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 other “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 had the opportunity to learn more about 2015 Tillman Scholar James Chally who served active duty with the U.S. Army for nine years. Throughout his time in the service James served as a combat medic, inspiring him to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant. With one year of school remaining at University of Washington, James will begin his clinical rotations in September of this year and eventually hopes to develop a PA program to fill a medical gap in underserved countries.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY AFTER EARNING YOUR BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN THEOLOGY FROM CALVARY UNIVERSITY?
“I was inspired by 9/11 as it happened when I was a sophomore in college. At the time I had thought about joining the military as I had friends that decided to join but I really wanted to finish school. I distinctly remember watching Iraq kick off when we were heading in there and was thinking ‘I feel like I should be part of this and serving my country.’ After I graduated in 2004 I knew I could go get a job, get my Masters or join the military, and joining the service just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
HAS ANYONE IN YOUR FAMILY SERVED IN THE MILITARY PRIOR TO YOU JOINING THE SERVICE?
“My grandfather was a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was on board the USS Oklahoma when it was torpedoed and was able to dive overboard and swim to shore. He ended up serving the rest of the war in the Pacific and then spent nearly 30 years in the military. My middle name, Alexander, comes from my grandfather. Unfortunately he passed away when I was young so I never got the chance to talk to him about his time in the service.”
WHAT WAS YOUR LIFE LIKE GROWING UP ON A FARM IN A SMALL TOWN IN ILLINOIS?
“It could have been the model for Leave it to Beaver. I was really fortunate to have two awesome parents and a whole bunch of brothers and sisters. We are still all very close which made it nice coming home from deployments to have that strong family support structure. My wife and I got married as I was ETS’ing (End Term of Service, to get out and not re-enlist) from active duty and we wasted zero time in starting a family of our own. Our daughter just turned two and we are looking forward to expanding even more but I think we will wait till I’m almost done with school.”
WHAT WERE YOUR NINE YEARS OF ACTIVE DUTY SERVICE AND CURRENT NATIONAL GUARD EXPERIENCE LIKE?
“When I joined the Army I did a quick tour to Iraq but after I got back I felt restless, like I didn’t belong there. A fellow soldier called me out one day and told me I should try out for Special Forces. I decided to try out and got picked up and was assigned to be a medic. After completing the training course I was assigned to an ODA where I did a couple deployments to Afghanistan.”
HOW DID BEING A MEDIC IMPACT YOU GIVEN THE INITIAL INTERACTIONS YOU ENCOUNTERED WITH SOLDIERS UNDER THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES?
“It impacted me tremendously and I really fell in love with caring for individuals through that experience and it is ultimately how I ended up going to PA school now. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility placed on you as a combat medic to keep your fellow soldiers alive. I was very fortunate to be serving with a great group of individuals who trusted me. Throughout my time in Afghanistan, I was also very fortunate in that I never had to treat any of my guys on the battlefield. I took care of them when they were sick, stitched them up when they needed it and it was through those experiences I truly fell in love with caring for people.”
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SEPARATE FROM THE ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY?
“Over time in the military my responsibility changed and with the passion I found for caring for individuals and the career path I wanted to pursue, it was best for me to be in the National Guard rather than active duty. I really felt in my heart it was time to separate and focus on going to PA school full time.”
UPON EARNING YOUR DEGREE IN HEALTH SERVICES FROM UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, WHAT IS YOUR CAREER GOAL?
“Right now my goal is to work in family practice and primary care – working in clinics treating anyone from kids to adults to older individuals. I want to do that so I have a good clinical base of knowledge in medicine, which I feel is important for working in this field full time regardless of the specialty. I do have a heart for global health issues and feel there is a lot of need, especially in low income countries. At some point in my career I would like to work and help establish programs around the world that help care for those patients in dire need.”
WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT DURING YOUR TIME SERVING AS A COMBAT MEDIC, WHERE YOU REALIZED THE SPECIFIC MEDICAL NEED OVERSEAS AND THE IMPACT YOU WERE MAKING – ULTIMATELY INSPIRING YOUR CAREER PATH?
“Over time throughout the experiences I encountered I saw the incredible need and the lack of education about simple things like boiling water, washing your hands, etc. – knowledge we take for granted that isn’t necessarily known to them. Having that exposure to other cultures has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the health needs that exist not just in our own country but around the world.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR THREE DEPLOYMENTS, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN BEFORE JOINING THE SERVICE OR SERVING OVERSEAS?
“I grew up as just an average kid in a little farming town and if you would have asked people then what they thought I would end up doing, there’s not a single person that would have said they thought I would do what I did in the military or even what I’m doing today. One thing that the military taught me is that there is no limit to what you can do in life if you really apply yourself and work hard. And that has really given me the confidence to believe I can achieve my goals.”
WHAT WAS THAT MOMENT LIKE FOR YOU TO BE NAMED A TILLMAN SCHOLAR, KNOWING YOU ARE ONE OF THE INDIVIDUALS CHOSEN TO HELP CARRY FORWARD PAT’S LEGACY AND WHAT HE STOOD FOR?
“It was a very exciting moment because around the same time I had just found out I also got accepted to PA school. Understanding the importance of the scholarship and being able to represent who Pat was and what he stood for is incredible and something I don’t take lightly. I feel it’s my responsibility to be a good representation of who Pat was and do my part to carry on his legacy.”
ASIDE FROM THE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE, WHAT HAS BEING A TILLMAN SCHOLAR ENABLED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“Pat’s Run for me this year was a really incredible experience. I remember being in my corral and when my name and bio were read others around me pointed me out and in that moment I realized I was helping inspire people. I feel that’s what it’s all about – you have an opportunity to inspire other people to do great things and be a good example. It’s also given me a lot of confidence in that I can go out and make the world a better place. For example, this year I was selected as President for my class so I’ve really tried to go through the year in a selfless manner and always be thinking of how we can serve our community and make the PA program better for not just our class but for future classes.”
WHAT DOES YOUR IDEAL DREAM JOB LIKE?
“I would want to work in family practice in a rural community where I would have the opportunity to get to know the people but at the same time have the flexibility to first of all spend lots of time with my family but also be able to assist with disaster relief efforts. There are obviously incredible medical needs in the midst of natural disasters and I think I have a unique combination of skills from my military and medical training to be able have a very positive impact in those situations. My long term goal includes continuing my education – possibly getting a degree in the education field and eventually work as an instructor or administrator where I can continue training the next generation of PAs be that here in the United States or in the global community.”