Tarantino said he recognizes that the 16 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have wide-ranging political views. But at the end of the day, he said, their shared experiences make it more likely they’ll put political differences aside on issues like high unemployment and suicide rates among returning veterans, or in ensuring that veterans get a quality education through the post-9/11 GI bill.
Their election victories also provide a sense of assurance to veterans.
“The biggest fear we have as veterans is that the America people are going to forget us,” Tarantino said. “When you have an 11-year sustained war, the fight doesn’t end when you pull out.”
Duckworth carries the highest profile of the incoming vets. She was co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade landed in her lap, ripping off one leg and crushing the other. At Walter Reed, she worried about what life as a double amputee had in store. But during her recovery, she found a new mission — taking care of those she describes as her military brothers and sisters. That mission led her to a job as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs during Obama’s first term.
“Had I not been in combat, my life would have never taken this path. You take the path that comes in front of you,” Duckworth said from a wheelchair last week as she and her fellow freshmen went through orientation at the Capitol. “For me, I try to live every day honoring the men who carried me out of that field because they could have left me behind, and they didn’t.”
Duckworth is one of two freshmen Democrats who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The other is Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who served near Baghdad for a year and was a medical operations specialist. Gabbard said she hopes the two of them can be a voice for female veterans and the unique challenges they face.