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 2012 Tillman Scholar Adrian Kinsella, who is currently working towards his Juris Doctor at the University of California, Berkeley and will graduate on May 15th. In 2014, Bar prep courses start five days after graduation followed by the Bar exam July 28-30. Four days after taking the Bar, Adrian will report to the Naval Justice School in Rhode Island where he will train to become a Judge Advocate. Adrian’s persistence and work with the Berkeley Chapter of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and Boalt Association of Military Veterans (BAMV) helped bring his Afghan interpreter, Mohammad, and Mohammad’s family, to the United States.
Tell us a little bit about what your life was like while you grew up.
“I was born in Seattle and moved around a lot when I was younger. At the age of eight my family moved to Mexico, where I lived for six years. My parents had previously separated. When I turned 14, I came back to the U.S. and attended middle school while staying with family in El Paso, TX and started searching for my dad. I eventually found him on a website that he had created in search of me, and after I finished middle school I went to Seattle to be with him.”
Describe what inspired you to join the military? How many times and where did you deploy?
“I always wanted to be a Police Officer, Firefighter or Soldier. I almost joined the National Guard while I was in high school at the age of 17, but my father wouldn’t sign for me. I ended up going to Cornell University on a generous scholarship. During my junior year, I studied a semester in France. After living in Mexico as well as other different places, I felt fortunate to be an American and to have received so many opportunities. I felt called to serve before proceeding to graduate school. During my junior year at Cornell, I joined the Marine Corps. I eventually deployed once to Afghanistan with a platoon for seven months in 2010.
During your deployment you worked with an Afghan interpreter, Mohammad, who you grew very close with and then spent 3 ½ years advocating for passage to America so he could escape harm from the Taliban. With so many individuals you came in contact with during deployment, why did you feel the compassion to help Mohammad?
“I consider Mohammad a brother. During deployment, you establish a bond with fellow servicemembers and interpreters. Mohammed was a hunted man. He was in danger and had already made a huge sacrifice to serve both his country and our country. I bonded with him because when I was young I could relate to his same background, struggling as a kid and wanting to make a better life for yourself and your family. Mohammed has a work ethic like that of a Marine. As a result of his service, he had lost his father and also almost lost his little brother. I felt there was really no other choice but to bring him here to the U.S.”
Your advocacy for Mohammed and his family has been well publicized throughout the country. How is he doing and how has he been adjusting to life in the United States?
“Mohammad arrived in America in January 2014. I’ll never forget the day of the Super Bowl when he was invited to attend a party and we had to explain to him the rules of American football! He ended up connecting with some individuals at the event. One was a business owner and veteran who ended up offering him a job on the spot. I didn’t believe him at first but it was true: he went to a Super Bowl party and came home with a job offer.”
You weren’t alone in the quest to bring Mohammed and his family to the United States. How great was it to receive the support you did?
“People all over the country stepped up to the plate to help. There were also several Tillman Scholars involved in getting Mohammad’s family back to the U.S. People from various states across the country began to submit letters to their respective members of congress. We had so many volunteers that we had to designate ‘state leaders.’ 80% of those leaders were Tillman Scholars.
Earlier this week, Mohammad’s family and I attended a Facebook event for IRAP, the NFP that helped us throughout the process of getting Mohammad and his family to the States. Fellow Tillman Scholar Rudy Rickner co-hosted the event, so it’s another great example of Tillman Scholars continuing to step up as well as see fellow Americans step up and do the right thing.
We’re also working with Tillman Scholar Jeff Meray to help fix Mohammed’s name as he was given the name ‘FNU’ by U.S. Immigration when he arrived here.
With over one year passing since Mohammad’s family arrived in the United States (Dec. 2014), how is his family doing?
“All of Mohammed’s siblings are in school (5 brothers, 2 sisters) and even the mother is in adult school. They’re all doing really well. We’re in the middle of finishing the asylum process, which will eventually allow them to stay permanently. They’re enjoying their newfound freedom in the United States. It’s humbling to have been part of the team that gave them life.”
With your tour of duty, traveling experiences and accomplishments while serving in the military, what has been the most rewarding experience for you?
“The most rewarding thing for me was leading a platoon of Marines through Afghanistan and bringing them all back, including Mohammad. I’m just privileged to have had the honor to serve our country and lead America’s sons and daughters. My uncle served in Vietnam as a Marine and my grandparents were WWII Veterans. With that being said, my dad was concerned I would bring the war back in a bad way, but he later told me he was surprised to see that I brought it back in a good way.”
What made you decide to apply to be a Tillman Scholar?
“I was at the end of my tour and preparing for the next stage, which for me had always been law school. In applying for other scholarships and came across the Tillman Scholarship. The thing that attracted me to the Tillman Scholarship was that it was so unique compared to other scholarships. After doing research and reading about previously selected Tillman Scholars, I was extremely impressed and wanted to be part of that inspiring community of patriots and leaders.”
How has being chosen as Tillman Scholar changed your life?
“To me the biggest part of the scholarship is being connected to the other amazing scholars who are all doing great things. It’s also about the chance to continue to serve. The Tillman Leadership Summit has also helped me make some great connections. Being part of the Tillman Scholar community is inspiring to me because whether or not we’ve taken off our uniform, we’re all still serving in some way.”
What made you decide to pursue a degree as a Juris Doctor?
“Once I decided to be a lawyer, I always wanted to be a prosecutor. I want to protect and serve our community and this is just another way to do that. I took an oath to serve this country and will continue to do that as a lawyer.”
What do you hope to accomplish and plan to do with your career having earned your degree with assistance from the Pat Tillman Foundation?
“I owe the next three years to the Marine Corps as a judge advocate and I’m fortunate enough to be able to get that experience in the court room. I’m really excited to continue to serve with the Marines and wear the uniform I love. I don’t know where that will be yet, but I’m looking forward to the adventure wherever it takes me. Eventually I want to come back to the San Francisco Bay Area and serve as a prosecutor.”
With such a busy schedule both personally and professionally, is there anything you like to do in your spare time?
“Though having a huge Afghan family and going to school keeps me really busy, one thing I will not give up is continuing to earn my pilot’s license, which I’m hoping to finish this summer.”
Kinsella emphasizes that he speaks as a private citizen and that the views expressed in this interview are his and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Marine Corps, Department of Defense or the United States government.