Pictured to the right: Tillman Scholar Jamal Sowell pictured with United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, along with his sister and niece.
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. In this week’s Tillman Tuesday, we connect with 2014 Tillman Scholar Jamal Sowell who followed in his grandfather, father and brother’s footsteps, joining the military with a passion for service and making a difference. Jamal is in his second year of law school at Indiana University Bloomington with a focus on counterterrorism issues and is currently serving on presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s National Veterans Coalition.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOTIVATION FOR JOINING THE MILITARY AND HOW LONG YOU SERVED.
“My grandfather, father and brother all served in the Army. My grandfather served in WWII, my father was a career Army veteran, serving in Vietnam, and my older brother served in Iraq from 2003-04. The first 11 years of my life I lived on military bases and traveled a lot. That all played a huge, impactful role in my decision to join the Marine Corps. My grandfather, father and brother were all great role models, inspiring me to serve. I knew this was something I felt called to do because of the tradition of service in my family.”
WITH YOUR GRANDFATHER, FATHER AND BROTHER ALL SERVING IN THE ARMY, WHAT WAS THEIR REACTION WHEN YOU BROKE THE FAMILY ARMY CHAIN AND DECIDED TO ENLIST IN THE MARINE CORPS?
“I was always the one who wanted to be a bit different. A good college friend of mine was in the Marine Corps and I thought, ‘I can do that too!’- I just looked at joining the Marines as a different kind of challenge. My mom called me and asked, ‘why are you joining the Marine Corps and why are you enlisting?’ I told her I wanted the full experience. I joined the reserves as Private First Class during grad school (2006-07) and enjoyed it so much that I served active duty as an officer from 2007-2011 after I completed my master’s degree.”
WHAT DID YOUR DEPLOYMENTS ENTAIL?
“While serving I was a platoon commander and then when my unit deployed to Afghanistan I was the Assistant Operations Officer for my Battalion. Because there was no air threat in Afghanistan, my battalion was deployed as a ground combat unit performing counterinsurgency operations. I coordinated patrols with the UK, the Danish, and the Afghan National Police, providing an amazing experience for me to have a chance to work with other countries.”
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE THE SERVICE AND HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL?
“For me, I joined to fight the global war on terror and I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines and miss the chance to fight for my country when it was needed the most. I joined for a specific purpose, but I also felt that I wanted to attend law school and fight terrorism in a different way. My experience in the military provided a great foundation for me, as did my father who is also a lawyer.”
YOU HAD A CHANCE TO FULFILL YOUR MISSION OF FIGHTING TERRORISM IN A DIFFERENT WAY LAST SUMMER WHEN YOU WERE SELECTED FOR AN INTERNSHIP IN ISRAEL WITH SHURAT HADIN, ISRAEL LAW CENTER. IN THE TWO MONTHS THAT YOU WERE THERE, WHAT DID THAT EXPERIENCE PROVIDE YOU?
“I want to become a policy expert on counterterrorism and the military gave me a great background. Now, I desired to build off of that by attending law school. Shurat HaDin is an Israeli non-governmental organization whose mission is ‘bankrupting terror – one lawsuit at a time.’ In my internship, I was able to assist in the fight against terrorism one lawsuit at a time by focusing on attacking the sources that fund terrorist groups. My experience allowed me to see the fight against terrorism from a different perspective. You can tackle it from legal and economic perspectives too. During my deployment overseas, it never occurred to me where the weapons in Afghanistan came from or the funding for them. As an intern, I gained perspective on that cash flow that I was never aware of before.”
AFTER THAT EXPERIENCE, WHAT DOES ‘FIGHTING TERRORISM IN A DIFFERENT WAY’ LOOK LIKE TO YOU IN THE U.S.?
“One day, I would still like to go back into the higher education realm as an administrator but for now I feel with the skills that I’ve obtained both through the Marine Corps and law school, I can bring a unique perspective to the Global War on Terror especially when it comes to deploying our troops. I want to spread legal knowledge about how we can stop terrorist groups before they start. I think there’s so much that can be done in both the legal and policy realms to stop terrorist groups from killing innocent civilians.”
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO APPLY FOR THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP, AND HOW IS THE SCHOLAR NETWORK HELPING YOU TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS?
“I learned about the scholarship through my friend, and fellow Tillman Scholar Adrian Kinsella, who took over my platoon a few months before we deployed to Afghanistan. I thought it was an honor to learn so much from a Tillman Scholar and if it were not for Adrian I would have never applied. I was very excited when I received the call that I had been chosen since there isn’t anything special about me! So I was very humbled to have been selected into the community.
The scholarship has really opened doors for me, connected me with veterans across the country, and provided the opportunity to be part of a phenomenal, national network. To be able to still carry on the cause for veterans and connect with my fellow scholars allows me to have that brotherhood of veterans who are ambitious and want to make a difference in their communities.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO BE ONE OF THE MANY TILLMAN SCHOLARS CARRYING FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY AND THE PRINCIPLES HE EMBODIES?
“I feel to carry forward Pat’s legacy is to first give back to the community and country, and really work hard to leave this place better in the decades ahead than it has been in the past.
It’s also an honor because I was in college when Pat Tillman died and now I’m connected to him as a scholar and fellow individual that chose to serve. Professional athletes are put in the limelight more than our veterans, so it was rare for someone like Pat to leave his professional sports career and join the military. It was very admirable and honorable for him to walk away from a career like that and serve at a time when the majority of people do not enlist.”
WHAT HAS DEFINED YOU AND SHAPED YOU INTO THE PERSON YOU ARE TODAY?
“My family and growing up in the church. My mom made sure we were always involved in school, church and the community, whether it be in choir, Vacation Bible School, Sunday school or serving the homeless. All the time we were engaged in some type of activity, so there was no “down time” as children. Now, one of my brothers is a preacher and the other is involved in Christian Evangelism. Growing up in the church really taught us discipline in simple ways – like having to tie a tie, respected my elders, being on time, etc. – and great ways such as learning how to live and serve for a greater cause. I may not have always appreciated what my mom did then but I am very well rounded now because of it. I was in the American Red Cross Teen Corps, the band, and even took dance lessons as a kid. Throughout my time in the Marine Corps, I started to get ‘it’ and understood what my mom did by instilling values in us to make us “Renaissance Men” who had the ability to do more than throw a football and shoot a basketball!”
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP IN YOUR CAREER PATH AFTER LAW SCHOOL?
“I have one more year of school left and want to continue to be of service to our country. I want to serve others, fulfill my higher calling and do what can I do to help change the world and make an impact on others while I’m here on this earth. I would love to be involved in National Security issues, but I also have a passion for higher education and mentoring youth. As long as I’m able to be in involved in those fields in some way, I feel I can make an impact for a lifetime.”