One of the goals of the Council on Women and Girls is to highlight the inspirational women working in the Federal Government and to learn more about their paths to their current positions as public servants. In this series, Meet the Women of the Administration, we asked Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth to reflect on how she developed an interest and expertise in government affairs and public service and to weigh in on how she balances work and family. Take a look and find out what keeps Assistant Secretary Duckworth inspired!
Tammy Duckworth serves as the Assistant Secretary
for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs
How did your childhood influence you?
I grew up overseas as a privileged American living in developing nations. I am an Amerasian (biracial) child of an American Vietnam Veteran and a Thai mother. The images of other, unwanted and discarded biracial children my age living and working as child laborers, beggars and street children are forever imprinted on my mind. The difference in opportunities between them and my life is what made me want to serve the United States from an early age. I have always been grateful for the rights that I enjoy and am proud of the work that America does abroad to improve the lives of people, especially those who have been displaced by war or economic disasters in other nations.
Growing up, who were your role models?
As a child I had two role models. They were the American Ambassadors and Peace Corps volunteers. They represented a face of America that was performing good deeds globally—whether it was personally helping to dig wells for fresh water or opening new health clinics or schools funded by the people of the United States. Even as a child, my heart welled up when I saw that other children my age were so happy for a chance to finally go to school. I decided when I was about 8 years old that someday I wanted to be a US Ambassador so I could take my turn at helping improve people’s lives.
How did you become interested in working for the Federal government?
Because of my childhood in developing nations, I have always wanted to work in a service capacity, whether it was in a non-profit or in government. As a Soldier, I get to serve my nation in a very visible way in uniform. Serving in government was just another avenue of service for me. It may be less obvious, but just as important. After all, government workers are called public servants for a reason. It is my honor to be a servant to the American People in exchange for the rights and liberties I enjoy as an American.
What inspired you to pursue your field of interest?
I became a Veterans advocate when I was wounded myself. Working together with US Senators like then-Senator Obama and Senator Akaka on the Veterans Affairs Committee showed me that there was important work still to be done to serve our Veterans.
What keeps you motivated?
I wake up every day knowing how lucky I am to be alive. In Iraq my crew saved my life at the risk of their own. I work as hard as I can everyday to honor that. It’s fortunate to have such a defining moment as motivation. In so many ways it makes things easier and more clear. My motivation are my buddies and all our Vets who place themselves in harm’s way for our nation.
What has been your favorite moment since you’ve been working for the Department of Veterans Affairs?
My favorite moments at VA have been my visits to VA clinics and events where I get to meet with Veterans. It is especially fun to attend the rehabilitative sports events where I get to be with disabled Veterans as they compete athletically. Seeing people with physical challenges who are still active and exercising is really rewarding. It also motivates me to keep moving and exercising too.
Recently, what has been new and exciting about your work?
I created the VA’s Office of New/Social media. It has been really exciting to bring VA into the 21st century through sites like Facebook, Twitter and You tube. I am especially excited by our recent launch of the VA Blog Vantage point. The discussions we are having with Veterans on this blog have been incredibly insightful.
How do you balance work and family life?
Unfortunately, I don’t do a very good job about balancing my work and family lives. Both my husband and I tend to overwork and we’re often not home before 8 or 9 each evening. However, we are both working on eating a more nutritional diet and are trying to fit in some time for exercise every week.
Monique Dorsainvil is a Staff Assistant in the Office of Public Engagement focusing on the Council for Women and Girls and LGBT Outreach