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 had the opportunity to sit down with 2012 Tillman Scholar and Tucson, Ariz. native Kent Davis who earned his undergrad at University of Arizona prior to serving his country with the U.S. Army for five years. Following two deployments, Kent decided to separate from the military and earned his Law degree from University of Oregon. He recently opened his own private practice in his hometown where he is committed to public service.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY AND WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE DURING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE WITH THE ARMY?
“I was a freshman in college at the University of Arizona when 9/11 happened and it had a pretty profound impact on me. When my brother and I were born, my mother became a Quaker for the sole purpose that in the event of a draft my brother and I would be able to register as conscientious objectors. I remember watching on September 11 with my dad at the University of Arizona and watching all the events unfold on TV and that was a really impactful moment for me.
I was still doing my undergrad when Pat left the Cardinals to enlist. Being exposed to what Pat did, walking away from millions of dollars to serve his country, I began to realize that much of our society believed joining the military for people who had no better options. I was earning my degree in Chemistry at the time and was getting ready to pursue a Ph.D. or go work in Corporate America but really didn’t feel passionate about any of it. After Pat died near the end of my junior year, I knew that I would have regretted and been ashamed of choosing not to serve. Shortly after enlisting, I came to understand that those who are the most able should feel the strongest call to serve. Ultimately, what Pat did meant that I couldn’t call myself a Patriot unless I put my money where my mouth was and decided to serve.”
GIVEN WHAT YOUR PARENTS DID IN BECOMING QUAKERS, HOW DID THEY REACT TO YOUR DECISION TO ENLIST?
“Naturally it was very challenging. I didn’t realize it at the time how tough it was for them but it wasn’t about them, it was about what I needed to do in service to my country. One of the best things I can do now is share and be honest with other combat veterans that coming back is not nearly as easy as we contemplated.”
HOW MANY YEARS DID YOU SERVE IN THE MILITARY AND WHICH DEPLOYMENTS DID YOU SERVE ON?
“I served for five years and deployed twice. My first deployment I was enlisted; I didn’t know anyone in the military and had just spent four years of undergrad in a fraternity. I was afraid the Infantry would kill me so I decided to focus on the Military Intelligence role. I deployed to Baghdad with the 10th Mountain Division in 2006. As soon as I finished basic training I dropped my OCS (Officer Candidate School) application, which was accepted during that first deployment and when I came back I headed to Fort Benning where I commissioned as an Infantry Officer and went to Airborne School and Ranger School.
From 2008-09 I deployed with the 25th Infantry Division as a Light Infantry Platoon Leader and, while I was there, applied to Law School and was accepted. At the same time, I had applied to attend Special Forces selection and was accepted the day after my command signed the paperwork for me to separate and attend law school. Had whose events happened in reverse order, I would have pursued Special Forces.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE YOUR EDUCATION IN LAW?
“One of the things that became really instilled in me, and I think is probably one of the things that drove me towards service in the first place was that I feel the highest calling, most noble pursuit, the best that anybody can do is to make their community a better place. I think we’re all free to define that as broadly or as narrowly as we want. I define my community at this point, globally. When I was getting out of the Army I was defining it nationally. In between my first and second deployments I met a federal judge in Phoenix who took time to talk to me about what it is that he did and that’s what made me think was that one of the most meaningful ways I could contribute to America is as an Attorney. I figured if I could accomplish half of what he accomplished, I’d be proud.”
DURING YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY AND THROUGHOUT YOUR TWO DEPLOYMENTS, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU MAYBE DIDN’T KNOW BEFORE YOU ENLISTED?
“The biggest thing I learned was that I am a lot tougher than I thought I was. When I initially signed up for Military Intelligence I thought there was no way I could ever be in the Infantry. But by the time I finished the military I was an officer with a Ranger tab. It’s interesting to think about people going around day to day with a chip on their shoulder with something to prove. I don’t have anything to prove anymore and I did all those gut checks. Now I’m working on growing the same way professionally.
In terms of a professional mindset, one of the greatest lessons I learned was when I was in Ranger School – life is never as bad as you think it is. Things could be way worse and you can still survive but it’s the perspective. I have an awesome life and that’s something I can help others with – having an awesome life!”
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP AND WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU WERE TOLD YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED?
“I learned about the scholarship through other scholars at University of Oregon while I was attending Law school. Being selected as a Tillman Scholar didn’t mean as much then to me as it does now. Part of that is the fact I didn’t really appreciate or understand what the Pat Tillman Foundation was doing and I didn’t appreciate the group I was joining and how impressive that group is. Now, for me it means being part of a long tradition of Americans who were driven to make their community a better place.”
WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP PROVIDED YOU THAT MAYBE YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO ACHIEVE?
“Between my second and third years of Law School I wanted to work for a federal Appellate Judge as an extern and all of those positions are unpaid, though very prestigious. The scholarship allowed me to spend the summer working for free and as a result, that experience translated into my first job in law school which was clerking for my role model in Phoenix. That experience led me to my most recent job working for the Department of Justice for 18 months. I recently left my position there to start my own private practice in Tucson, Arizona where I represented, pro-bono, an African-American convicted felon in Washington in a Civil Rights lawsuit. I’m now trying to work in the public interest in focusing on civil rights and immigration.
Combat veterans are very few and far and in between. Regularly having the opportunity to be around combat veterans is something the foundation has given me and something I always look forward to. Pat’s Run and the Leadership Summit are really important to me not only from a development standpoint, but these events allow me to be around other combat veterans who understand, not allowing me to feel isolated. With that, the Tillman Scholar community is such an inspirational group of people – everybody I meet is doing something great!”
RECENTLY HAVING BEEN SELECTED AS AN RFC (Regional Foundation Captain) FOR THE FOUNDATION, WHAT IS YOUR VISION AND GOALS WHILE REPRESENTING AS AN RFC CAPTAIN AND WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH IN THAT ROLE?
“I knew when I was applying to be the RFC captain my role would be to help make the foundation as successful as possible for current as well as alumni scholars. For me the goal is to bring our scholar communities together. With our scholars in the Phoenix and Tucson Arizona area, we’d at least like to have one quarterly event. One of the things that I think would be really beneficial is to have a Tucson happy hour and try to foster the Tucson community. One of the things I’ve learned in helping promote Pints for Pat is, the easier I make it for the scholars the more likely they’re going to show up to events. Ultimately I see the role as helping the scholars be what it is they want to be and on the other end foster our community through social events.”
BORN AND RAISED IN ARIZONA WHERE PAT’S STORY LIKELY RESONATES MORE THAN ANY OTHER PLACE, WHAT DOES SEEING ALL THOSE PEOPLE COME OUT TO SUPPORT THE ANNUAL PAT’S RUN EVENT MEAN TO YOU, KNOWING ULTIMATELY THEY’RE SUPPORTING NOT ONLY PAT BUT TILLMAN SCHOLARS SUCH AS YOURSELF?
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it and how we’ve reached capacity for the city of Tempe. It’s truly an amazing thing to think about somebody whose story can’t be distilled in one thing – it means so many different things to so many different people. I don’t know of any human being that, especially in this period of time, inspired so much in so many people. A lot of people that come to support Pat’s Run don’t know that it is the signature fundraiser for the foundation and the Tillman Scholarship program.
It’s a great opportunity for me and other Tillman Scholars to get to go and interact with and thank those personally participating in the event but it’s also getting to immerse oneself in what Pat did and what it means. It’s a great feeling to be part of something so big and meaningful like the Pat’s Run event.”
HAVING RECENTLY TRANSITIONED FROM WORKING WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO STARTING YOUR OWN LAW FIRM, WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU BOTH PROFESSIONALLY AND WITHIN YOUR COMMUNITY?
“In five years from now I hope to still be working in my firm but also be serving an elected office. My role model was the United States District Attorney for the State of Arizona, the Chief Law enforcement lawyer had played a role as to why I too wanted to go to the Department of Justice. Over time I realized through my own firm is how I can make the world a better place. Someday I also hope to be in an elected office, whether it be a school board, board of assessors, whatever the case. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I am not dumb and I’m very committed to public service. I think that the combination of both of those and having people like that run our government is one of the best things I can do.”