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, nearly 350 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, technology, 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.
In this week’s Tillman Tuesday we catch up with recent Ohio State University grad Greg Freisinger who was the university’s first Tillman Scholar. Freisinger has a passion for community service, having had the opportunity to build schools in Thailand with the Army and volunteering with the Communities in Schools organization as well as other non-profit veteran organizations. Freisinger recently relocated to West Point where he was the first to receive the Davies Fellowship Award in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the United States Military Academy, where he will teach and do biomechanical research with the Army Research Lab.
What was your inspiration for joining the military?
“When I was in high school I thought a little bit about joining ROTC or going to West Point. Both my grandfathers served in the military and it just seemed like it was something I would be interested in. I grew up in northern New Jersey about 10 miles from the George Washington Bridge, so from my high school you could see the smoke and burning from the Trade Center on 9/11, which made me start thinking more about joining the service. I ended up doing ROTC at Georgia Tech for four years, then decided to join active-duty and in 2006 I commissioned as an Army Engineer Officer. I was selected to go to Ranger School and Sapper School following Engineer Officer Basic Course, and was later stationed in Hawaii, where I met my wife who was also an Engineer Officer in the 84th Engineer Battalion.
I deployed to Iraq from 2008-09 and decided to leave active duty in September 2010 and enroll in graduate school at Ohio State.”
Was there a moment during your time in the service that defined you as a person or maybe inspired you?
“My company went to Thailand for 60 days to build schools and at that point I was a young Lieutenant with not a lot of construction knowledge, so it was a great learning experience for me. My experience there taught me that if you don’t know how things are going to work, you just do the best you can with planning. I realized it was okay to make mistakes and learn from them, and as a result, accomplish the mission even when you’re not sure how to start.”
“I had never been in that area of the world and it was interesting to see how people live and how grateful they were that we were there. The area we were in was very rural so the people would just come and watch us work. Great experience overall. Hopefully the school is still making an impact. Even though they lived modestly and didn’t have much money, everyone was really happy. It was great to be able to give back to those who need something like a school.”
You recently graduated from Ohio State with a research focus in biomechanics. What was the goal of your research and what are the next steps for you?
“My project was looking at people with severe osteoarthritis in their knee who were scheduled to get a knee replacement. With that, the patient is brought into our lab where motion analysis testing is done. We test them to see how their knee is functioning, measuring things like muscle activation and joint loading. In the operating room during a total knee replacement, the surgeon does some adjustments to the knee based on feel, but as a mechanical engineer, that’s not how we work. So we brought custom measurement equipment into the operating room to measure just how tight or loose the knee is after the surgeon puts in the new components. Then after surgery, we re-test each participant in our motion lab, to see how much they improve. The end goal is to identify what aspects of the surgical procedure, measured in the operating room, are related to how much a person improves after surgery. Identifying these aspects that are important to function may eventually help surgeons complete certain parts of the surgery with more precision, leading to better outcomes for the patients.”
For you, what has been the most rewarding part of being selected as a Tillman Scholar?
“I was a little bit surprised and definitely honored to be selected. I remembered being hesitant to apply because I wasn’t sure if I qualified. I wanted to be part of this incredible group of people, even if I wasn’t receiving any funding. With all the applicants, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to compete with all of the amazing people, so it was an honor and definitely a surprise to be selected.”
“The most rewarding part is meeting the other Tillman Scholars during the Leadership Summit and making contacts and getting to know them on a more personal level. Everyone has a real passion for helping people, so when you interact with other Tillman Scholars, it makes you think about how much more you can contribute.”
How has being part of the Tillman Scholar community shaped your life and goals?
“The military is very selfless so once I got out I wanted to continue my service in a different way. I started tutoring at Communities in Schools, the nation’s largest and most effective organization dedicated to keeping kids in school and helping them succeed in life. I volunteered as part of their mentorship program. I’m also involved in non-profits in the veteran space. But the Tillman Scholar community offers great camaraderie as it is filled with people committed to selfless service. It also gives you an opportunity to see what others are doing and brings that selfless service into focus. It makes you think about giving back more and continuing to serve in any way possible.”
What have you learned about yourself and the needs of other veterans throughout your life and career?
“The support that Veterans receive from the public is fantastic in general. However being at war for so long has its costs. Overall, GI Bill benefits are great and hopefully improvements regarding the VA healthcare system will continue. A lot of times you hear only the sad stories about veterans, but there are also a lot of people who are transition to civilian life without major problems and continue to serve their country as a veteran. The public may get a sense that all veterans are in need of help, but many don’t need much assistance at all. I think the focus on help and funding should be directly on those who need it most.”
You recently graduated from Ohio State, so what’s next for you?
“I recently accepted a position as a Davies Fellow in the Mechanical Engineering department at West Point. It’s a three-year position where I teach dynamics at West Point and do biomechanical research with the Army Research Lab. I’ll be working on researching the effects of powered exosuits on military performance. It’s a perfect fit for me and I am excited about continuing my service in a different domain.”