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pat tillman: lessons from afghanistan

Redux Extra May 4, 2022
Reading Time: 2 minutes


This summer, The United States began its tumultuous withdraw of troops from Afghanistan.  There is plenty of uncertainty with respect to what we accomplished in Afghanistan, particularly against the backdrop of so many lives lost. However, there is little question that we gained many heroes.  Included among those heroes is NFL veteran, Pat Tillman.  

Pat Tillman was a star linebacker for Arizona State University.  After college, he was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 NFL Draft.  He started all 16 games his rookie year and continued to shine as a standout safety for the following three years, getting voted to the NFL All-Pro team in 2000.  

In 2002 his rookie contract was expiring and the Arizona Cardinals offered him a new, three year, multi-million dollar contract.  A contract offer such as this was the payoff for years of hard work and dedication.  Certainly no one would turn such an offer down unless they wanted to (1) hold out for more money or (2) join another team.  

In the case of Pat Tillman, he chose another team, The United States Army.  In the prime of his career and in the wake of the September 11th attacks, Pat Tillman decided to leave the sport to join the military.  Perhaps he foreshadowed his decision the day after the September 11th attacks when he told a reporter, “At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.” His brother Kevin also joined him to serve.

Immediately following his enlistment, Tillman completed basic training and was deployed to Iraq.  He took part in the initial Iraqi invasion, otherwise knowns as Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He then entered Ranger School and was redeployed to Afghanistan.  It was there that he was tragically shot and killed by friendly fire, in 2004.  Unfortunately, his selflessness was not immediately celebrated as there was an immediate cover-up by the military, which had originally stated that Tillman was killed by enemy fire.  That cover-up temporarily distracted us from Tillman’s heroism. 

While Pat Tillman left us all too early, he only left us in the physical sense.  His spirit carries on in many of us who remember him for his passion and righteousness.  In our new world dominated by what the world can do for oneself, he continues to teach us what oneself can do for the world.  His loved ones carried on this tradition of giving with, The Pat Tillman Foundation, which benefits military veterans, members and spouses.  The foundation funds scholarships, leadership opportunities and the global community.  

Pat Tillman once stated, “to err on the side of passion is human and right and the only way I’ll live.” It is that passion that ultimately led him to the U.S. Army and Afghanistan.  As we withdraw from that region, it’s important to remember that if we pay his passion forward, maybe that means he’s still here after all.   

Thank you Pat.  You’re a hero.

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