Guest Blogger: Casaundra Wallace, Tillman Military Scholar Class 4, Arizona State University
Last week I participated in the 3rd annual Pat Tillman Leadership Summit, a three-day program designed to introduce new Tillman Military Scholars to the Tillman Community, in College Park, Maryland. The first day of the Summit allowed new Scholars to meet one another, as well as Network Scholars and the staff of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Marie Tillman welcomed us that first evening and shared with us her story of how Pat’s death while serving in Afghanistan inspired her to create the Pat Tillman Foundation. Day one was especially important to the new Scholars because we were able to get to know one another and learn each other’s stories of service, sacrifice and triumph. It was truly humbling to be among such a remarkable group of people, and each Scholar that I spoke with thought the same thing I did: how did they pick me from this group of amazing people?
The second day opened with a panel on the Community Blueprint Network, and then the group split between a Veteran Entrepreneurship Panel and a Career Marketing panel. I attended the Career Marketing Panel and learned how to tell the story of who I am and what the military taught me and how that can be translated onto a resume. In a chance set of events, one of the panelists at the Veteran Entrepreneurship Panel was a gentleman that I served with in the Army. It was great to see him again and do some networking with him and the other panelists. For the remainder of the second day, the Scholars volunteered in a Day of Service in the Washington, D.C. area. My group spent several hours with the residents of Vinson Hall discussing health care and technology. Vinson Hall is a retirement community supported by the Navy Marine Coast Guard Residence Foundation in McLean, VA. The residents we spoke to were great people, and I enjoyed hearing their life stories and learning their views on issues that we all face in today’s world.
The third day of the Summit was spent on Capitol Hill visiting Congressional leaders. I was lucky enough to lead the Arizona delegation on Capitol Hill in a meeting with Senator John McCain. Meeting Senator McCain was a lifelong dream come true. As an Arizona native, I have followed his political career since I was about 16. I have always admired war heroes and politicians, and Senator McCain is both. He served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator during the Vietnam War and was captured as a Prisoner of War in 1967. He remained a POW in Hanoi until 1973. He moved to Arizona in 1981 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona’s First Congressional District in 1982, and then to the U.S. Senate in 1986. He is currently the senior United States Senator from Arizona and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
The Arizona delegation met with Senator McCain for nearly an hour. Just being in his presence was awe inspiring; I was definitely star struck. Senator McCain invited us into his office, congratulated us on being chosen as Tillman Military Scholars and asked us to sit in the chairs and couches in his office. He spoke to us for 20 minutes about current policy and issues and then asked us to introduce ourselves. When I introduced myself and stated that I was studying law, I discovered that the Senator has a sense of humor. After jokingly stating that the world doesn’t need more lawyers, he asked what the difference is between a lawyer and a catfish. The answer, of course, is that one is a scum-sucking bottom feeder and the other is a fish. After introductions and brief discussions about our areas of study, Senator McCain invited us to ask questions of him. The immediate questions were about his stance on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and SB1070. Senator McCain spoke very candidly about both issues; he did not offer canned responses. I worked in the Arizona Legislature and I am very familiar with SB1070 and all of the issues surrounding it, but Senator McCain offered an explanation that included ideas I had never heard before. He also spoke about Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Arpaio is usually a taboo subject in Arizona politics, but again, Senator McCain spoke openly about his thoughts on the Sheriff. All together, we spoke with the Senator for about an hour. That hour reinforced my confidence in him as a U.S. Senator, and as my hero.