Till­man schol­ar­ships help vets serve com­mu­ni­ties

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Bob Baum AP Sports Writer

There are teach­ers, doctors, nurses and lawyers.

They are a di­verse bunch, these Till­man schol­ars. Their com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor is a life ded­i­cated to ser­vice to their com­mu­ni­ties and so­ci­ety at large.

About 60 schol­ar­ships are awarded each year — out of about 2,000 ap­pli­ca­tions — by the Pat Till­man Foun­da­tion, the or­ga­ni­za­tion founded fol­low­ing the com­bat death of the man who aban­doned an NFL ca­reer to join the mil­i­tary.

Given to vet­er­ans or their spouses, the schol­ar­ships av­er­age about $15,000. Some $12 mil­lion has been awarded over the years. Much of the money comes from the NFL through its Salute to Ser­vice pro­gram.

“Through the Till­man Schol­ars pro­gram, we’re able to see Salute to Ser­vice come to life and wit­ness the many ways this work im­pacts the mil­i­tary com­mu­nity,” said Anna Isaac­son, the NFL’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Marie Till­man, the foun­da­tion’s pres­i­dent, be­lieves her late hus­band would ap­prove of the schol­ar­ship ef­fort.

“I’d hope that he would be happy about the fact that his life con­tin­ues to in­spire peo­ple,” she said, “and con­tin­ues to give so many peo­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to go on in the world and do great things.”

A dozen years af­ter his death, Till­man is a name that’s be­come syn­ony­mous with sacri­fice and ser­vice. Af­ter a stand­out ca­reer at Ari­zona State, he played four sea­sons for the Ari­zona Car­di­nals.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001, which led Till­man to aban­don his ath­letic ca­reer to join the Army Rangers. He al­ready had been to Iraq and was on tour in Afghanistan when he was killed.

Fam­ily and friends cre­ated the Till­man Foun­da­tion in 2004, pledg­ing $1.25 mil­lion to cre­ate the ASU Lead­er­ship Through Ac­tion pro­gram, a schol­ar­ship of­fered through the univer­sity’s busi­ness school.

In 2009, the Till­man Schol­ars pro­gram was launched.

One re­quire­ment is past ser­vice to the com­mu­nity, through the mil­i­tary or some other avenue.

“We’re also look­ing at what it is that they want to do with their ex­pe­ri­ence and the ed­u­ca­tion that they’re look­ing to get,” Marie Till­man said. “What is the im­pact that they’re hop­ing to have as they move for­ward with that ed­u­ca­tion.”

Joseph Wheaton was an Army Ranger in the same bat­tal­ion as Till­man, though they never met.

Wheaton was de­ployed four times to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. In his later tours, he over­saw a team of snipers.

Af­ter leav­ing the mil­i­tary, Wheaton grad­u­ated summa cum laude from Ari­zona State be­fore at­tend­ing law school.

He went to work in the gang unit of the Mari­copa County pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice but said he found that all he was do­ing was send­ing peo­ple to prison who de­served to be there.

Wheaton wanted to reach young­sters be­fore they got into trou­ble. So he de­cided to switch to teach­ing.

His ben­e­fits ex­hausted, he couldn’t af­ford to go back to school on his own, so he ap­plied for and re­ceived a Till­man schol­ar­ship.

Wheaton wants to some­day af­fect na­tional ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy but felt he needed some grass­roots ex­pe­ri­ence.

This year, he re­ceived his mas­ter’s de­gree in sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion from Ari­zona State. He teaches at a high school out­side Phoenix, where many of his stu­dents come from low-in­come house­holds.

“Only ex­pe­ri­ence at the ground level will help high­light the prob­lem and there­fore bet­ter di­rect the path to­ward ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions,” he said.

Blake Schroeder was 20 when he first ar­rived in Iraq.

“Our unit took a pretty heavy toll,” he said. “There were about 160 of us, all Na­tional Guards­men from Illi­nois, young. All of us had ini­tially joined to go to col­lege. We had about 35 wounded and five killed, the first be­ing within 16 hours ar­riv­ing in Iraq.”

When he came back, he couldn’t ad­just. Vis­its with a Vet­er­ans Af­fairs coun­selor did no good. The only thing that worked, he said, was re-en­list­ing. It was a much less in­tense trip to Iraq this time. When he re­turned, re­call­ing his trou­bled first time back from the war, Schroeder chose to be­come a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist.

“They cov­ered a pretty sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of my ed­u­ca­tion,” he said, “that al­lowed me to keep go­ing.”

Now, with a doc­tor­ate from The Adler School of Pro­fes­sional Psy­chol­ogy, he treats peo­ple with post­com­bat con­di­tions.

Each year, new schol­ar­ship re­cip­i­ents as well as many of the ear­lier ones gather for the Til­ll­man Sum­mit.

“It kind of blows your mind when you’re sur­rounded by all these like­minded in­di­vid­u­als,” Schroeder said.

Emily Thompson-Schel­berg en­listed in the Marines in 2005 and de­ployed to Iraq with an ar­tillery unit. She was a tur­ret gun­ner on a 7-ton ve­hi­cle mov­ing sup­plies and peo­ple.

Dur­ing down time, she helped with hu­man­i­tar­ian aid mis­sions, an ex­pe­ri­ence that so­lid­i­fied her de­ci­sion to fol­low in her mother’s foot­steps and be­come a nurse.

She grad­u­ated from Penn State with a de­gree in sports medicine, worked for a year do­ing con­cus­sion re­search there, then at­tended Johns Hop­kins, some­thing she said she never could have done with­out the Till­man aid.

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