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NEWS & MEDIA

TILLMAN TUESDAY: Scholar Lindsay Compton Uses Military Experiences in Professional Career

Pat Tillman Foundation   |   By Jill Walsh   |   October 6, 2015
2011 Tillman Scholar Lindsay Compton served six years in the U.S. Navy and has navigated the Panama Canal seven times

Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week, we check in with 2011 Tillman Scholar and U.S. Navy veteran Lindsay Compton, who earned her MBA with a focus in Marketing at the University of Michigan. Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, Lindsay currently works in New York City for American Express as a Manager within the Travel and Lifestyle Business Unit.

HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO JOIN THE U.S. NAVY?

“I was raised in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and I had a moment where I wondered what life would be like outside of the small town I grew up in, coupled with the fact I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had no true focus but I loved working on teams – I was a passionate athlete and had always gravitated towards leadership roles. With those two pieces combined and my little knowledge about the Naval Academy, I felt the Navy would be a great fit for me. I have a lot of respect for the service overall and I also wanted to set a great challenge for myself. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Naval Academy and began my journey there in 2001. It was a great academic experience.”

YOU WERE A NEW MIDSHIPMAN AT THE NAVAL ACADEMY IN SEPTEMBER 2001. LOOKING BACK, HOW DID 9/11 IMPACT YOUR COMMITMENT TO SERVE?

“9/11 is still a vivid memory. I was on my way to my second class of the day. It was week 3 of my freshman year at the academy. My teacher very stoically announced that planes had struck the World Trade Towers and that the Academy was on lock down. Even though I had just learned how to wear the uniform and was so incredibly proud of the life I was starting, 9/11 made the years ahead of me even more important. It served as a reminder that my service meant something.”

YOU’VE SERVED IN VARIOUS PLACES AROUND THE WORLD. TELL US ABOUT YOUR DEPLOYMENT EXPERIENCES OVERSEAS AND YOUR RESPONSIBILITES THROUGHOUT.

“I was commissioned into the Navy in 2005 and spent three-and-a-half years working on a war ship in Northern Florida, deploying to the Eastern Pacific for counter-drug tours and the Baltic Sea for normal operations. I was a navigator on the ship – which I think is one of the coolest things you can do on a ship other than being a captain. I’ve had the opportunity to navigate the Panama Canal seven times – which is really cool!

Following my three-and-a-half years, I deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where I worked for an Army Special Operations task force for nine months. That deployment was a totally different experience, but in retrospect it was one of the greatest lessons of my life. Looking back on 10 years of conflict in that area, I feel honored to have had unique insight on what happens there, how the people live and how soldiers are affected by their time there. It’s a time that I reflect on daily and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in that capacity. I worked in the Joint Visitor’s Bureau managing high-profile travel for our military leaders coming to Afghanistan for the Joint Special Operations Task Force –I took a lot of pride in my work during that time.”

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE NAVIGATING THE PANAMA CANAL?

“Navigating the Panama Canal was an interestingly archaic system – a wonder of the modern world but when you pull up to that thing you’re surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Panama. Then you’re pulled into it initially with ropes and then pulled further through locks. As a navigator the whole evolution was my job. It was one of the coolest experiences one could endure. The greatest thing I learned through that experience, and a lesson which I still use in my day-to-day life, is attention to detail for a sustained period of time.”

WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO SEPARATE FROM THE NAVY AFTER SIX YEARS?

“I got to the point where I wanted to explore other things in life. I really wanted to start a family and the military is a challenging environment for families. I really respect those who make that sacrifice as a military spouse – it’s hard! The element of the unknown and the time away is just taxing, and knowing I wanted to have a little more freedom in that area challenged me to think about other things I wanted to do. It was a hard decision to leave, but I was lucky that I had friends and family who urged me to pursue an education, which is where the Pat Tillman Foundation comes in.”

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARS PROGRAM?

“I remember the day specifically because I was stationed at the Pentagon, working a night shift preparing a report for the morning – it was around the anniversary of Pat’s birthday. As I was scrolling through the news online I began reading about Pat, and as I continued to learn more it was almost like a gift that was presented to me. I learned the foundation supports veterans who are looking to pursue their education. Long story short, I applied and a few months later, and eventually I received a phone call informing me I had been selected as a scholar – it’s a moment I’ll never forget! Throughout my experience with the foundation I’ve always felt that people are the most important. The scholarship itself is tremendously helpful but it’s hard to describe in words what that moment meant to me. I felt really honored and humbled to have received that opportunity from the Tillman family.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE PART OF THIS COMMUNITY AND HELP CARRY FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY?

“It impacted me personally in a very significant way. I’m not sure I could have ever made the leap from a financial standpoint and getting that level of education without the support of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Subsequently, the University of Michigan has opened doors for me at every step of my career thus far, so I am forever grateful for the support they have given. The scholarship support really allowed me the opportunity to complete what I could have not completed on my own. The best thing about the foundation and being a scholar is that Pat has such big shoes to fill. That reality is a constant point of motivation for me – there’s always another layer to Pat and his story and how he wanted to better himself in everything he did.

What I’ve tried to do every day in my personal and professional life is be a great example of what a veteran is, whether that is being really kind to everyone I come in contact with or being extremely professional. Working at American Express in New York City for the past two years, compared to other companies, we don’t have as a robust veteran effort both in the recruiting and internal mentorship as some of our competitors. I’ve really worked hard with some of my veteran teammates here in the company to propel some of those conversations to make it important to consider veterans in a hiring decision as well as thinking through new ways we can excite veterans as they leave the service. Recently, we became a founding partner for the Coalition for Veteran Owned Business, led by the Institution for Veterans and Military Families. I’m proud to say it’s because of the effort that my teammates and I are making at American Express. I wear the badge of veteran every day at work, so I try to share the service story of this generation and what it all means.”

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST BARRIER YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED IN THE CIVILIAN WORKFORCE TRYING TO BUILD THE VETERAN COMMUNITY AND RAISE AWARENESS TO MAKE VETERANS THE FOREFRONT OF HIRING CONVERSATIONS?

“You don’t know what you don’t know in any situation, so awareness is very important. If veterans don’t have a big voice, there’s no reason for them to be in conversation anywhere. The biggest challenge to overcome is general awareness and thinking about hiring veterans as an option. We’ve worked really hard throughout the past year with our HR department at American Express to tell compelling stories of veterans. On Veteran’s Day last year, we had a panel of four veterans participate in a Q & A with our employees, which I think helped bring to light what a veteran means today. Any time you can give a wonderful and talented veteran a voice and platform to share his or her story is an opportunity that should be seized. As a community of veteran employees, we try to interact with the rest of the company in a very positive manner and show all the great things the veterans can do and will do for this country in the future.”

YOU GREW UP IN A SMALL TOWN, TRAVELED AROUND THE WORLD, AND NOW LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY. WHAT’S IT LIKE GOING HOME?

“It’s dynamic and I think that just because Wisconsin and New York are such different environments. You learn to appreciate both. I work right across the street from One World Trade Center now, so every day I’m reminded of the sacrifice and what freedom means. I love both in different ways because it’s such a good breadth of what America offers.”

WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT BEING IN THE MILITARY?

“Hands down, I miss the camaraderie. No matter how close the team is, no matter what corporate environment you’re in, I don’t think you would ever describe it as camaraderie – there’s something about working and living with somebody and their lives being dependent on your success.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF SERVING AND CHALLENGING YOURSELF IN THE MILITARY?

“Now that I’m able to reflect and think about how that experience has changed me, I’m really passionate about people and teamwork – especially facilitating great teams. Every day, with all of the partners at American Express who I work with both internal and external, I really strive to be the best partner that they work with. Additionally, I have a passion point for strong leadership. All of that passion is driven by the team that I was part of during my service with the military.” 

HAVING EARNED YOUR DEGREE AND WORKING IN THE PROFESSIONAL, CORPORATE SECTOR, WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

“Everything I do with veteran’s initiatives I consider it a personal endeavor. When I consider what I want to do with that long term, I would love to be a board member of the Pat Tillman Foundation one day. It’s important to maintain my relationship with the scholars and the foundation because I feel its mission is full circle. Not every veteran has an answer to “what’s next” when they leave the service. It’s a hard question and you can’t necessarily rely on others to figure out what the next step is for you. I think what’s great about the foundation though is that it’s there to help you with that next step. It’s there for you as a scholar and as alumni, and it works to keep you connected with others in the community. Despite the work I try to do at American Express, I can always rely on the Pat Tillman Foundation to keep me connected – which I really appreciate.”

THE FIRST WOMEN RECENTLY GRADUATED FROM RANGER SCHOOL AND MORE OPPORTUNITIES ARE OPENING TO WOMEN IN THE MILITARY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RESPECT THAT WOMEN IN THE MILITARY RECEIVE AS THEY ARE COMPETING TO DO THE SAME JOBS AS MEN?

“It’s so amazing to see the progress we’ve made. When I went to college women represented about 10 percent of the Naval Academy and maybe 12 percent of the Navy overall. Now, the percentages are 27 and 17 respectively. Women can also now serve on submarines, which was not an option for me just five years ago. I’m very proud of the progress women are making in the military and I’m glad to be part of it.”