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Fifth class of military scholars to continue legacy

Fifth class of military scholars to continue legacy

Three UA students have been recognized for their “service, leadership and academic excellence,” joining the fifth class of Tillman Military Scholars.

The Pat Tillman Foundation was founded in 2004 following the death of Pat Tillman, a graduate of Arizona State University and a safety for the Arizona Cardinals.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman enlisted in the military as an Army Ranger, leaving behind his football career to serve his country. In 2004, Tillman was killed in Afghanistan by “friendly fire.”

The Tillman Military Scholars program began in 2008, according to Cara Hammer, program coordinator for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“The Pat Tillman Foundation is looking to select leaders that have the potential and drive to make an impact, not only in their local community, but service to others,” Hammer said.

After discovering the challenges faced by military families and the increased need for educational resources, Marie Tillman, the widow of Pat Tillman and president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, decided to focus the foundation’s mission on serving that population, Hammer added.

This year, Felisa Dyrud, Adam Ratesic and Jose Cervantes, all of whom have served overseas, were awarded the scholarship.

Dyrud, a doctoral student studying Persian literature in Afghanistan, said her interest in Central Asia and the Middle East began when she lived in Kazakhstan as a teenager.

Dyrud said she joined the Air Force in June 2001. She said she became interested in Afghanistan after 9/11.

“…I left the Air Force Academy after my sophomore year,” Dyrud said. “Three of my classmates came and spent about a year in Kabul as civilian volunteers.”

Both Dyrud and Ratesic said they each felt the inspiration and heroism of Pat Tillman.

“I think it really speaks to the kind of person he was and the kind of character he had that he wanted to do that,” Dyrud said. “I find it, personally, extremely inspiring.”

Ratesic said Tillman’s story gives him goosebumps.

“He was in the NFL and he left the NFL to serve his country,” Ratesic said. “That’s very honorable.”

Ratesic said he came from a difficult background and joined the Air Force, hoping to be a leader for his siblings. His stint was cut short after he suffered a severe infection that left him in a coma for 27 hours.

“I was expected to die,” Ratesic said. “I somehow survived the coma, but the infection triggered a secondary condition and I began experiencing signs and symptoms of an autoimmune disease.”

A year later, Ratesic was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was disqualified from performing rescue flight missions.

This news inspired Ratesic to pursue a career in medicine and help others who also suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

“Here I am, I’m a patient for life. I have an autoimmune disease and it’s an instant connection to people who have autoimmune diseases,” Ratesic said.

Jose Cervantes is a first year graduate student who will be studying medicine this fall. While Cervantes could not be reached for an interview, Ratesic commented on his friend.

“I feel as I could talk all day about Jose,” Ratesic said. “He’s such an incredible person. Jose has overcome a lot in his life to get to where he is.”

According to the Pat Tillman Foundation website, the Tillman Military Scholars program “aids all veterans, specifically the ever-growing population of veterans of Post-9/11 conflicts.”

Since it began, the program has given more than $3.2 million to more than 230 scholars.

“I’m here [in Afghanistan] because we have invested so much in having a shot at peace and liberty…” Dyrud said. “I think Pat would’ve wanted an ending and the friends that I lost here would have been proud too.”

Each of the selected Tillman Military Scholars is an investment of something much greater, Hammer said.

“We’re investing in military service members, veterans and their spouses,” she said. “To create their own legacy and to share Pat’s legacy.”

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