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 learn more about 2016 Tillman Scholar David Parkinson who prior to enlisting in the Air Force majored in Exercise Science at Brigham Young University. David is currently working towards his Masters in Sports Product Management at University of Oregon and plans to use his education and personal experiences to make a difference for outdoor enthusiasts.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
“I didn’t join the Air Force as a career move but it was rather a means to an end. I was working on my undergrad at BYU in the pre-dental program and we had just had our first child and I was having a hard time balancing everything and providing for my family. I knew the military would provide the opportunity for me to finish my degree while I was serving as well as allow me to provide for my family.
What drew me to the military is my family history of military service with my dad having served a combined 14 years with the Army and the Navy and my grandfather having served in the Army during World War II so I’ve always had a sense of patriotism. It made sense at the time that the military would help me get to where I wanted to go.”
HOW LONG DID YOU SERVE WITH THE AIR FORCE AND WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE?
“I served for nine years and was an Airborne Cryptologic Language Analyst – which is a fancy way of saying I was a linguist that flew on an airplane. All of my time was spent on the EC-130H Compass Call where I used my language skills to find, prioritize, and target enemy communications to aid in the aircraft’s mission of electronic attack.”
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SEPARATE FROM THE MILITARY?
“It all started about three-and-a-half years ago when I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree and I had an assignment for a class to develop a personal mission statement, which made me think about what was important to me, what I’m passionate about and what impact I wanted to leave on the world. As I thought about those things I realized something that I’ve always loved to do was being in the outdoors and I love helping people. I wanted to merge my passion for the outdoors with my passion for helping people along with the skills that I had into a career. I didn’t feel like the Air Force was where I needed to be to fulfill my passion. Once I realized what was important to me I didn’t want to wait to start making an impact.”
HOW DID YOU FULFILL YOUR GOAL OF MAKING AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT?
“I was led to Southern Arizona Rescue Association where I was a volunteer rescuer who would go out and look for people who were lost or injured in the wilderness in southern Arizona. The opportunity allowed me to tie together my love for the outdoors to my love for helping people. Knowing that I had the skills and was doing something that I love while helping someone else is an incredible feeling. Through this opportunity I felt like I made a difference, at least to the people we rescued.”
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE MILITARY THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN PRIOR TO SERVING?
“The military provided an avenue to learn more about who I am and what’s important to me because I don’t know that I would be pursuing my passion had I not joined the Air Force. I always believed that I could do what I set my mind to, but the military gave me the tools to make that happen and never give up. Had I not joined the military, I would probably be a dentist right now but I don’t feel like that’s where I’m supposed to be and for that I’m extremely grateful for making the decision to join the service.”
WHERE DID YOUR PASSION AND LOVE FOR THE OUTDOORS COME FROM?
“I’ve always loved being outdoors, but my first memory of doing stuff outdoors with my family came as a toddler living in eastern Utah. My dad wanted to go up to his favorite fishing hole in the mountains early in the season. We ended up encountering snow, going through snow drifts and eventually got stuck and when he tried to back out he drove into the side of the mountain so we were stuck even worse. We were stranded miles away from town so my dad took off to get help and came back hours later to rescue us. We had many successful trips to that fishing hole afterwards which I thoroughly enjoyed. Eventually we moved to the Midwest but I always looked forward to visiting Utah and going camping and fishing in the mountains.”
WORKING TOWARDS YOUR MASTER’S DEGREE AT UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, WHAT PROMPTED YOUR INTEREST IN SPORTS PRODUCT MANAGEMENT AND WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL DREAM JOB UPON EARNING YOUR MASTERS DEGREE?
“I felt my military skills along with my Bachelor’s Degree would translate well into Product Management but what I didn’t realize was how hard it is to break into the outdoor industry in the first place. I would love to be a Product Manager in the outdoor industry and work for a company like Columbia, Black Diamond or even on the hunting and fishing side with companies like Sitka Gear and Simms. I want to be part of the product creation process working with customers and figuring out what they need and want and then help design that. I feel that if I can get into that product creation role I will be able to talk to consumers about gear and also learn how I can make gear better to eliminate any frustrations or pains they may have and make it safer so they can focus on just enjoying being outdoors.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GO-TO OUTDOOR PRODUCT?
“A tough question but I would have to say my hiking boots because they go with you everywhere.”
BEING THE OUTDOORSMAN THAT YOU ARE, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OUTDOOR ACTIVITY?
“Skiing is my favorite activity.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU TO HAVE BEEN SELECTED A TILLMAN SCHOLAR AND TASKED WITH BEING ONE OF THE SCHOLARS CARRYING FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY?
“Incredibly humbling. I applied for the scholarship never thinking I would get it in the first place and I still question why. I’m inspired even more now to really make my dreams happen and be able to help people. It’s very humbling, especially learning more about Pat and wondering why I was chosen. Pat continues to inspire me in how he lived his life and I just want to emulate that and make a difference in the world in whatever small way that I can.”
YOU TALK ABOUT BEING INSPIRED TO GIVE BACK TO PEOPLE AND HELP PEOPLE BUT HOW DO YOU PLAN TO DO SO?
“I plan to give back through continued community service where I can find volunteer opportunities that help people in the outdoors. I also want to make it part of my career by inspiring people to go outside through the products I help create. I was inspired by Pat before being selected as a Tillman Scholar but now that I’m part of that community it makes it more real and I believe I can make my dreams a reality. His story just gives added confidence in following through with what you say you’re going to do.”
WHERE DO YOU ENVISION YOURSELF BEING IN THREE YEARS FROM NOW BOTH PROFESSIONALLY AS WELL AS FROM A COMMUNITY SERVICE STANDPOINT?
“Professionally I see myself working for an outdoor company as a product manager working on the development of new apparel or equipment. I want to be able to make products that help people get out more and they don’t have to worry so much about the weather and the impacts, risks and dangers that may come with being outside.
Giving back to the community has always been a part of who I am whether it was with the Boy Scouts, my church or through the military – that’s not going to end. I’m not doing search and rescue right now but I’ve transitioned that into volunteering with the ski patrol this winter. No matter where I’m living I’ll always be sure to find a way to help people enjoy the outdoors because I feel there’s a lot of value in getting away from the city and technology.”
ASIDE FROM THE FINANCIAL ASPECT, WHAT HAS BEEN A TILLMAN SCHOLAR ALLOWED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“It has given me the opportunity to connect with a lot of inspiring people. I didn’t realize how incredible of a network being a Tillman Scholar provided. The Pat Tillman Leadership Summit was great for networking and engaging with other Tillman Scholars learning their stories and being inspired by them. The support you receive from other scholars is unmatched – you hear their stories and you want to see their stories and goals come true as well. The added support is incredible and I’m extremely humbled to be part of it.”