Tammy Duckworth: Military Leader, U.S. Senator, Activist, Mom and Amputee

“Illinois Senator Ladda Tammy Duckworth owns a great pair of legs. They’re painstakingly painted by an artist to match the skin tone of her arm—and the second toe on one foot is longer than the first, just like her own used to be. But Duckworth can’t stand them. ‘When I see myself wearing those legs in a mirror, I see loss. But when I see this’—she gestures toward the steel-and-titanium prosthesis attached to her thigh above her right knee—’I see strength. I see a reminder of where I am now.” R. Johnson, Vogue

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post  with Answer Key

U.S. congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Photo- WorldEcomonicForumjpeg

Excerpt: Senator Tammy Duckworth on the Attack that Took Her Legs—and Having a Baby at 50-Rebecca Johnson, Vogue Magazine, October, 2018

“Same thing with her wheelchair. “People always want me to hide it in pictures. I say no! I earned this wheelchair. It’s no different from a medal I wear on my chest. Why would I hide it?’

Women can be mothers and productive members of society simultaneously, if given the opportunity. NBCNews

She is sitting in the chair, a souped-up Segway that she received from a veterans’ group, in a small office close to the floor of the U.S. Senate… There are so many firsts attached to Tammy Duckworth—she’s the Senate’s first member to give birth while in office, its first member born in Thailand (to an American father and a Thai mother of Chinese descent), and, of course, its first female amputee.

It’s that last distinction that tends to overwhelm all the others. As a wounded veteran with a Purple Heart, she has introduced or cosponsored bills protecting the rights of veterans—and she’s been fearless in confronting the president over military and foreign affairs.

Last January, when [Trump] accused the Democrats of holding the military hostage over immigration, it was Duckworth who took to the Senate floor, declaring in a now-historic speech, ‘I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger.’

Vice President Joe Biden administers the Senate oath of office to Sen. Tammy Duckworth-Photo- Chicago Sun-Times

When I started to ask Duckworth a question about the accident that took her legs, she quickly corrected me. ‘It wasn’t an accident; those suckers were trying to kill me.’ Of course! I apologized, but she told me not to worry. It happens all the time. While she was sedated at Walter Reed hospital, fighting for her life, the doctors and nurses around her also kept referring to ‘the helicopter accident.’ But she was sure they’d been attacked. She was the senior officer onboard that day; if it was an accident, it was her fault…Training to become a helicopter pilot, Duckworth, the only woman in her class, knew the risks going in. When helicopters are hit, there’s no ejecting to safety…’I am no hero,’ she says.

Duckworth flew Black Hawks to serve her country. Photo- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

‘The guy who carried me out of there? He’s the hero.’ It’s been fourteen years since the attack, but even now, when she talks about it, there’s a catch in her throat that’s contagious. If it had been Vietnam or any other American war, she would have died, but within 20 minutes she’d arrived at the combat hospital in Baghdad, well within the so-called golden hour when surgeons can save a life…One day, a call came to Walter Reed from Illinois senator Dick Durbin, asking if there were any wounded veterans from his state who would like to attend the State of the Union. Duckworth volunteered. That night Durbin shook her hand, gave her his card, and said she should call if she needed anything.

So she did. Not for herself but for other veterans who needed things, like missing pension payments. Durbin was impressed by her tenacity but also by the way she carried herself. ‘I couldn’t believe what a positive attitude she had.’ A few months later, when Illinois’s longtime congressman Henry Hyde announced he was retiring, Durbin asked her to consider running…’I remember thinking maybe this could be my new mission,’ Duckworth says. ‘I always wanted to help vets, and this could just be widening that field.’

In the Hollywood version of Duckworth’s life, she would have won that first race. She did not… Six years later, she ran again and won. Four years later, she ran against the Republican who had won Barack Obama’s old seat in the Senate and won that race too. When she took the oath of office, Durbin says, there wasn’t a dry eye in the chamber…The arrival of Maile has made Duckworth a celebrity in the Senate. ‘How is that baby?’ asks Senator Dianne Feinstein as Duckworth rolls into an elevator following a vote on the Senate floor.

President Barack Obama introduces Senator Tammy Duckworth. Youtube December 17, 2014

Last spring, Duckworth introduced the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act, to compel large and medium airports applying for a grant from the Department of Transportation to include a lactation area on-site. She was also responsible for getting the Senate to pass a resolution allowing children under the age of one onto the Senate floor…’I am overwhelmed. Who isn’t? The average American mom is tired. So many of us are numb from the trauma of having a president who acts the way he does.’But when you’re in a position to make a difference, it’s hard to stay home watching, say, immigrants being separated from their children, especially if you are the child of an immigrant.

So she’s gearing up for fresh battles over immigration, over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court (she’ll vote no).

‘So it doesn’t matter if I am tired,’ she tells me. ‘I am going to show up every day and fight. If that means I have to crawl to get a vote, I am going to do it.’ Pragmatic, economical, and hopeful. What more could you want in a politician?”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about Senator Tammy Duckworth. Next, have students look at the pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article.  Regroup as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

Colorful Brainstorming chart from Live It Magazine.


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Her legs are painstakingly painted by an artist.
  2. A steel-and-titanium prosthesis is attached to her thigh.
  3. Duckworth is the first female amputee.
  4. Senator Duckworth called Trump a five- deferment draft dodger.
  5. When helicopters are hit, there’s no ejecting to safety.
  6. Tammy, then in high school, took a series of low-paying jobs to keep the family afloat.
  7. Duckworth volunteered to help veterans.
  8. Durbin was impressed by her tenacity.
  9. She’s gearing up for fresh battles over immigration.
  10. Senator Duckworth is described as being pragmatic, economical, and hopeful

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

On ___12, 2004, then-36-year-old ___Tammy Duckworth was flying a ___to her base in Iraq, some 50 miles north of___. The___had been___, a grocery run, as she later ___it, though nothing about that time or place was routine.Attacks on the___were so___, its residents had nicknamed it ‘Mortaritaville.’

WORD LIST: common, November, base, mission, described, routine,Captain, Baghdad, Black Hawk,

Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. Hawks travel in pairs, and a second helicopter had landed nearby.
  2. She might be military, but she leaned liberal.
  3. I was so lucky my parents was married and I had an American passport.



  1. Attacks on the base was common.
  2. She and her three crew members were lucky.
  3. Her copilot  assumed she was dead.



  1. “I am no hero,” she says.
  2. A few days after that, she were at Walter Reed Hospital.
  3. Duckworth would have made an appealing poster girl.


III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?


Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

  1. Do you think Senator Duckworth is brave? Explain why.
  2. Do you think that Senator Duckworth should run for president  in 2020? Explain why or why not.
  3. Can you name other women in politics who are also have young children?
  4. As a group think of several questions that you would like to ask Senator Duckworth. Share your questions with the class.


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.