6 Tillman Scholars With Incredible Backgrounds

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In this Dec. 20, 1998, file photo, Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman celebrates after tackling New Orleans Saints running back Lamar Smith for a loss in the third quarter of an NFL football game in Tempe, Ariz.
AP Photo by Roy Dabner

The Pat Tillman Foundation was created in memory of its namesake, an elite pro-football player who walked away from the NFL in the name of selfless service and was killed in action in Afghanistan in April 2004. Founded that same year, the Pat Tillman Foundation invests in military members, veterans, and spouses, uniting some of the best talent and leadership in the military community to continue their service. Over more than a decade, the foundation has invested more than $12 million in academic support and selected over 400 Tillman Scholars at more 100 institutions.


The Tillman Scholars program, which annually awards scholarships to 60 military veterans and spouses, is accepting applications now until March 1. The scholarship is more than a gift, it’s an investment in excellence and an opportunity to become part of a community of game-changers. Apply here, and read on to learn about six kickass accomplishments of the Tillman Scholars.

RELATED: Meet the Pat Tillman Foundation’s 2015 scholar class »

Worked in mission management at SpaceX. Tillman Scholar George Sondecker worked in mission management at SpaceX while attending business school, combining his aerospace engineering experience in the Air Force with a business education to help SpaceX customers launch spacecraft. George’s ultimate goals are to develop ways to lower launch costs — one of the greatest obstacles to space exploration — and work to develop space-based internet.

Served as a flight surgeon and medical mishap investigator. While serving as a Navy flight surgeon, Tillman Scholar Sarah-Blythe Ballard led medical mishap investigations for more than 20 incidents around the world analyzing, investigating, and reporting on accident prevention. Through her work, Sarah-Blythe developed a passion for aviation safety and innovative responses to disasters. While pursuing a doctorate degree in Global Disease Epidemiology and Control, she subsequently deployed as a civilian to develop air ambulance protocols in Liberia related to the Ebola outbreak. After completing her doctorate, she intends to return to the Navy to serve remote tropical populations with her extensive medical training and credentials.

Traveled by motorcycle from South Africa to Cairo. Tillman Scholar Erik Mirandette took a leave of absence from the Air Force Academy and set out on an adventure of a lifetime with his younger brother Alex — a motor bike expedition from South Africa to Egypt. At the end of their adventure in Cairo, a suicide bomber detonated in a marketplace. Erik was severely injured and his brother was tragically killed. After more than 30 surgeries, Erik returned to the Air Force Academy and spent the next six years leading counterintelligence teams. Erik is now pursuing an MBA focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation, and hopes to build a community of veteran entrepreneurs in regions of conflict.

Became the first African American class president at West Point. After growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, as one of three brothers, Tillman Scholar Adrian Perkins was accepted to West Point where he served as the captain of the track team and became the first African-American cadet elected as class president in the history of West Point. Excelling as a soldier, Adrian began to see how lessons he learned during his military service could apply to communities in need. Now pursuing a law degree, Adrian intends to return to public service in Shreveport, using his law degree and legal training to solve complex urban and economic problems facing his hometown.

Worked as a fisherman in the Bering Sea. After a stint of homelessness, Tillman Scholar Josh Tarsky spent two years in the Bering Sea as a fisherman in some of the most treacherous waters in the world. Josh then enrolled in community college before matriculating into a theater program at Yale University. The events of September 11th led Josh to enlist in the Army after graduating. As a medic in Afghanistan, Josh realized that the causes of war often have roots in economic imbalances that stem from a lack of education. He earned his Master’s in Education and began teaching English. Now, Josh is working toward his law degree, taking night classes while he continues to teach high school, in an effort to directly influence systemic change through policy improvements.

Served as a doula. A devoted Marine Corps active-duty spouse, Tillman Scholar Lisa Rich homeschooled four children while their families endured deployments, military travel, and moves. After her experience of being alone during childbirth, Lisa became a trained doula to help other women give birth, sometimes in the absence of their partners. Lisa is now pursuing a master’s degree as a certified nurse midwife. As a midwife, she helps mothers and families have safe, compassionate, and evidence-based birth options. Eventually, Lisa hopes to open a birth center that serves at-risk populations, and to participate in international birth work.

A big stereotype surrounding U.S. service members and veterans is that they are defined only by their military service, from buying "Dysfunctional Veteran" t-shirts to playing hard-boiled, high-octane first-person shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty (we honestly have no idea where anyone could get that impression).

But the folks at OSD (formerly called Operation Supply Drop), a non-profit veteran service organization that aims to help troops and vets connect with each other through free video games, service programs and other activities, recently found that most of the gamers they've served actually prefer less military-centric fare like sports games and fantasy RPGs.

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The fog of war, just kills, and war crimes are the focus of a new documentary series coming to STARZ. Titled Leavenworth, the six-part series profiles 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, the Army infantry officer who was convicted on murder charges for ordering his soldiers to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, killing two and wounding the third, while deployed to the Zhari district in Kandahar province, on July 2, 2012.

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Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinks that the VA needs to start researching medical marijuana. Not in a bit. Not soon. Right goddamn now.

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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

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