2015 Tillman Scholar

Mark Sakai

Air Force
University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

“In the austerity of Afghanistan, the power of medicine became a reality to me.”

On the morning of September 11, Mark sat down for an astronautical engineering class at the U.S. Air Force Academy when his professor informed them that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, he didn’t realize how much that day would drastically alter his life’s trajectory.

Five years later as a young lieutenant, Mark volunteered to be an engineer for the first AF Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Over the course of his year-long deployment, he experienced the satisfaction of providing basic services to remote villages, the anxiety and excitement of gunfights, the horror of seeing good people get hurt, and the sorrow of watching the flag draped coffins of two teammates loaded onto a C-130. His experiences in war illuminated the lesson that the life we live as Americans is a gift paid for by the blood of those willing to sacrifice themselves to preserve it.

In Afghanistan, Mark was equally overwhelmed by the magnitude of the population’s needs and the reality of being unable to fulfill them all; he was stunned when his simple act of applying bacitracin and a bandage to the injured leg of a child brought his father to tears. By the end of his tours, he concluded that he needed to utilize his abilities to make a difference in the world as a physician.

Now, he is pursuing his medical degree at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School to continue his service to others. After residency, Mark–a proud product of small town America–hopes to practice medicine in a small community hospital, where he can build close personal relationships with community members.