Every member of the military has a story and they are as varied and unique as the individuals who have chosen to serve their country…and this is mine.
It has been 13 years, but I can still feel the agony as I realized that I was not going to be able to save him. The Bronco lay upside down after being struck by a drunk driver and he was trapped between the seat and the roof. The stench of gasoline burned my nostrils as I tugged desperately at his leg, but I failed to get him out. A bystander pulled me to safety as the fire raced towards the truck on a river of gasoline. I watched the vehicle explode, heard him succumb to the flames and never felt more helpless in my entire life. It was my identical twin brother’s last day on Earth and the last day I have ever felt whole. He had just finished his first year of medical school at the University of South Florida, and I was preparing to be commissioned in the United States Air Force. Unbeknownst to me, his unfinished path would guide my future.
Six years later, I was a Captain in the United States Air Force and five training flights away from realizing my childhood dream of becoming an F-15 pilot. After a high-G environment night flight in the Eagle, I lost consciousness and had a seizure. I was placed on a life-flight helicopter and transported to OHSU in Portland, Oregon. ICU neurosurgeons determined I had developed a blood clot in the sigmoid and transverse sinuses, causing a hemorrhage in the temporal lobe of my brain. I know what it’s like to fight for life despite the appearance of optimal health, and I have persevered through brain trauma, migraines and depression to overcome my injuries.
Our paths finally reunite as I feel an internal pull toward medicine. I will earn my Medical Science Master’s degree in May and submit my application for Medical school on June 1. My ultimate goal is to become a neurologist specializing in brain health. The effects of dementia and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can have severe detrimental effects on the quality of life of the patient and his/her family. I have endured the profound sadness of watching my grandmother succumb to Alzheimer’s disease, and feel helpless when I see the fear on my mother’s face as she recognizes her own regression. Medicine is the medium that will allow me to use my own experiences to help my fellow servicemen and women. I know that I will be instrumental in making the lives of others better…what is your story?
The Pat Tillman Foundation wants you to tell it in your own words while they help alleviate some of the financial obstacles that impede your ability to achieve your educational and career goals. Through the Tillman Military Scholars program, the Foundation strives to help veterans use their “story” to serve and become leaders in their community. Becoming a Tillman Military Scholar has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and if you are willing to share your story, it may have a profound impact on your life as well.
The process starts with two straightforward essay questions, but they require you to tell your story and it is not as simple as it first appears. It can be very difficult to delve into the reasons you chose to serve in the military and how that decision and experience changed your life and affected your family. The best advice I can give would be the more you open your heart the more successful you will be. The second question addresses your educational and career goals. Do not miss the opportunity to put a voice to your aspirations beyond the degree you are currently seeking. The most important aspect the Foundation is interested in is how you plan on continuing to serve and become a leader in your community. At the end of the day, what will be your impact on the community and our country?
One of the most undervalued benefits of becoming a Tillman Military Scholar is the instant connection you have to a vast network of veterans who understand and face similar challenges. It is very difficult to explain my medical retirement to most civilians because my injury is “invisible” and I bear no discernible scars. My fellow Tillman Military Scholars have an innate understanding of my situation. This network of likeminded individuals is making, and will continue to make, a positive collective impact on society. We share the bond of service to our country and strive to utilize higher education to continue that service in our communities.
In addition to the network, the scholarship funds have allowed me to take care of my aging mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease while I continue my educational goals of becoming a doctor. My family has regained the stability it once had when I still retained my career in the Air Force. More than that, the Pat Tillman Foundation has given my family hope for the future. It has helped me reestablish a childhood dream I shared with my twin brother and given me the means to achieve it.
Tell your story and join us as we combine our collective experiences with our education to answer the call to serve and make a positive impact on our community and country. Hunter I Riley, Director of Programs at the Pat Tillman Foundation, said it best when he described the future of the Tillman Military Scholars as: “The leaders of this nation’s next Greatest Generation.”
To learn more about the Tillman Military Scholars program, visit the Pat Tillman Foundation website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The application for the 2013-2014 academic year is now open and will close on Friday, February 15.
Captain Ed Woodward is a 2012 Tillman Military Scholar. He is currently pursuing an MS in medical science from the University of South Florida and is applying to start medical school at USF starting in Fall 2013.