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 introduce you to Army officer Renn Clapp whose family history is that of service to the country. Since joining the service in 1990, Renn moved every 18 months to two years as part of the Army Medical Department. For the past 17 years, Renn calls Maine her home. Her passion for serving in the military as an Army nurse is in her blood and she plans to use her knowledge and experiences in the next chapter of her career.
Is joining the military something you always wanted to do?
“Since I was a little girl, before I knew I wanted to be a nurse, I always knew I was going to join the military and that was it. When I was in high school I recall telling my friends that I was going to join the Army. I didn’t even care if I was going to get paid as long as I had a place to live and some food. I come from a military family and had a great aunt who was an Army Nurse, great uncles who served in World War II and my grandfather and other ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War – it’s just something that we do. Currently, my brother is serving with the Coast Guard in Alaska as an E9 and my sister was a medic in the Army.”
Tell us more about your military career path.
“I joined the Army in 1990 and served active duty until 1998 before transitioning to the National Guard as the Med Ops Officer for a Weapons of Mass Destruction team. My husband at the time was also serving and we lost a child (stillborn with Down syndrome and a heart defect), so I decided I just wanted to be home as the two of us just couldn’t imagine both of us being gone and leaving our kids for someone else to raise. As a result, I made the difficult decision to get out of the service in 2006 entirely and raised my kids. In 2012, they let me back in the Reserves. Since I had taken that time off to be with my children and was a civilian, I was behind whereas all of my peers had Command and General Staff college and graduate degrees. I was a bit behind the eight-ball. I’ve been working really hard since 2012 and by this May will have earned two graduate degrees as well as completed Command and General Staff College.”
Military service roots run deep in your family, not just stopping with you and your siblings. Tell us how proud you are of your children and what it’s like to all be serving in the military at the same time.
“I’m proud to say I have two kids that are currently serving in the Army. My son is a Blackhawk mechanic stationed in New Jersey where he is also attending civilian flight school. Soon he will drop his Warrant Officer packet and head to Fort Rucker in Alabama. My daughter is a Medical Service Corps officer, moving to Texas this month to try and get into the Army PA program for graduate school. They both have never considered doing anything other than joining the military, and I have two more children that would like to do the same thing. My two younger kids already practice doing push-ups on the kitchen counter!”
“I love our military family and it’s great having my kids be part of it too. We took a family photo where my son had just finished basic training and had been in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). He was able to attend my daughter’s commissioning and received her first salute. As a mom, it was very hard for me not to stand there and cry! I did my daughter’s swearing in, so it was a pretty powerful day.”
You will soon fulfill your goal of earning your graduate degree. What follows graduation for you?
“I’ll have earned my Masters in Nursing Education. As a Nurse Practitioner, my focus will be on mental health. As far as my military service goes, my goal is to either return to active duty or work in the VA system to take care of veterans. Though it is not a mandatory part of my program, I was offered a paid residency by Duke University to work with the VA in Durham. It’s exciting because for the first time in seven years we’re going to pack up and move to North Carolina for one year and see what happens after that. It’s a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Why did you apply to be a Tillman Scholar?
“With a total of eight kids in our home, car payments, astronomical rent and working full-time, it can be tough to make ends meet, let alone walk away from full-time employment to go to school full-time. I looked at my age and told myself I wasn’t going to drag out the process of going back to school. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it full speed ahead and do whatever I can to make it work. The Tillman Scholarship enabled me to step back, go to school full-time and focus my attention on studying. I spend four days a week working at a VA mental health clinic, two days in school, and then volunteer on Fridays at the soup kitchen.”
Every scholar we’ve spoken with for Tillman Tuesday says, ‘I can’t believe they picked me.’ what was it like for you going through the process of applying to be a Tillman Scholar and then learning that you had been selected to the community?
“I think it’s a miracle I was selected. When I’m in a room full of such talented individuals it makes me think someone made a mistake in selecting me. I’m so proud to be a Tillman Scholar and be among a great group of people who are just absolutely amazing.”
You are among a small group of scholars who were serving in the military during the same time pat was. Do you remember where you were when you heard pat had been killed in Afghanistan and did his story resonate with you at the time?
“I tell everyone I meet the story of Pat Tillman. It’s a very powerful story because it’s about something bigger than your self; we’re all connected. Pat’s sacrifice and service walking away from something that a lot of people wouldn’t have walked away from is very admirable.”
What has been the best part for you being a Tillman Scholar?
“Without a doubt it’s being part of the great community of scholars, and just surrounding myself with givers and helpers who want to make the world a better place. Last year, the Leadership Summit was very powerful and such a great networking opportunity. Being part of the Leadership Summit as a new scholar is the moment you realize what the Tillman Scholar Program is all about…it’s so much more than just a scholarship.”
With your busy schedule, how do you spend your spare time?
“I love to swim, sail and camp. When I first learned that I was going back to school I knew it was financially going to be a tough time for us, so we decided to rent out our house for the summer. We used drove out the pop-up camper and coaxed the kids into thinking we were going on vacation. For the past three summers now, we’ve spent the whole time as a family driving around and camping.”