NORMAL - Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, began her speech Sunday night at the eighth annual "Honoring the Roosevelts" dinner by saying that she was suffering from a cold that she contracted at President Obama's inauguration.
Duckworth then made it clear to the audience of about 150 attendees that she takes seriously Obama's call to service. Duckworth focused her speech, given at the Bone Student Center of Illinois State University, on ways all Americans can serve each other.
"The president gave us our mission," she said, "to march forward as a country."
Duckworth said although people often thank her for her service as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, civilians can also serve the country.
"People think an act of courage or an act of service has to be grand," she said. "It doesn't."
Duckworth urged the audience to care for neighbors whose family members are actively serving in the military. Those in the military "don't need to worry about their families back home," she said.
"They don't need to worry about who's shoveling snow for my wife, who's taking care of my mother. We're here. We can take care of each other."
The service Americans provide to each other will make the nation a "shining light for the world," she said.
Duckworth praised service clubs such as Rotary International where she worked as a staff supervisor before being deployed to Iraq. Duckworth said members of those organizations "do something amazing" by paying dues to be a part of an organization that requires them to perform mandatory service projects."
People who serve the country through these organizations and in other ways are "why this nation is so strong," she said.
Duckworth also listed volunteering with the Parent Teacher Association, extending part-time jobs to National Guardsmen and cooking for homeless shelters as ways that civilians can serve their country.
Twenty-five percent of Illinois' homeless are veterans, she said.
Duckworth spoke of her mother, an immigrant from Thailand who cooks at a Buddhist temple every week to serve the homeless.
"To me, that's as vital a service as what I did to serve the country in Iraq," she said.
The Honoring the Roosevelts dinner was organized by the McLean County Democratic Party. The annual Roosevelt award was given later in the night to Tom Whalen, former member of the McLean County board and Bloomington city council, and longtime precinct committeeman.
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