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Duckworth has power of patriotism in mind
By Corrinne Hess | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/17/2007 6:01 AM

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Standing on artificial legs Sunday in a Mundelein hotel, Tammy Duckworth told a crowd of cheering Democrats the most patriotic thing Americans can do is question authority.

"When you join the military, you give up your right of freedom of speech," Duckworth said. "That does not mean the rest of us should not question."

Duckworth, 39, addressed about 200 people at the Crowne Plaza Hotel during the Lake County Democratic Women's Sixth Power Luncheon.

Duckworth said questioning a person's patriotism because they don't agree with decisions being made is the cheapest of all shots, and a tactic used to distract from the real issues.

One of the issues currently consuming Duckworth both personally and in her capacity as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs is how the federal government will pay for it's obligation to veterans.

"After every war, there are great promises to veterans," she said. "Five to 10 years later, we forget and start with the cuts."

Duckworth said the uncertainty facing veterans is a reflection on the Bush administration's lack of planning for the war.

"Afghanistan is where I wish we would have focused our full might of the military. Iraq was a mistake," she said. "But we are beyond that discussion. Now what are we going to do?"

To illustrate her point, Duckworth told the story of a 20œyear-old Navy corpsman who was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center at the same time she was in 2004.

After losing his right leg during a rescue, the man continued to crawl toward his unit to help them, Duckworth said.

"These are the men and women who are over there right now," she said.

As a combat pilot, Duckworth flew over 200 combat hours as a BlackHawk helicopter pilot before losing both of her legs during a November 2004 mission.

A rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents struck the cockpit of the helicopter Duckworth was co-piloting and exploded.

Her crew mistook her for dead, but hauled her body to a second BlackHawk and she awoke from unconsciousness eight days later at Walter Reed.

The following January, Duckworth was invited by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin to attend the State of the Union Address.

It was in Durbin's Washington D.C. office that Duckworth decided to run for the Illinois 6th congressional district.

Duckworth, a Democrat, was defeated by a 2 percent margin in November 2006 by Republican Peter Roskam.

"What's really interesting is I was a closet Democrat in the military -- no one ever outed me," Duckworth said. "I thought they would have figured it out at Walter Reed when I refused to let then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld into my room."

While the topic largely centered on the war Sunday, Duckworth's 45-minute visit to Mundelein was peppered with jokes.

When an audience member asked about her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, who is currently in Kuwait with the Illinois Army National Guard, Duckworth said she sends him the best care packages.

"Let me give you a little tip," she said. "Put everything you are going to send on a baking sheet and then in the oven at 120 degrees. If it can survive, go ahead and send it over there."