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. Currently serving as a Master Chief in the United States Navy, this week we had the pleasure of learning more about 2015 Tillman Scholar Anthony Lena who is currently working towards his Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Tufts University. After serving 25 deployments and gaining valuable insight during his time with Special Operations, Lena plans to revolutionize crisis management by creating framework and a system tailorable for the U.S. Government, Enterprise and Consumer use.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
“I was inspired by my family generations of military service that came before me – my father served in the Navy, my uncle in the Army, grandfather in the Marine Corps and finally, my great uncle who served in the Navy during the attack on Pearl Harbor, earning a Silver Star for gallantry while engaging enemy aircraft from a burning naval vessel. These role models definitely played a culminating part in my gaining great respect and call to service for our country. It was also an excellent opportunity to discover some direction in my life. Reflecting back to my first time attending college, and a defined path for my life seemed to be elusive, I found that contributing to a cause greater than oneself not only appropriate, but allowed me to focus on team rather than over thinking myself. This decision to join the service set me free from the harsh self-criticisms I was experiencing at the time and allowed me to discover an entirely new passion and destiny. This experience taught me that; aligning your efforts with something larger than yourself can reinfuse oneself with passion and purpose”.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO EARN YOUR UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE WHILE SERVING ACTIVE DUTY IN THE MILITARY?
“To answer this question, I need to go back to 2007 in Iraq. During a deployment I experienced a blast injury from a suicide bomber and began suffering from the regressive symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury. At the time of the injury, I got back up and completed the entire deployment but the symptoms and effects began overwhelming my life- my speech was getting bad, things weren’t working out at home, but for some reason I can’t even remember to this day, I enrolled at Norwich University. What I found was; school started to help me heal. Things started really clearing up, and as I am now told using a different part of my brain was therapeutic. I suddenly began having this appetite for education where I couldn’t stop reading and taking in information. When I finished my undergrad, I was excited for the accomplishment but my brain was still starving for more education. I decided to earn my Master and to this day I still try to read a book a week. My brain therapy through learning is a never-ending process for me now.”
HOW MANY DEPLOYMENTS DID YOU SERVE AND WHAT DO YOUR CURRENT RESPONSIBILITIES ENTAIL?
“I’ll have served 26 year’s active duty in the military in October, 2016 and deployed around 25 times. When I first started deploying I did a lot of training with foreign forces – going overseas and training our many dependable partners to be a predictable and reliable part of U.S. forces projection and capability abroad. Those were typically six month deployments to various places in the pacific (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Republic of South Korea). In between my permanently assigned duty stations, I attended Defense Language Institute (DLI) in route to an East Coast assignment. Up until about a year and a half ago I was on Sea Duty my entire career. I recently transitioned to a newly commissioned command that focuses on special reconnaissance and innovation. It has been an ideal opportunity at this juncture of my military career. I am able to take my diverse experiences, lead and challenge other sailors, soldiers and airmen to develop the next generation strategic and tactical capabilities for multi-functional application both inside and outside the declared theaters of active and armed conflict. Not being on the perpetual hook for deployment anytime and anywhere, it gave me the opportunity and bandwidth to take advantage of continuing my education in pursuit my master degree.”
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL IN COMPLETING YOUR MASTERS PROGRAM AT TUFTS UNIVERSITY?
“My goal in completing my master program was partially based on capitalizing on some ‘soft skills’ I had acquired in service, but took roots while being as a child raised overseas. As a child, I was raised for nearly six years as an ex-patriot in Ghana, West Africa and Caracas, Venezuela. These early interactions and experiences with diverse people, cultures and processes play an important part in who I am today. To know me, you will realize that I am a person who values and leads with diversity; I don’t expect nor want anyone to be like me and I respect diverse in people and thought and process.
Choosing the Fletcher School at Tufts University, I felt the institution offered great credibility and a mechanism to codify my unique ‘soft skills’ by partaking in a top tier education that focusses on international relations and affairs. The Fletcher School and its prominent list of professors, alumni and students typically have served, continue to serve or will come to eventually serve in many public, private, multilateral and non-governmental fields internationally and have established themselves as innovative leaders and problem-solvers worldwide.
The Global Master of Arts Program at Tufts University is an international program comprised of approximately 32 foreign nationals in different sectors from all over the world. My primary goal in completing my master within this program is to utilize the academic institution, reputation and international credibility to pursuit my passion which in the area of international crisis and risk. My thesis intends to take a hard look at traditional international crisis and risk through a very different lens that is consistent with the way our world interacts, communicates and is rapidly becoming integrated by way of the internet and globalization. In the end, I am hoping my academic journey leads to revolutionizing crisis and risk management on a global scale in order to facilitate greater eventualities, outcomes and opportunities along the way.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR 26 YEARS OF SERVICE AND 25 DEPLOYMENTS WITH THE NAVY, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF OR MAYBE ARE STILL LEARNING THAT YOU DID NOT KNOW PRIOR TO JOINING THE MILITARY?
“The military has given me the opportunity to do a lot of different things and in my case I feel I have had the optimal military career filled with opportunities. I was in the Naval Special Warfare and the SEAL teams for ten years before we went to war so, I was well prepared for execution in combat. How that all equated to reality down range was when in crisis and conflict with an enemy, nothing really moved too fast for me and the predominance of my career experiences now are outside of training. As such, I was able to experiment in combat to refine, improve and execute new strategic and tactical processes. That’s when I was able to take a hard look at crisis and the frameworks that are currently applied to problems and solutions. It was down-range that I concisely decided there was a better way to approach crisis. I decided there to take my lessons and processes learned in actual crises and begin to share them. I felt this would not only to make the U.S. Government better prior and during an actual crisis, but improve the functions it considers and acts upon in the de-escalation and post crisis periods leading to end state.”
SOMETIMES THERE IS IGNORANCE WHEN A MILITARY MEMBER DEPLOYS IN THE FACT THERE IS STILL A LOVED ONE BACK HOME. WITH SO MANY DEPLOYMENTS, HOW MUCH OF A KEY ROLE HAS YOUR FAMILY PLAYED IN SUPPORTING YOUR CAREER FOR AS LONG AS YOU’VE BEEN SERVING?
“My wife Michele has and continues to be the rock that holds our family together. No different than anyone else’s life, there were opportunity costs associated with my deployments overseas – most being family milestone events. Those sunk costs are in the past. It’s better to just focus today on what I can control, try not to pretend I was there, and move forward towards normalizing my relationship with my wife and as a father. On a positive note, I looked early at the military hard and how that applied and affected family. I made a personal and conscious choice to not bring the military home with me and tried to live a normal yet parallel family life and separate the two. I think that’s a move we discussed early in our relationship and been most helpful for us. Explaining dad is going to be gone is a really hard thing but coming home and trying to normalize that as fast as reasonably possible is really important.”
WHAT ARE YOU FOCUSING ON NOW AS A MASTER CHIEF?
“I’m currently focusing my efforts right now on a project related SECDEF Carters initiative to set a course for the future that embraces innovation and keeps the Department of Defense competitive in a highly competitive and rapidly advancing technical world. There are many challenges on this envisioned horizon where end users have the most current technologies in their hands which include a change in existing policies aligned towards a more rapid and responsive acquisition process while maintaining legal, moral and ethical contractual obligations to our tax payers and congressional oversight. I am hoping my service background in advance end user technologies and the education I have recently received in international relations and affairs will help to close the gaps and assist the Secretary in reaching his goals. I see this as my final mission and milestone in service. Bureaucracy of the military and getting the right tools in the military’s hands for the right reasons.”
AS AN ACTIVE DUTY MEMBER OF THE MILITARY, A FULL-TIME STUDENT AND DAD, HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIME?
“It’s all about balancing and knowing where those tilt points are. My wife is doing great things in her career and I’m very proud of her. The key to execution for anyone is knowing when enough is enough and being able to say ‘no’ because otherwise it will disrupt the balance. The challenge for me right now is active duty military with a transition in the process and trying to achieve that balance.”
WITH ALL THE MOVIES RECENTLY BEING MADE ABOUT WAR, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW HOLLYWOOD PORTRAYS OUR MILITARY?
“When it comes to portrayals of our service members in war, Hollywood is quite predictable in their marketing strategy towards archetypes–the tough soldier, the soft soldier, and the traditional portrayal of the evil officer against the defenseless enlisted service member. These films are generally good for the weekly dose of drama, film or entertainment value. The problem is not with the entertainment itself but rather, when consumers and media have trouble separating entertainment from reality. An example of this is; the underlying theme of war movies is a service member or veteran character who exhibits the most extreme cases of post-traumatic stress and leaves a devastating wake of violence and abuse. I believe this theme and trend is damaging to veterans trying to find meaningful employment opportunities after separation from service. Conversely, the same negative stereotypes gleaned from media and popular culture make employers wary of bringing veterans aboard. In reality, the overwhelming majority of service members I have had the honor and privilege served alongside are consummate professionals with an inordinate amount of leadership experience, they do not advertise the nature of their work, nor seek recognition for their actions. They hold a personal responsibility with the recognition that has been bestowed upon them as military service veterans to continue contributing to America by making its workforce better.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO BE PART OF THE TILLMAN SCHOLAR COMMUNITY?
“I had the honor of observing Pat as I was deployed overseas in Afghanistan at the same time he was there. I am not going to pretend we were great friends. It goes without saying; he was very popular with all the troops and an inspiration to all for his commitment. I did have the opportunity to observe him and what I saw was a very genuine person, and a role-model to the many young Rangers within his unit. What stood out was he gave undivided attention to each soldier around him regardless of how busy he might have been taking care of his own duties. That gave me great respect for him right off the bat. He absolutely considered himself a brother and teammate vice a celebrity.
For one second when I was applying for the Tillman Scholarship I may have thought about the financial benefits, until I visited the website and learned more about what they were doing and their mission and it no longer was about money – it was about people who were aligned with the right things and trying to make a great impact in the world. I wanted to be part of that community. It was almost a zero sum game. If I would have received a call and was told I could be a Tillman Scholar if you pay us I probably would have done it because of the respect I have for the foundation and its mission. Pat, like other teammates of mine I’ve lost due to the effects of war from things like PTSD, people try to ignore an event. It’s important that we recognize Pat for who he was and what he stood for. Even as I was running at Pat’s Run and was tired, I was thinking of how awesome it was and the great tribute it pays to Pat, his great family and all his friends who are still keeping his memory alive to this day.”
HAVING JUST PARTICIPATED IN YOUR FIRST PAT’S RUN, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE EXPERIENCE?
“I’ve competed in runs before and have noticed the people who are there to compete and run and those who are just there to participate. I felt that Pat’s Run is all about the people there to recognize Pat’s legacy – and that makes it different and unique than other runs. It’s like everybody was running as one big team.”
AS YOU’RE FINISHING YOUR THESIS AND LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
“I probably have too many missions on my plate right now with work, research and preparation for the next chapter in my life after transition. Right now, and based on what I have learned at Tufts, I feel inclined to become more intimate with the technology sector and its expanding global affects and influence that are occurring on a global scale. Like it or not, technology simply cannot be ignored. Companies like Airbnb and Uber not only us making us rethink the way entire industries have operated, but also reshaping the way governments have viewed their working classes for decades. This innovation is vital to global economy desperately in need of job creation. As far as goals; I am in the initial stages of planning and establishing a private venture based upon my thesis at Tufts, and introduces this entirely new crisis and risk management framework to governments, enterprises and consumers.
Meanwhile, I am currently faced with a very unique opportunity that I am inclined to take care of and related to a very important non-profit concept that is focused upon; Counter Violent Youth Extremism. This non-profit was not initially in the master ‘transition’ plan for “Tony” but it increasingly seems like the obvious and right thing to do. It’s funny because prior to a classmate at Fletcher and I conjuring this concept and opportunity, I had always thought; the way it works in life is you give yourself for a greater cause, the military in my case, and then there’s a point where it’s time to do something great for myself and family. Once you’ve succeeded there, you start giving back again – that’s seems to be the natural path. I am finding now that there is no natural or intended path, instead you must simply follow your instincts and do what is right. My instincts in this specific opportunity are telling me that; children are being naively and imprudently being coaxed on to the battlefield, and a solution outside of governments is required. This effort, a grassroots movement and effort would be primarily enabled by trained college students who can interact and articulate with the targeted via social media platforms with the impressionable and targeted children worldwide. The overall desire and intent of this effort would be to counter and undermine the fertile recruitment effort that currently reinforces our enemies abroad. In the macro picture, saving these children and undermining these recruitment efforts could be a solution towards ending larger and more distant problem of generational terrorism that we are beginning to see.”
WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP PROVIDED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“It’s a multi-level thing for me in regards to my relationship with the Tillman Foundation and the scholarship itself. Coming from a very small unit I am now getting to meet different types of people and achieving diversity. I’ve also been given the ability to go to school, which I would not have been able to do without their help. Along with that, the continued transition assistance is going to help me by associating with people throughout the Tillman Scholar and gracious donor community. For me it’s about giving back to a great cause and being intimately involved with the Tillman Foundation, I am definitely aligned with my objectives.”