use of her right arm when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. She was awarded a Purple Heart for the injuries she sustained in Iraq. While recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, she began advocating for her fellow veterans, testifying before Congress about care for wounded warriors.

She later served as the assistant secretary of veteran’s affairs, where she worked to fix issues faced by female and Native American veterans.

“The idea of courage being portrayed by a woman military veteran really resonated with me,” said Emily Dieker, a board member of the National Women's History Project who nominated Ms. Duckworth.

Ms. Duckworth and the 11 other honorees will be recognized at a reception March 27 at the Willard Hotel in Washington, said Molly MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of the National Women's History Project.

This year, the project received almost 60 nominations, Ms. MacGregor said. Decisions about who to honor are made solely based on the 500-word essay. Though Ms. Dieker had never met Ms. Duckworth, she found her story of continuing to help veterans after serving in combat and recovering from her injuries especially compelling.

“She not only recovered…now, she runs marathons, she skydives, that’s extraordinary,” Ms. Dieker said. “But she is also working to ensure all veterans can have a recovery like she did. I think that’s really powerful.”

Ms. Duckworth said she hopes to use her success to help other people, especially bringing more women to Congress. While some women choose to start their political career later in life after raising a family, Ms. Duckworth said mentors can still contact women earlier to show them what the job is like. She said she regularly reaches out to younger women, so that down the road, getting involved with politics is at least on their radar.

“Now that I’m here, I really feel that it’s my job to promote other women and promote other passionate people,” she said. “I’m just paying it forward for all the times people took a chance on me.”