By Leo Shane III
Copyright 2014 Stars and Stripes
Maj. Ladda “Tammy” Duckworth remembers seeing a ball of flame after an RPG hit her helicopter, and wondering why her legs couldn’t work the control pedals.
“I found out later the pedals were gone, and so were my legs,” she said.
The 36-year-old Illinois Army National Guard pilot was returning from a mission Nov. 12 when the attack occurred. Before the attack, Duckworth said, she had flown more than 120 combat hours during her eight months in Iraq without incident.
But that day insurgents scored a direct hit on her Black Hawk, seriously wounding her and another guardsman inside. Doctors told her she lost nearly half the blood in her body and almost lost her right arm as well.
“I didn’t know I was hurt,” she said. “We had started taking some small-arms fire, and I turned to my co-pilot and said we could be in for some trouble. As the words left my mouth, there was a big fireball at my knees.”
Duckworth said she remembers acting on instinct after that, doing everything she could to land the helicopter. Looking back now, she thinks her efforts did little, because the rocket punched a gaping hole into the aircraft floor and control systems.
But her pilot in command, Chief Warrant Officer Dan Milberg, did manage to land the chopper safely. Once she realized they were on the ground, she reached up to turn off the helicopter blades.
“That was the last bit of stress that caused me to black out,” she said.