November 12th—just one day after Veterans Day—marked 15 years since U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth’s life changed forever. While flying a Black Hawk helicopter to her base in Iraq on a routine mission, Tammy and her comrades were attacked and shot down, resulting in Tammy, a Purple Heart recipient, losing both her legs.
Although Tammy didn’t know it at the time, the catastrophic incident would open the door into a new and equally impactful career path. While stationed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois inquired if any wounded veterans from the state would be interested in attending the State of the Union. The opportunity was one Tammy could not turn down.
Highly impressed by her character and confidence, Senator Durbin nudged Tammy to consider running following the retirement of longtime Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde. Tammy took Senator Durbin’s advice and in 2016, was elected to the U.S. Senate to serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois’ 8th district. After an unconventional path to a political career, which also included serving as the Assistant Secretary of Veteran Affairs under President Obama in 2009, Tammy has wasted little time making an impact for Americans, including small business owners.
Earlier this year, Tammy introduced the Microloan Program Expansion Act of 2019, which improves the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Microloan Program to help more small businesses—especially women, veterans and low-income and minority entrepreneurs—that may have been overlooked by traditional commercial lenders. The new legislation also helps small business owners secure enough financing to grow their businesses and create more jobs in their communities.
Here, Tammy talks about how her military background has helped her throughout her political career and how women business owners who’d like to follow in her footsteps can do it:
Tell us why it was important for you personally to serve in our nation’s military in so many capacities?
It was the greatest privilege of my life to serve in our nation’s military. Other than having my children, it’s probably the most important thing I’ve done in my life.
How do you think your military service prepared you or made you better in your current role as U.S. Senator?
The leadership training I developed is one that benefits all of our men and women, especially when they leave the military and get out into the civilian world. Everything I learned in the military, such as how to be a good leader, how to run an organization, how to plan and how to do logistics, are things I carried with me in every role I’ve had since.
What’s an issue you’re focused on furthering right now as a U.S. Senator and on the committees you serve that you want women business owners or small business owners in particular to know about?
I serve on quite a few committees. I work a lot on infrastructure and am currently working very hard on trying to get infrastructure investment in this country. We need about a trillion dollars in investments in this nation to rehabilitate our infrastructure. I, of course, am also very active on our armed services committee, where I work to make sure our military men and women have the equipment they need to do the job, get the training needed to do the job and take care of their families so they can do the job and know their families will be cared for. My Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act allows veteran small business owners to acquire pieces of equipment and property the federal government has no use for, free of charge. The recipient just has to cover shipping and related nominal costs. This is especially important for our veterans who are looking to start their own business when they leave the military but don’t have the resources needed.
For women business owners around the country considering running for public office—whether it’s a state or national office or a local school board seat—what’s the best advice you can offer?
Just do it! There’s nothing to consider, just do it! There are lots of organizations out there that will help women who would like to run for office. Emily’s List is the premier one for the nation, but there are many around the country that train people. In Illinois, we have an organization called, IWill (Illinois Women in Leadership), for women who want to run for office or who want to be active in campaign. There are also similar organizations, such as Emerge America, around the country that train women who would like to get involved politically, either by running themselves or by being involved in political campaigns.
Click here to read about the roundtable U.S. Senators Duckworth and Durbin recently held on increasing small business access to capital.