In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Duckworth as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2012, she was elected to Congress, representing Illinois’ 8th District, making her the first differently-abled woman ever to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Four years later, she was elected a U.S. senator, thereby becoming the first differently-abled woman and the second Asian-American woman in the Senate. In April 2018, Duckworth became the first female senator to give birth while holding office.
While attending Northern Illinois University for a Ph.D. in political science, Duckworth enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with the Illinois Army National Guard. Trained as a Blackhawk pilot, Duckworth left NIU in 2004 to Iraq. There, Duckworth flew Operation Iraqi Freedom combat missions until her helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in the autumn of 2004. The explosion took both of Duckworth’s legs and robbed her of full function in her right arm. Still believing in the worthiness of her mission amid questions of whether she felt her sacrifice was for naught, Duckworth responded, “I was hurt in service for my country. I was proud to go. It was my duty as a soldier to go. And I would go tomorrow.” For her bravery and service, she was promoted to major and awarded the Purple Heart.
A third culture child, Duckworth grew up in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, and Hawaii.