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 2015 Tillman Scholar Matt Ball who is in his first year of law school at Stanford University and upon earning his degree plans to return to his home state of Colorado and continue his passion of service to his community.
PLEASE EXPLAIN YOUR MOTIVATION IN JOINING THE MILITARY AND YOUR ROLE DURING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE.
“When I completed my undergrad at Wesleyan University, I was very attracted to the idea of serving and I wanted to do something that gave back. At the time, I was headed to the world of finance and that didn’t inspire me. I basically joined to serve and really had no idea what I was getting into when I joined the Army. I wanted to deploy and felt if our nation was going to be at war I was going to be part of it. I ending up deploying four times. The first time was with the 101st Airborne for one year followed by my second and third deployments with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. My fourth deployment (2014-2015) was in Turkey as part of a Special Operations Joint Task Force that was fighting ISIS and Syria and Iraq.”
WITH NOBODY ELSE IN YOUR FAMILY HAVING ANY PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE IN THE MILITARY, WHAT WAS THEIR REACTION WHEN YOU TOLD THEM YOUR PLANS TO JOIN THE ARMY IN 2008?
“They were shocked and quiet because I don’t think they had any idea what to do. They had to digest it for a while. But ultimately, they became huge fans and couldn’t be more proud. They made a point to not stress me out during my time serving, so I don’t think I had any idea how worried they were until after I got out, when they told me they were really happy they didn’t have to worry anymore.”
YOU MENTIONED YOUR PURPOSE IN JOINING THE MILITARY WAS TO SERVE AND DEPLOY. DID YOU GET OUT OF IT WHAT YOU HAD HOPED?
“I got out of it so much more than what I thought I would. Looking back, I didn’t really have an idea what I was getting into, but I thoroughly loved my time serving. I thought it would be something I would appreciate when I was done but wasn’t really sure I was going to like it while doing it. But I loved it. I found myself at the six year mark struggling with whether or not to get out – it was really hard for me to leave.
Everyone grows up in their 20s and I think to grow up in the Army, you do it a lot faster. When I joined the Army I was pretty naive. Being humbled and being in an environment where you grow very close to people, you gain an appreciation for experience. My time serving with the Army had a huge impact on me.”
DURING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN BEFORE?
“I learned that everyone is capable of doing more as a member of a team. There were deployments where I slept only three or four hours a night for months, but when you’re in an environment where there’s a common goal and everyone is working hard to accomplish something, you’re capable of doing so much more than you think you can.”
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GET OUT OF THE MILITARY AND LEAVE THE ACTIVE DUTY SIDE?
“I got out because there is still a lot that I want to do in life. The deployment cycle was also tough–I spent half of my seven years in the Army overseas. I want to start a family soon and certainly respect those that can do it while serving, but I don’t think I can–I wanted to be able to be home permanently for my wife and kids when that time comes.
I love the Army and didn’t want to cut ties completely, as there are so many things you can’t do anywhere else but the military. I wanted to keep a foot in that world. With that, I’m currently serving in the reserves, stationed at Camp Parks in Dublin, CA.”
WHEN YOU LEARNED YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR AND KNOWING PAT’S STORY, THAT HE HAD ALSO SERVED IN THE 75TH RANGER REGIMENT, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU?
“When I joined the military, Pat Tillman was a huge inspiration to me. Pat left behind a promising career in football because he felt an obligation to serve. I felt an obligation to serve too, although, to be fair, I didn’t leave behind a promising football career. It was also inspiring for me to be part of the same unit as Pat, the 75th Ranger Regiment. So to be selected as a Tillman Scholar was incredibly meaningful for me. The benefits that come with the scholarship are fantastic and to carry something with Pat’s name is incredible.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU WERE NOTIFIED YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR?
“I was more surprised than anything because there are so many scholars with very impressive resumes. I think what Pat did was incredible and what other scholars have done is great too; it’s a remarkable group of individuals. To be in named in a class of scholars is such an incredible honor.”
IN ADDITION TO THE FINANCIAL ASPECT, WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP ENABLED YOU TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY?
“From my perspective, the financial assistance does not compare to what it means to be part of this community and network. The bond among scholars is so close.
I’ve actually been able to accomplish something specific because of the Tillman network. Last year, at the Leadership Summit, Adrian Kinsella was honored with the Make Your Mark award for what he did to bring his interpreter back to the United States. I reached out to Adrian because I’m trying to help my interpreter with his visa but wasn’t going about it in any concerted way. With Adrian’s help, I initiated a Congressional Inquiry into the status of my interpreter, who has been waiting for three-and-a-half years to come to the states while his life is in peril. The advice and insight I received from Adrian on how he was able to successfully get his interpreter to the States was 100 percent a Tillman community connection and I never would’ve gone that route if it had it not been for the Tillman Scholarship.”
WHERE DO THINGS STAND WITH GETTING YOUR INTERPRETER TO THE STATES?
“We are working on getting more Congress people to initiate inquiries with the State Department and the other agencies that handle the case. The petition has been signed by a group of Stanford Law students who are in the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). All in all, my interpreter’s case hasn’t moved, but for the first time in three-and-a-half years we did get a response back from the embassy that they do plan on expediting his application. So that’s good news!
It’s an interesting time to be trying to get my interpreter here because of all the controversy about refugees coming to the United States. Personally, I think we have a moral obligation to uphold our promise to those that helped us overseas. They’ve done so much more to prove themselves than we could ever ask – my interpreter was wounded in combat helping defend American soldiers.”
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE YOUR LAW AND PUBLIC POLICY DEGREE?
“I’m from Denver, CO and I’d like to move back there. This summer I’ll be working at the District Attorney’s office in Denver, which will be great. I think I want to do something on the local level that has a connection to a community. For me, law was a good route to take in order to explore the type of work and service I want to do.”
BEING AN AVID DENVER BRONCOS FAN, YOU RECENTLY HAD A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY ATTENDING SUPER BOWL 50. WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO BE PART OF AND REPRESENT THE COMMUNITY OF TILLMAN SCHOLARS?
“It was phenomenal! As a Denver native, being a Broncos fan is basically part of my DNA so it was just an incredible experience. When I received the call that morning I was in shock. Everything was a bit surreal and such a blast. To top it off the Broncos won!”
YOU ALSO HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN SUPER BOWL 50 OPENING NIGHT WITH ATTENDING MEDIA DAY. IS THERE A MOMENT THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND AS YOU WERE MEETING PLAYERS AND OTHER CELEBRITIES?
“It was great to meet Tyler Polumbus because we both went to Cherry Creek High School, although we didn’t know each other at the time. It was kind of funny seeing things come full circle: we went to high school together, and fast forward about ten years, I’ve been in the Army and he’s been playing professional football and we meet the week of the Super Bowl. It was a pretty laid back conversation. He didn’t have a guard up, so we just played the name game for a while and talked about Colorado. I felt like I had bumped into an old friend. Certainly an experience I won’t soon forget.”