Dr. Eugene T. Paslov: American hero puts leadership to work for Sen. Reid
On March 28, a Sunday afternoon, Tom and Elaine Baker invited my wife and me to their home to meet Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Major Tammy Duckworth. Tom Baker, a Vietnam War vet, had invited a dozen or so local veterans and their partners to meet this remarkable woman.
Duckworth flew a Black Hawk helicopter during the Iraq War. Her helicopter was hit by Iraqi insurgents’ rocket propelled grenade and crashed on Nov. 12, 2004.
Duckworth’s world changed forever on that day. Both her legs were mostly blown off and her right arm was almost completely destroyed – broken in three places and tissue torn off on the back side of the limb. But the major had no regrets, only pride and passion for her fellow warriors.
She told us of the Huey medical evacuation helicopter which came to help her and the Black Hawk crew members. The medics had given Duckworth up for dead. On the metal floor of the Huey, the medics made instant judgments and separated the dead from the severely wounded. Duckworth’s crew chief, himself badly wounded, noticed that the major was bleeding and realized she was alive. He yelled for help, not for himself, but for his badly wounded buddy.
Major Duckworth lived that day and reminded us in Tom and Elaine Baker’s comfortable living room: “Regardless of what you think of the war, it’s the warriors who make the difference, not the war. We must take care of them.”
Duckworth informed us about getting inadequate care for our seriously wounded veterans. Before embarking on a career of public service, Duckworth told us about her stay in Walter Reid Hospital. It was supposed to be a state-of-the-art medical facility, but fell far short. She also mentioned the numerous visits from Washington politicians, who brought their own camera crews to her bedside, took pictures and left.
The two senators who did not use her badly mangled body for political exploitation were Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Harry Reid,
D-Nev. They came after hours, took Polaroid pictures and gave them to Duckworth. They committed to doing all they could to help her recovery.
Now with her two prosthetic legs and boundless energy, Assistant Secretary Duckworth is helping her fellow wounded warriors receive the care they need. She was in Nevada to tell Nevadans of the outstanding work Sen. Reid has done in securing millions of dollars for VA facilities and benefits throughout Nevada. Such is the power of real leadership and courage – Sen. Reid’s and Major Duckworth’s – to help our warriors.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.