2016 Tillman Scholar
Driven by a spirit of service and a desire to use his physical and intellectual talents to help those in need, Stephen enlisted in the U.S. Air Force to train as an elite Pararescueman and serve wounded soldiers behind enemy lines. As he prepared to leave for basic training that September, the 9/11 attacks reinforced his decision to serve. Though just 19 years old and 145 pounds, neither the 90% attrition rate for Pararescue training or the fact that he would certainly be sent to war immediately after completing training deterred his resolve. In fact, completing the long and rigorous training regimen gave Stephen the confidence that he could remain calm and persevere through anything that life put in his way.
Serving in Afghanistan, his resolve was especially tested when two of his friends and teammates were killed as their helicopter, Pedro 66, was shot down. Stephen deployed a short time later to fill the team leader role of his deceased teammate. For him, it quickly became an emotionally trying deployment. Every time his helicopter lifted off the runway, he fought off pervasive fears that he would not live through the day. By focusing on the mission at hand, he ultimately motivated himself and his team to navigate through the tragic atmosphere in their unit.
In the face of loss, his experiences overseas taught him that he could overcome any obstacle or adversity. Inspired to honor the sacrifice of his teammates, Stephen pushed himself to earn his undergraduate degree while serving on active duty, completing classes while deployed to Afghanistan and flying daily rescue operations. During Pararescue training, he also pursued an accelerated EMT paramedic program, while managing the rigors and stresses of the Pararescue schoolhouse.
Now, separated from the military and serving as a full-time police officer, Stephen’s new goal is to earn his master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies from Midwestern University. As a PA, he hopes to contribute to community programs in the Phoenix area that spread comprehensive basic medical knowledge and life-saving skills to those in need. He also remains committed to helping the youth in his community by promoting a healthy, active, physically and mentally fit lifestyle, while instilling in them the lessons he learned in the military.