Disabled Iraq War veteran brings inspiration to Thais
A Thai-born Iraq War veteran from the United States recalled her experiences on the battlefield during a visit to give morale support to disabled children at Chiang Mai's Sri Sangwal School.
Major Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth's combat wounds in Iraq cost her both legs. She now spends her "new life" doing beneficial things for society.
At 8.30am yesterday, Duckworth along with officials from the US Consulate in Chiang Mai gave toys and study materials to 100 disabled students of Sri Sangwal School.
This was her first trip back to Thailand in 20 years.
Duckworth, who is also the director of the Illinois Veterans' Affairs Department, told the students about her experiences as a Thai-American woman who had served as a commissioned officer in the US Army Reserve in 1992, and chose to fly helicopters.
She served in Iraq by supporting a 500-strong special army unit's operations and flew more than 200 sorties in a Black Hawk helicopter.
Duckworth lost both of her legs on November 12, 2004, when the Black Hawk she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents.
Fitted for prosthetics, she said that after losing both her legs and being disabled for two years until she could walk again, someone advised her that she could still do worthwhile things for society and become a good example to other disabled people
The former pilot also revealed her plans to fly helicopters again, but that would take three years because she would have to take a flight course under the same conditions as able-bodied students.
She said the best "spirit-uplift" was to think of her comrades, because being unconscious after the Black Hawk was downed she was presumed dead - but they risked their lives to carry her out and saved her life.
Since then, Duckworth told herself not to dwell on negative thoughts because she did not want to throw away the life that had been saved by her comrades.
Duckworth said that the US was not much more advanced than Thailand in regards to disabled people, as the US had only passed a law to have facilities for disabled persons a decade ago.
Thailand still had opportunities to improve the lives of the disabled and engage them as active members of society and urged the physically-challenged to fight for their rights.
As for Thai politics and the ongoing protests, Duckworth said demonstrations were part of democracy and a chance for people to voice their opinions and would strengthen the society.
She also said Thai people were lucky to have His Majesty the King who was very kind and loving and let them have the freedom to speak and do what they wanted.
Duckworth was born on March 12, 1968, in Bangkok and is the daughter of Frank L Duckworth, a marine who served in World War II and the Vietnam War, and Thai mother Lamai Sompornpairin.
Her family moved around Southeast Asia when she was young due to her father's work with the United Nations.
She graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, and received a Master of Arts in international affairs from George Washington University. She is working towards a PhD in political science at Northern Illinois University.
Duckworth ran for the US House of Representatives but lost by 2 per cent of the vote in the 2006 House election.
Following her battlefield injuries, Duckworth received a Purple Heart, an Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal in December 2004.
After service in Iraq, Duckworth embraced an active public role and regularly speaks to other war veterans and campaigns for better care on their behalf.