Veteran Spotlight: Pat Tillman

There have been millions of soldiers who have served in the armed forces over the course of American history. Each and every one of them is deserving of our thanks for sacrificing their own lives to ensure our continued freedom. For this blog series, we’ll be looking at American veterans to share their stories and honor them for their service to this great nation. For this first installment of our “Veteran Spotlight,” we’ll go over the life and service of Pat Tillman.

Pat Tillman’s Early Life

Patrick Daniel Tillman Jr. was born on November 6th, 1976, to parents Mary and Patrick Tillman. The oldest of three boys, Pat grew up in San Jose, California. Known for being determined and committed, Pat played football for Leland High School, which he would later help lead to the Central Coast Division I Football Championship. His small stature led many to tell him this would be the peak of his football career and he wouldn’t be able to play college or professional football, but Pat Tillman wasn’t one to turn down a challenge.

After graduating, Pat went on to attend Arizona State University on a football scholarship. There he excelled as a linebacker. In 1997, he helped the Arizona State Sun Devils achieve an undefeated season that culminated in an appearance at the Rose Bowl. Later that year, he has voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and was also named Arizona State’s MVP.

Tillman graduated from Arizona State in just three and a half years. Tillman carried a 3.85 GPA and achieved numerous academic awards during his time in college, including the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award, the Sporting News Honda Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and the 1998 Sun Angel Student-Athlete of Year.

An Illustrious NFL Career

Entering the NFL Draft in 1998, Pat was chosen as the 226th pick by the Arizona Cardinals, where he played safety for ten games during his rookie season. His determination to prove others wrong shone through, and in 2000, Pat went on to break the team’s franchise record for the number of tackles in a season.

Pat didn’t have to stay with the Cardinals. In fact, at one point, he was offered a five-year, $9 million contract to join the St. Louis Rams. However, as a man with a deep sense of loyalty, Pat turned down the offer to stay in Arizona. Tillman would go on to finish his career with 340 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions for 37 yards, 3 forced fumbles, 15 pass deflections, and 3 fumble recoveries in 60 career games. 

Though the NFL was a huge part of Pat’s life, it wasn’t all of it. In his story on the Pat Tillman Foundation website, it’s noted that Pat was very down to earth and involved in his community. He drove to games in his pickup truck, read constantly, and volunteered his time with the Boys and Girls Clubs, March of Dimes, and students in schools across the Phoenix Valley.

Despite an excellent football career and what seemed to be a fulfilling life, Pat still had more to give. In May 2002, just months after the September 11th attacks, Tillman turned down a new multi-million dollar contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army.

Veteran Spotlight - Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman’s Military Service

Pat, along with his brother Kevin, enlisted in the United States Army on May 31st, 2002, and completed basic training together in September of that year. Upon completing the Ranger Assessment & Selection Program, the brothers were both assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion in Fort Lewis, Washington.

After a deployment to Iraq, as part of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pat returned to the U.S. to attend the Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA, which he graduated from in 2003. Shortly afterward, Pat was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was stationed at FOB Salerno as part of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment

On April 22nd, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed during an ambush as he and his platoon moved through a canyon. Though it was initially reported that Tillman had been killed by enemy combatants, it was later discovered that he had been killed by friendly fire.

Much controversy and discussion surrounded Tillman’s death, and several investigations were launched by the Department of Defense and U.S. Congress. According to those investigations, reports concluded that confusion during the firefight led one allied group to fire on another after mistakenly identifying them as enemies.

In the aftermath of his tragic death, Tillman received recognition for his service. Tillman was awarded the Silver Star in recognition of his gallantry in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. He was the recipient of numerous other military medals and awards, including the Purple Heart, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and Meritorious Service Medal.

Veteran Spotlight - Pat Tillman

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The Pat Tillman Foundation

After his death, Pat’s family and friends joined together to form the Pat Tillman Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to continue Pat’s legacy by offering military service members, veterans, and their spouses the educational resources and support they need to reach their personal potential as leaders in their communities.

The Pat Tillman Foundation is dedicated to service, scholarship, humble leadership, and impact. So far, they’ve raised 24 million dollars to help 800+ Tillman Scholars at 166 Universities. The foundation strives to continue assisting service members, vets, and their families in succeeding through partnerships with major organizations like the NFL, Uber, and Verizon.

Pat Tillman was an inspiring, dedicated, hardworking individual who always, without fail, did what he thought was right. That is what heroes are made of. Along with countless other veterans, he gave up so much. They put their careers, families, and friends aside to do what they felt compelled to do and serve in our armed forces, and for that, we are forever grateful.

Operation Iraqi Freedom Patches

If you or a loved one served in Afghanistan, Iraq, or other areas of the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11, Popular Patch has hundreds of patches to commemorate your service. Check out patches, like our Mountain Goats of Afghanistan Desert Patch, OEF Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon MOS Patch, Special Forces Group Sniper Team Patch Afghanistan Sniper Skull, and much more by browsing our inventory.

75th Ranger Regiment 2nd Battalion Flash Patch
Mountain Goats of Afghanistan Desert Patch
OEF Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon MOS Patch
Special Forces Group Sniper Team Patch Afghanistan Sniper Skull


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