Sitting in a cafe just steps from Tahrir Square, I frantically scribbled notes as my friend translated the quickly spoken Arabic of a young man I was interviewing. The man described a budding social movement in Egypt built through traditional means augmented by digital social technologies, like Facebook and Twitter. He prophesied that the tension on the streets was growing to a dangerous point and that something big lay on the horizon.
A year later, he helped organize mass protests that challenged and toppled the Egyptian regime.
I was fortunate to see and experience Egypt as it existed immediately before the revolution while studying at the prestigious American University in Cairo thanks to the Pat Tillman Foundation. While the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provided the support I needed to attend college stateside, studying abroad at a foreign university was not possible without additional support.
I learned of the Tillman Military Scholars program from friends in 2009 and I wanted to be a part of it. As a Middle East Studies student, studying in Egypt was crucial in rounding out my undergraduate education and prepared me for the rigorous academic and field work of graduate school.
My experience as a paratrooper in Baghdad in 2003 and 2005 directly shaped my decision to pursue Middle East Studies. As soldiers, we understood little about Iraqi culture and lacked the language skills to communicate effectively. We knew learning to speak Arabic and understanding the history, politics and culture of the peoples of the Middle East would help us accomplish our missions. Studying in Egypt was the defining experience of my undergraduate education and convinced me to continue my studies at the graduate level in London.
The Tillman Military Scholars program provided more than financial support. Through the program, I connected with and worked alongside Tillman Military Scholars in New York, London and, most recently, at Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia. The connections I made allowed for collaboration and partnerships and have helped me make an impact on society.
While financial support and sense of community were important, Tillman Military Scholars are reminded of the greater calling beyond one’s self. Living up to the scholarship and its namesake demands a fierce tenacity that compels scholars to excel in all they do.
In reaching a peak of my experience, in 2010 I was fortunate to participate in Pat’s Run, the 4.2-mile run in Tempe benefitting the Pat Tillman Foundation. I had returned from Egypt and proudly wore my gold Tillman Military Scholar race shirt to represent the legacy of Pat Tillman to the thousands of other runners. As I sprinted up the final hill into Sun Devil Stadium and finished at the 42-yard line (symbolic of Pat’s jersey number at ASU), I felt that surge of accomplishment that comes with being a part of something special.
I’m proud to be a Tillman Military Scholar. The program allowed me to further my education, facilitated life-long relationships with like-minded peers and continues to inspire me to push the limits of what I can accomplish.
To learn more about the Tillman Military Scholars program, visit the Pat Tillman Foundation website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The application for the 2012-2013 academic year opens on Monday, February 13.
2LT Don Gomez is a 2009 Tillman Military Scholar. He earned a BA from City College in New York and an MA from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. He recently graduated at the top of his class at Officer Candidate School in Ft. Benning, GA.