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 have the opportunity to learn more about 2014 Tillman Scholar LaChiana who recently earned her Doctorate in Nursing from the University of South Florida (USF). After serving in the Army for 11 years, LaChiana resigned her commission to care for her sick son when he required open heart surgery, inspiring her to pursue a career in Nursing.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE SERVICE IN 1997?
“My father was the first African American to graduate from North Georgia Military College in 1973 and he had a very tough time graduating from any college because our country was very segregated back then. Joining the military and going to college really helped my dad change his life and get started. I followed his lead in joining the service along with my three sisters (we all went to Mercer University and we all received a commission). I joined the military to honor my father’s legacy, thinking I would just do four years but instead I served 11 years and seven months.”
THINKING YOU WERE ONLY GOING TO SERVE FOUR YEARS AND BE DONE – WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE DURING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE?
“When I first joined I was a chemical officer for three years before transitioning over to the Adjutant General’s Corp. I spend my last three years in the Acquisition Corps where I served as a Contracting Officer. When I was deployed to Iraq in 2003 I filled out an application to join the acquisition corps, thinking I would not get picked up, but surprisingly, I did. My first assignment was to Korea where I served as a battalion chemical officer in an aviation unit. There were only two female officers in the unit. That year was lonely, and mentally tough. When you are in an aviation unit and you’re not an aviator you’re the odd person out. But, during that job I learned a lot about myself and gained some mental toughness. As a young African American officer, I encountered several people that did not want to listen to me so I had to put in extra hours to demonstrate my merit which was very challenging.
While I was in the service I was sexually assaulted by my platoon sergeant. This was a major crossroads for me. I thought I would get out of the military after that. I enjoyed serving so I stayed in. When I reported the assault, my chain of command refused to help me. They told me that if my platoon sergeant assaulted me, I must have done something to provoke the attack. This was simply not true. It was a really tough time but after that I met my husband who helped me get through it. Upon my return to the states I took a command.”
HOW DID THE EXPERIENCES YOU WENT THROUGH FROM THE SEXUAL ASSAULT TO THE CHALLENGES FACED WITH YOUR JOB NOT BREAK YOU?
“Sometimes I wonder to this day. This man came to my house at 3:00 in the morning, told me he was in love with me and then attacked me. I only opened my door to let him in because I thought we were having an alert or a recall. I assumed he was coming to notify me. I’m a fighter so I fought back, but somehow in the end, they made everything out to be my fault. They made up lies and told me that my reputation preceded me so this had to be my fault. I still haven’t figured out to this day what I did.”
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF DURING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE?
“I was always a timid person but in the service I learned some mental toughness. Every time I went to a new job, my superiors never looked happy to see me. I think they saw my skin and my gender and made several wrong assumptions. They did not think I could produce anything worthwhile. I don’t think I ever walked into a job where it looked like my new bosses were happy to see me or where they expected anything positive come from me and that really hurt. In due time my work was applauded. Sadly, but I really had to prove myself and learn how to be assertive and earn my keep. Having to go through the struggles of having to prove myself over and over in every job changes you as a person.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO SEPARATE FROM THE SERVICE?
“When we were stationed in Germany we had our first child. He was born with a heart defect that was corrected with open heart surgery. That very event initiated the timeline for my departure from service.”
HOW DID YOUR SON’S OPEN HEART SURGERY CHANGE YOUR MILITARY CAREER?
“My son was born with a heart condition called Tetrology of Fallot. We found out about it a week after he was born and he had open heart surgery at five months of age while we were in Germany. Our chain of command was very supportive throughout this time. However, when we had to move to a different command there was little empathy for me. I had to cancel appointments because there was no leniency at times and it was frustrating as my assignments kept changing. It got to a point where I thought, ‘I cannot kill my child for my career’, so one day, in anger, I told my Colonel that I would submit my resignation on his desk the next morning. He didn’t believe me until that morning arrived and my resignation was in his hands. I didn’t want to get out but I felt I had no choice.”
HOW IS YOUR SON DOING NOW AND HOW ARE YOU WITH HAVING BEEN ABLE TO FOCUS ON HIM?
“My son is doing very well and sees a cardiologist once a year. It took me a while to figure out what life outside of the military looked like because I was going through a mini depression. I had to give up so much at once. I did what I needed to do, not what I wanted to do. In the end, I gained so much more. I truly did not lose anything. My reward was great!”
HOW DID YOUR SON’S CONDITION INSPIRE YOU TO PURSUE YOUR CAREER FIELD?
“When my son was in the hospital he flatlined twice and he was revived by a nurse both times so that made me think about medical care. When he was in the hospital it was the nurses that were there at his side, providing exceptional health care and all of that made me think I could be a nurse. Later on when my daughter was born with a paralyzed arm I had to quit a second job to take care of her. She was in constant pain and you couldn’t touch her. I am married to a service member so each time we move I have to find a new job. This task was grueling when we loved to Florida as Florida has a large population of officers that retire and they were quickly filling the civil service jobs. That’s when I decided to go back to school.”
HAVING RECENTLY EARNED YOUR DOCTORATE DEGREE, KNOWING ALL THE ADVERSITIES YOU HAD TO OVERCOME TO GET THERE, WHAT WAS THAT MOMENT LIKE FOR YOU?
“Being handed my diploma was awe-inspiring. With my husband being deployed throughout my time in school, things were complicated. I had to balance school and work while raising two small children. At times the deployment was hard on them. Sadness in your children trumps every other task at hand. Graduation was a surreal event. Now I am well situated to enter the employment market. I am confident and excited.”
WHAT DOES THAT NEW CAREER OF SERVICE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
“I recently started working in a pediatric neurological office. I had to find a job where I could serve in some form but also still take care of my small children. My job allows me to provide for kids and take care of my own children. I’m hoping when my kids are older I can go work in a health department where I can work with underserved or underprivileged kids.”
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT WHAT YOU SET OUT TO DO FOR YOUR DAD IN CARRYING FORWARD HIS LEGACY OF SERVICE, WHAT DO YOU REFLECT ON MOST?
“It gives me a great sense of pride and honor. My father grew up in a very segregated army and the fact he could come into the Army as an officer was amazing. His service paved the way for me to join the Army and serve. I also realized that for him, the military truly changed his life because he was the first of his siblings to go to college and find a career. It was an honor for me to follow in his footsteps and do something that he did.”
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HELP ALLEVIATE THE SEGREGATION WE STILL UNFORTUNATELY SEE IN AMERICA TODAY?
“One thing we try to do in raising our kids is not live up or down to stereotypes as there are so many that affect the lives of African Americans. Even when walking down the street and seeing someone with their pants slacking, I remind my son what appropriate looks like. We emphasize the importance of having good character. We try to raise our children and influence other children to realize that regardless of what you might look like there is nothing that you cannot do. Your outward appearance, character and how you carry yourself need to line up. Character is a stand alone quality. It is not bound by color or gender.”
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP?
“I learned about it through a veteran success class at USF where the Tillman Scholarship was talked about. In 2013 I got an email saying there would be a meeting talking about the Tillman Foundation. At that meeting two current scholars talked about what it meant to them to be a Tillman Scholar and what it was like to be part of a service oriented group again. At that moment, I realized that I longed for what they had. I missed the brotherhood that is associated with military service. I applied for the Master’s program that following year, and once my acceptance letter arrived, I applied. I truly wanted to be part of the service legacy again and wanted to be part of that community.”
WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR YOU TO RECEIVE THE CALL THAT YOU HAD BEEN SELECTED TO BE PART OF THE TILLMAN SCHOLAR COMMUNITY AND CARRY FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY?
“I can’t even begin to put into words what it means – it means so much. Just to be part of the Tillman Scholar community and legacy of service is truly an honor. I truly don’t deserve this but am so lucky and fortunate to be able to represent the Tillman Scholar community. I’ve always believed in giving something back for the greater good rather than keeping it for oneself.”
WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP ALLOWED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“When I received the scholarship I was in the Master’s program. I was notified that I could not be a full time student while enrolled in this program. So, I quickly applied for a full time program- my only option was to obtain a doctorate. Receiving the scholarship opened doors for me at the university and broadened my spirit of excellence. Having the support of the foundation helped me realize there was nothing I simply could not do and it made me work much harder to continue to be part of this legacy. Being part of something bigger than yourself gives me motivation to accomplish things I didn’t think I could accomplish.”