‘Not anything we can’t overcome’: Duckworth’s husband Iraq-bound
Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth will soon be facing a situation familiar to other military families throughout the state: her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, is being deployed to Iraq.
Bowlsbey, a major in the Illinois National Guard, will head overseas in April with a Downstate transportation unit.
While the assignment poses most of the same issues for Duckworth and Bowlsbey as it does for other deployed soldiers and their loved ones, it also creates some unique challenges for the couple, given the sacrifice that Duckworth already has made.
Obviously, not everybody going to Iraq will leave behind a wife who lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a helicopter crash during her own deployment there, though Duckworth doesn’t see it as an issue.
‘We’ll just deal with it’
“It’s Bryan’s turn. He would not want someone to be deployed in his place,” Duckworth told me Tuesday, seeking to head off any discussion that Bowlsbey remain behind because of her circumstances.
“It’s not anything we can’t overcome,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean the couple haven’t started discussing the special preparations they’ll need to make before he departs: everything from moving the heavy mixing bowl and pans to the lower kitchen shelves so she can more easily reach them to building another wheelchair ramp in the garage because he won’t be around to shovel the snow off the other one.
“It’s a lot of little things you don’t really think about at first,” Duckworth said, noting how it’s usually her husband who picks up the dry cleaning and fuels her pickup truck because those tasks are difficult for her in a wheelchair.
“We’ll just deal with it, I guess,” said Duckworth, insisting, “all of our Guard families have to go through this.”
Duckworth, who has remained in the National Guard and continued to train during her recovery, told me during her unsuccessful campaign for Congress last year that she would go back to Iraq if called upon — even though she had called the war a “mistake” and criticized President Bush’s handling of it.
“I would go again, yeah,” she reiterated Tuesday, but noted that her prosthesis is not in any condition for her to take on such an assignment.
It hasn’t seemed to slow down Duckworth in her duties for the state Veterans Affairs Department. I found her in Washington, D.C., where she was attending a conference. She said she works out of her Chicago office on Mondays and Fridays, spending Tuesday through Thursday in Springfield. She drives herself there and around the state in a pickup truck equipped with hand controls.
This is the first Iraq deployment for Bowlsbey, a signal officer who is closing in on 20 years of military service, having spent five years as an enlisted man before enrolling in ROTC at the University of Maryland, where he met Duckworth.
Bowlsbey’s regular unit was not due to go to Iraq until 2008, but he was assigned to a new unit recently because of a shortage of officers in the Illinois Guard.
“He’s the right rank, and he hadn’t been deployed yet,” Duckworth explained.
As a drilling Guardsman, Bowlsbey knew that at some point it was likely he would be sent to either Iraq or Afghanistan. It was only the luck of the draw that he hadn’t been called up previously, Duckworth said.
The couple were married in 1994 and moved to DeKalb, where Bowlsbey was an ROTC instructor at Northern Illinois University. They now live in Hoffman Estates. Bowlsbey works as a computer network engineer for a small consulting firm. They have no children.
Worried about leaving wife behind
I couldn’t make connections Tuesday with Bowlsbey, but Duckworth said her husband has the mixed emotions one might expect from someone in his situation.
She said he’s both anxious and excited about what he faces in Iraq: anxious because only a fool would go into a war zone without being at least a little afraid and excited because he gets an opportunity to put his training to use.
“I felt the same way,” Duckworth said of her mission to Iraq as a helicopter pilot.
At the same time, though, Bowlsbey is worried about leaving his wife behind, concerned that she might fall and he wouldn’t be there to help her up. Duckworth said that’s probably an easier place to be than someone going to war and leaving their children behind.
“He’s determined he’s going to go and do as good a job as he can and then come home,” Duckworth said.
Bowlsbey has been told the return home would likely be in June 2008, although “all that can change,” she noted.
Already well-qualified for her state post, Duckworth now has one more important connection to Illinois servicemen and their families.
Just the same, it’s a heavy load.