Guest Blogger: Pat Tillman Foundation Executive Director Kadi Tierney
“I am because we are…”
This African quote remains my favorite of all time because it is such an expression of community on every level. It is grounded in the assurance that we are all part of a greater whole. Last spring, Pat Tillman Foundation made some dramatic changes in the direction, purpose and mission of the organization. While the Tillman Scholars-ASU program – a fully endowed program to the tune of $1.25 million – will always be the cornerstone of our founding, our future lies in an ambitious goal of being the leading national organization for assisting veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families reach their academic dreams.
Setting out on this path has allowed for magical things to happen. I have been introduced to some of the finest young men and women I have ever met who are currently a part our Tillman Military Scholars program. What consistently surprises me is every one of them feels as if they are nothing special. That their brave decision to risk their lives for all of us was just a simple act playing their role in the American story – every one of them feels “they are because we are.”
Equally important has been our entry into the community of national organizations that, like us, are working tirelessly to support young vets. Through our association with Student Veterans of America, The Mission Continues, IAVA, Wounded Warrior Project, MissionServe and countless others, I have been lucky enough to witness the creation of a powerful coalition. Now a force to be reckoned with, together we all are supporting a generation of courageous, selfless Americans in dire need of having their stories told and their dreams met.
In the mid-90s, before the era of threat levels, this country was swept-up in the new and provocative idea that the next generation of young people aged 17-24 should commit themselves to a spirit of national service. It was a renaissance time for a group of talented, tireless Americans – all under 40 who created now national institutions and treasures: City Year, Teach for America, Public Allies and the driving force – AmeriCorps.
We have entered a new renaissance. The energy and patriotism of a wave of new founders is now devoted to the issue of young veterans and families. We are learning that the over 1.8 million who have served since 9/11 are the next “Greatest Generation” that are called to continue their service to America, in or out of uniform.
A recent survey found 94% of military families feel disconnected from the rest of the country and a larger community. After my experiences this year of meeting Scholars, talking to other members of the coalition and visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I am surprised that there is any military family that comprises the other 6%.
The staff and board of the Pat Tillman Foundation wake up every morning thinking about how we can be better and more committed to our mission. Many others share our passion but there is so much more to do. These families need to feel a part of the greater whole in this country…”we are because they are.”