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 500 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 learn more about 2013 Tillman Scholar and Army medic Samuel Innocent who began his schooling with aspirations of becoming a Physician Assistant before being inspired to pursue Political Science. Sam is now taking steps toward making an impact in Brownsville, New York, which has long been considered one of New York City’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Tillman Tuesday Tidbits:
BEING RAISED IN NEW YORK BY A SINGLE MOTHER WITH FOUR CHILDREN AND NOT LIVING IN A PLACE FOR MORE THAN TWO YEARS, HOW DID YOU ADJUST?
“My sisters were my friends growing up so it wasn’t bad. I never associated anything negative with our situation until I was a bit older and started comparing to how my friends grew up. I just had friends all over between New York City and Long Island and had a fresh start after two years. It never affected me negatively as I always had my sisters and I looked at it as an opportunity to meet new people and do new things.”
BESIDES YOUR SISTERS, WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU ALWAYS HAD WITH YOU THAT HELPED YOU ADAPT AND SUSTAIN A BIT OF NORMALCY?
“From middle school on it was sports and my love for lacrosse – which I still love and coach to this day whenever I have the opportunity to do so. Lacrosse would help me break into friend groups at new schools and still maintain friendships from other schools I played at, who ended up being my competitors in some cases.”
HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?
“I had decent grades right out of high school at Farmingdale State College but there was always a longing to do something more and something better after 9/11. With not having any roots anywhere I decided to join the Army.”
WHAT WAS YOUR JOB IN THE ARMY AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SEPARATE?
“With my mom being a nurse as well as my sisters in the medical field, I became a medic in the Army because it felt most natural. I loved my time serving as a medic for seven years and caring for people both state side and in Afghanistan. I separated from the military for similar reasons as to why I decided to join – having a desire and want to do more than what I was able to do as an enlisted medic in the Army. I decided to apply to be a P.A. and put my skills as a medic to use on the civilian side.”
DURING YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE KNOWN PRIOR TO ENLISTING?
“I learned about the level of grit I can endure and handle and my ability to persevere through the toughest situations thrown at me. It’s not easy as a medic caring for about 30 people who trust in you to get the job done. When you deploy it’s very intense so there was perseverance to keep my head above my shoulders during my time in Afghanistan in 2007. During deployment, I missed my sister’s wedding and then about a week after I got back from R&R my father passed away and I had to go home and take leave for a bit and then come back to Afghanistan and take care of the people that were assigned to me and focus on my job. As a result, I learned a lot about myself in that timeframe.”
AFTER YOU SEPERATED FROM THE ARMY, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO FINISH YOUR DEGREE?
“I began school when I was on leave and my final duty station allowed me to visit colleges while I was still on active duty. Transition for me was literally January 3, out of the military, January 5 I was at college filling out paperwork and two weeks later I was at orientation.”
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE A CAREER IN POLITICAL SCIENCE AFTER STARTING DOWN THE PATH OF PURSUING MEDICINE?
“The best part of college for me was self-realization and reflection. When I separated from the military I was all set to be a Physician’s Assistant. I then took a political science class where the question was asked, ‘Why do you want to be a PA?’. Helping people in the medical field was something I’ve always done. Then I was asked, ‘Do you want to be a PA because you want to be in the medical field or because you just want to help people?’ I went home and thought about it and realized as a PA I could help those right in front of me but in the Political Science field you can write a good law and a good policy and help an entire community for years to come. A good law is going to last beyond your time. After that realization (about a year or two before graduation) I have focused on the political science world ever since.”
HAVING EARNED YOUR DEGREE IN POLITICAL SCIENCE FROM THE CITY COLLEGE OF NEW YORK IN 2014, WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW WITH YOUR DEGREE?
“After graduation, I began working for the City University of New York in the Office of Veterans Affairs as Staff for Veterans Affairs and Urban Initiatives, working on how veteran issues should be handled, starting a fast track into nursing program, and making sure veterans have a space to meet and congregate with other veterans.
I sat on a board that advised the commissioner of veteran affairs for New York City who then advises the Mayor on veteran policies and what they should look like. I was then appointed to a three-year position by the mayor of New York City and worked on creating the Department of Veteran Services for New York City – which is the first city agency created in nearly 20 years. That was my first real dive into politics. Through the department, we would channel resources and funding to veterans’ organizations. Working with New York City and learning all of the policies has been a great experience. At the same time, I ended up going to JP Morgan for a year before leaving this past January to go back to school for GRE prep to get my masters in political science or public policy.”
WHAT DID BEING SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR IN 2013 PROVIDE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“Being a Tillman Scholar has humbled me in the sense that when I was at City College of New York and was doing a lot, being recognized by the school for my veteran services efforts as well as by the city of New York. I was appointed to my first official position while in New York and felt like I was on cloud nine in the fact I was doing so much and making and impact. Then you meet other Tillman Scholars and feel like I haven’t even started anything to make an impact – it pushes you to want to do more, and I can do more. To truly feel like I’m contributing to not only my own community but to the Tillman community, I want to make my fellow Tillman Scholars proud. Being a Tillman Scholar has made me want to reach further and higher. Before being a Tillman Scholar I just wanted to be the background guy where I write the law or policy but meeting other Tillman Scholars has inspired me to take more of a leadership role and do more in the veteran space.
Being a Tillman Scholar has also connected me with so many people who support each other all over the country. It’s great to not only have the support network professionally but the friendships as well. To me the Tillman Scholar community is a professional network of the most intense, high-energy people you could ever meet.”
IN ADDITION TO GRAD SCHOOL, WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP FOR YOU AND WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DO YOU HOPE TO LEAVE?
“Veteran policy has been a starting point for me but now I want to expand into the larger community. I just moved from the Bronx to Brownsville this past year because I plan to run for city council in Brownsville at some point and help shape the policy for the traditionally underserved neighborhood. I want to make things as they could be across the city for the people of Brownsville if everything were fair and on a level playing field. Once you serve one term in Brownsville you’re almost guaranteed to serve the next two for the purposes of consistency.”
ARE THERE ANY TOP ISSUES YOU FEEL YOU CAN ADDRESS NOW AS A CITY RESIDENT OF BROWNSVILLE OR AS AN ELECTED OFFICIAL?
“One of the issues is kids jumping turnstiles for whatever reason. There’s a policy in New York called Theft of Services where if a kid jumps a turnstile they’ll get charged for Theft of Services and is a misdemeanor. I’m trying to get the charged moved from a misdemeanor to a violation or a fine that you would pay. If you bring the charge down to a fine you eliminate the kid having to miss school or go to court, which only compounds the problem. Also, they’re still paying into the system and we’re not taxing resources.”
***To impact Tillman Scholars like Samuel Innocent who are carrying forward Pat’s legacy, click here.***