TILLMAN TUESDAY: Scholar Daniel Feehan’s Service Journey Comes Full Circle

Featured Media, News | 02/24/2015

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 edition of Tillman Tuesday we had the opportunity to visit with 2012 Tillman Scholar Daniel Feehan who is recently named Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness. Prior to his current role, Feehan served as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense and as a White House Fellow to the Secretary of Defense. A Bronze star and Army Commendation Medal with Valor recipient, Feehan earned his Bachelor’s Degree in International Politics from Georgetown University and a Master of Public Policy Degree from the Harvard Kennedy School.

In 2013, you had the honor of being selected as a White House Fellow (program created to give promising American leaders a first-hand high-level experience with the workings of the Federal government), what was the year-long experience like for you? Would you recommend the Fellowship to other veterans and military spouses?

“It’s an absolutely incredible program in its 50th year. It is non-partisan and gives you a working experience in the highest levels of the Federal Government. It was a rigorous application process and I was fortunate enough to be one of 12 people selected. The opportunity to be part of the White House Fellows program led me into my position today. Beyond working for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, I had the opportunity to hear from almost every cabinet official as twice a week we would go to sessions and get to ask first-hand questions.

I could not recommend this program more for veterans or their spouses looking for an experience like this. In part, I succeeded in the White House Fellow application process because of the process I went through with the Tillman Scholar application. The process is insanely rigorous but like the Tillman Scholar process, it’s all centered on articulating what your journey in service has been. I worked under Secretary Hagel and also had the opportunity to have a great travel experience, going to places like Italy. It was certainly an awesome and intense year-long opportunity.”

Any unique moments from working at the White House?

“When we met with the President as a class, we voted on who would get to ask the first question and my class voted to pick me. It was such an opportunity that I’ll never forget, remembering what built up to that moment and all the people that supported me along the way to get to there.”

You were recently named Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness. What can you tell us about what your role entails?

“I am the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on Readiness. It is my job to know how manned, trained and equipped the Marines, Navy, Army and Air Force are to able to fight and defend the United States and its allies. I oversee and manage through policy one overarching question – If our military had to fight tonight, how ready would they be? I manage data, policy, what it looks like on the ground and how strained or stressed our military forces are.”

My challenge is measuring our readiness against something we haven’t trained exclusively on in 13 years, full spectrum warfare. Every Tillman Scholar was largely focused on counter insurgency operations over the past 13 years and now we have to be prepared for the present and the future threats in the world. I have about 12 meetings a day focused on any aspect of how ready are we to execute our national military strategy? I have never experienced this strategic level of work while in the Army as a Captain but now as a civilian position is equivalent to a three-star General.

My objective is that American people can be assured that we can fight and defend on their behalf and that American service members will be ready for the missions they will undertake. With that, my experience in the service becomes relevant and important in my day to day job now.”

What has this experience been like for you and is it a long-term position?

“It is a Political appointment. It’s a complete dream job I never would’ve dreamed of a year ago.”

What specific impact are you hoping to have in your current role?

“If in two years from now I could say we’re more ready to fight tonight than we were prior to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, I’d say we’ve done our job to make our military as ready as it could possibly be. We always want to be progressing forward, but obviously the enemy has a say as well.

Second, while we tend to view readiness primarily in terms of war-fighting, I want to make an impact in bettering how ‘ready’ service members are to become civilians when they leave service. This type of readiness has such a huge downstream effect on our society, citing the post WWII ‘Greatest Generation’ as a prime example. Our service members of this generation’s all volunteer force are the best at what they do and if I can have an impact on how ready they are to do what they want to do after their military service, whatever it is, I feel I’m making an impact. We can make another great generation and it’s evident through programs like the Tillman Scholar program.”

Based on your previous experience as a public school teacher, it’s safe to say you have a passion for education with you yourself earning a prestigious degree from Harvard Kennedy School. With experiences as both a teacher and student, explain why you feel education is so important?

“Education is human development, maximizing your potential on this earth – the way in which you are able to expand your horizons. Higher Education is a vehicle towards bettering yourself for everything and it works the same for the kids I taught in Gary, Ind. and for veterans using the GI Bill. Higher education is having someone formally reality- test your experience in life and through that process you can become a better person and shape your future.”

You were part of the Teach for America program. Could you explain what that entailed and your experience.

“It’s a two-year commitment to teaching in public schools in low-income communities. Individuals who are in the program have not previously dealt with education in public schools so it gets you started towards an education degree. They take you through a boot camp involving summer school teaching and by the end of it you are teaching in a classroom. It is very demanding – I was 2 months out of Iraq and then got my job in Gary. It’s a stressful experience so it’s not for everyone but as a Vet, having been through several stressful situations before, I was able to manage.”

Would you recommend the TFA program to other veterans who are looking for new ways to serve at home?

“Yes – You’re taking a group of people and moving them toward a collective ‘mission’ of learning and essentially you’re a classroom leader so it’s a great cross over. It doesn’t matter where you grew up; kids can learn and prove that the education gap in America can be eliminated.”

During your two deployments to Iraq, serving as an Engineer and Scout Platoon Leader, what did your responsibilities entail?

“During my deployment in 2006, I was responsible for security of a city north of Baghdad called Tarmiyah. I was responsible for finding and rendering safe roadside bombs and we were creative as to how to defeat them.

With my scout platoon in East Baghdad (2008-09), I had 50 scouts and snipers and we did nighttime raids to find insurgent leaders (bomb makers, heads of different groups, etc.). I didn’t see the light of day much during that time as we had to be ready to go all night long. At the end of my second tour (2009) I became an Intelligence Officer.

In between deployments, 2007 was the toughest year of my life because of all the training we had to be to do.”

What motivated you to apply for the Tillman Scholars program? Explain what the honor of being chosen as a Tillman Scholar meant to you when you received the call that you had been selected.

“It’s kinda full circle of my life right now. I went to Georgetown and joined ARMY ROTC right after 9/11 and watched the Pentagon burn from the rooftop of my college dorm. That moment sparked in me a desire to serve and I also started studying International Politics. It was also the same time Pat signed up to join the Military.

When I learned about my hero dying (Pat) I got the reality of the stakes I signed up for. Pat’s example is what I carried with me through my deployments and service.

Today, the office I work in is 200 feet from where that plane hit the Pentagon in 2001. The work I’m doing now is how I was inspired in the first place. What the Tillman Scholarship allowed me to do was make my degree possible, my job possible, my next job possible and this job possible.”

What has being selected as a Tillman Scholar allowed you to do in terms of your impact? Why would you recommend the program to other veterans or military spouses?

“One of my former professors always told me to take the cookies when they are passed. The Tillman Scholar program allows you to be in a place to do that. The struggle of being a veteran is finding a sense of purpose after you get out of the service. The Tillman Scholar process forces you to tell your story that lets you find new avenues of purpose and work. The fellow scholars are a great support network of people.”

The application for our seventh class of Tillman Scholars is under way. What is some advice you could share with those making their way through the application process?

“It’s all about your narrative. Asking the hard questions of yourself…why did you sign up (for the military)? What do you want to do with yourself and your life? Force yourself to answer that question, share with a friend and see if they find your answers authentic and sincere.”

Where do you see yourself in five years personally and professionally?

“I try to keep an open mind and ‘take cookies when they’re passed’ to me. I hope to keep continuing that. Every position I’ve moved into I’ve wanted to fit into one of two (or both) buckets – exposing me to something I knew little about and something that increases my level of responsibility.

I have found things build on each other if you allow them to. I briefed members of Congress last week and I realized I was relying on more of my experience as a teacher more than I was my experience as a soldier.”

Tell us something unique about yourself that others might not know.

“I’m a very competitive person-which keeps me engaged and involved. I like to run and play board games…especially Risk but when my friends beat me they love it because they feel my job makes me a great Risk player.”

Taking on the position at DoD carries heavy responsibility. How do you like to spend your spare time, and find work/life balance?

“Kids are my balance. We have 1-year-old and 4-year-old boys. I really try to make it home for dinner time and bed time with my kids. Kids are my balance and it takes a lot of time.”