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Transcript: Tammy Duckworth on leadership

Tammy Duckworth
L. Tammy Duckworth is Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs and an Iraq war veteran. She talks about the ban on women in combat, the 'warrior ethos' and her work on behalf of veterans.

Let's get over this discussion of whether or not women should be in combat, we already are. We are already leading, we are already dying, we are already defending liberty, we are already fighting for freedom

I'm Tammy Duckworth, I am Assistant Secretary of Veteran's Affairs and I'm also an Iraq war veteran.

In 2004, the Black Hawk helicopter Duckworth was flying in Iraq was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. She spent 13 months recovering in Walter Reed.

I think the biggest lesson I learned as a leader in the military was to just get over myself. I was a platoon leader flying Hueys, this was back quite a few years ago. I was cold, and it was Chicago in the middle of winter, and I decided I would have hot chocolate out for the pilots and the men in my unit. And at the time I was the only woman in my unit, while the other platoon leaders made fun of me and called me the mommy platoon leader for having hot cocoa out. And I accepted that criticism, that remark, in the way that it was intended, as something negative, that I was being a mommy and that I wasn't being tough and hardcore.

You know what, the ability of my men to get my mission's off on time dropped because they were cold. I had actually gotten an improvement because they were drinking warm hot chocolate, and they had coffee, and they were actually operating better. And when I took away that hot chocolate, we were slower to get started and it actually affected my mission readiness and that's when I realized -- I need to get over my own hang-up about being the mommy platoon leader and just have the darn hot chocolate out there because my men were able to get off on missions faster with it than without it.

Being a leader is identifying who you are, bringing your strengths, but also identifying the strengths of the people that you're working with and really building on that and pulling together a team. And just forgetting about what other people are saying about how you should be and how you're supposed to be, just bring your own strengths to it. And if that strength is hot chocolate, then bring that strength.

"I will never leave a fallen comrade behind."

The Soldier's Creed is a series of statements that define who I am as a soldier and it was something that I had printed out and hung up on my wall in my hospital room and I looked up and read the lines of the soldier's creed over and over again for strength on the days when I didn't think I would make it. The key part of the soldier's creed is a component called the "warrior ethos." And the warrior ethos is just four lines, it says:

"I will always place the mission first, I will never quit, I will never accept defeat, and I will never leave a fallen comrade behind."

Those four things really meant a lot to me.

When I was injured and I woke up at Walter Reed, a lot of times in those early days when people came into my room I could tell they felt sorry for me. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me, I wanted people to know that in that room was an American soldier. And I was proud to be where I was, I had not wanted to get blown up, but I earned my wounds. I wasn't someone to be pitied, so I asked to have the soldier's creed posted on the outside of the door to my hospital room because I wanted people coming in that room to know this is an American soldier. It helped me get through day to day because it reminded me why I was in that room.

And now never leaving a fallen comrade behind means even more because for me, at Walter Reed, I was the fallen comrade that my buddies refused to leave behind, but now I get to be at VA and my job is to make sure that we don't ever leave any veteran behind. So that same soldier's creed hangs right over my desk and I look up at it. It's actually right next to the window that looks over the White House and so I have double motivation now.

In the federal government setting I find that in order to be a leader I have to work a lot more on consensus building. I think the most frustrating part about leading in a bureaucracy, in the federal government, is just how long it takes to get things done. I talk all the time about, "Boy, if this was the Army, we would have done this or that."

There are more steps in federal government, there are more rules and regulations. Things that I thought would take a few months have taken now 10 months, but we are making progress. We are moving the ball forward.

On women in combat

I think that America doesn't understand the ban on women in combat. The fact of the matter is it's a dead issue. Women are already in combat, I'm pretty sure I was in combat when I got hit with a rocket-propelled grenade. I have a Combat Action Badge, the reality of the facts on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are that women are in combat. Women have served as drivers going back to World War II and yet the most dangerous job you could do in Iraq, especially the first years of the war, was to be a driver in a convoy where you were hitting improvised explosive devices.

So let's get over this discussion of whether or not women should be in combat, we already are. We are already leading, we are already dying, we are already defending liberty, we are already fighting for freedom, and let's focus on what do we need to do to build the best leaders, what do we need to do to build the best military. We have in the military so many ways for women to advance and achieve and demonstrate their abilities that I think really sets the standard and shows to the rest of our society what women can truly do.

Transcribed and lightly edited by Fahima Haque.


By Federal Eye reporter Ed O'Keefe: 'Duckworth on her new role'

By On Leadership video transcripts

 |  April 13, 2010; 2:34 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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First I'd like to reply to Dave19. I believe (and I would say many people my age and younger do as well) that if men and women enjoy equally the privileges of US citizenship, then they are equally obligated to serve when their country needs them. I will go further and say that whatever a woman is qualified to do--and what her country needs her to do--then that's what she should do. Period. End of discussion.

For the COs, they should be obliged to perform alternative service, like they do in Germany and some other countries.

Secondly, as a retired vet, I would like to say that Ms. Duckworth is not only a hero, but a role model for military women. I wish I had known someone like her when I was still on active duty--she is truly inspirational. As a matter of fact, if I had the chance to meet anybody from the current administration, I would want to meet her, and I'd consider that to be a real honor.

Posted by: kroshka | April 18, 2010 8:28 PM
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Thank you Assistant Secretary Duckworth for your honorable service to our country.

Posted by: kbinmd | April 15, 2010 1:29 PM
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There is still one huge unanswered question when it comes to matters of women in the US military and war. IF we assume that a Draft will NEVER be needed because no war we face will need more than than the number of volunteers willing to die for their country, ok, the current ambiguous status of women in ambiguous insurgencies and counterinsurgent wars is tolerable.

But if we face a major war, and in particular a conventional war - which might involve North Korea or China - will women be drafted against their will, or not. Just like men are?
And will they be involuntarily assigned to combat units that they are currently excluded from, infantry, airborne etc?

Posted by: dave19 | April 15, 2010 11:15 AM
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Hello, my name is Josh Basara and I work at Capella University.

Recently, Major Duckworth provided the keynote address during Capella University’s commencement in Phoenix. In her speech, she challenged the new graduates to take on a public service role in some way that is unique to their own skills, interests, and abilities. Many of the leadership qualities and characteristics she describes above were echoed during that speech. Capella University’s School of Public Service Leadership enables its students to meet this public service challenge by providing education to become the best leaders they can be.

I invite you to visit the school for more information: www.capella.edu/publicservice/index.asp

Posted by: joshuabasara | April 14, 2010 5:30 PM
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