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 caught up with 2015 Tillman Scholar and U.S. Army Reservist Amy Bowen who is striving to affect major public policy issues our nation is facing today. Amy just completed her first year at Duke University, working towards a degree in Public Policy. This summer, Amy is working at the State Department Political Military Affairs Bureau in Washington D.C., helping Foreign Affairs officers prepare for their upcoming roles within the Department of Defense.
THOUGH YOU GREW UP AS A MILITARY BRAT, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
“When I was in high school, I was initially mad at the military because my dad transferred to Korea in between my junior and senior year, so I thought my life was over and I wanted nothing to do with the military [laughs]. However, I took an ROTC class in high school and applied for a scholarship and was the recipient of one – realizing then the military was a real option for my future. September 11 happened during my freshman year at the University of Portland when I was with the Air Force ROTC program focusing on Biology. The next semester, I made the switch to the Army ROTC nursing program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.”
MOVING AROUND SO MUCH WHILE GROWING UP IN AN ARMY FAMILY, WHO WAS YOUR CONSTANT INSPIRATION THEN AND NOW?
“My real inspiration growing up was my parents. My mom was the one who instilled service in my brother and me, when we were in Korea. She would go volunteer with us at an orphanage for developmentally delayed Korean children and adults. To this day, she still volunteers and says she wouldn’t be where she is without the Army. So, in return she volunteers for organizations that give back to Army veterans. I get my sense of duty and continual self-growth from my dad and his service in the military.”
WHY DID YOU MAKE THE SWITCH TO FOCUS ON NURSING AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF DURING YOUR COURSE STUDIES?
“At the time I made the decision to switch, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Initially, I wanted to be a veterinarian but I felt like nursing was a great job because I could help people and I would get to health sciences. I was busy when I switched to my Army ROTC scholarship to become a nursing cadet because I had to complete summer courses to graduate on time. The thing I am really grateful for was that our ROTC Battalion was very strict about having the nursing cadets do the same thing all of the other cadets did – field training, leadership rotations, etc. When I was a junior I really started to excel in our program, doing things like the Ranger Challenge team, and realized I could contribute a lot more than I initially thought. With the encouragement of my military science instructor, LTC Emoto, I really started to enjoy testing myself on what I can do and accomplish while working with others.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR 10 YEARS OF SERVICE, HOW MANY DEPLOYMENTS DID YOU SERVE AND WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE DURING THAT TIME?
“My first assignment was as a staff nurse at Walter Reed on a multi-service post-op patient floor and I later moved down to the emergency room. I then went to Fort Bragg as a Brigade Nurse and deployed with a medical company to Iraq for a year (Oct. 2008 – Oct. 2009), serving as a clinic officer in charge and picking up extra duties, like being a member of a mass casualty committee. During my deployment, I was co-located near a State Department provincial reconstruction team and became intrigued by the Army Civil Affairs team attached to them. They encouraged me to try out. Typically, nurses are rarely allowed to switch branches but I still put my packet together and was selected to become a Civil Affairs officer.
I was a team leader with Civil Affairs, deploying to Afghanistan (Aug. 2013 – Jan. 2014) where we supervised the completion of development projects. I also worked closely with the United Nations Assistance Afghanistan mission and their civil affairs team along the provincial Department of Women’s Affairs (DOWA). We were actually able to help train and empower the head provincial women’s representative, since she was new to her job. One of my favorite projects we did brought together two feuding tribes with an irrigation canal, bringing better agriculture to their area. It was my favorite because you could literally see two tribes working side by side together on a successful project.”
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE AT WALTER REED AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN THROUGHOUT YOUR TIME WORKING THERE?
“It’s hard to quantify it, but you really feel like you’re doing something and making a difference. There are service members coming back, but we (the staff) saw how selfless they are at their worst time of their life. Waking up with major debilitating injuries, their lives were totally changed, but all they wanted was to go back and be with their fellow soldiers downrange.
Being at Walter Reed gave me a sense of purpose, instead of just being a regular job you became part of a brotherhood – leaving no man behind. There’s a certain connection you have as a soldier taking care of a wounded soldier. Because a lot of us went to ROTC, there were a lot of times where we were connected to our patients through mutual friends. Sometimes I would spend my lunch with soldiers that were in the same unit as my friends downrange, I would advocate for the patient as the whole process of being injured can be overwhelming for some soldiers’ families. It also made my friends downrange feel better, knowing someone they knew worked in their buddies’ hospital. Walter Reed is a place that pushes you to give everything you have to the patients. You don’t want them to get the short end of the stick for any reason, so you go out of your way for them even if that means a shorter break time or staying a little bit extra.”
INCLUDING YOUR TWO DEPLOYMENTS AND TRANSITIONING FROM A NURSE TO A CIVIL AFFAIRS ROLE, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THROUGHOUT YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE?
“I’ve learned to always have curiosity in your environment and continue to learn as much as you can where you’re at in order to move on to the next step and progress as a person. Even if you may not know all the answers as to what you want to do next in your future, if you work hard and put all your effort into what you’re doing, have curiosity and strive to help other people. People around you will notice and they won’t ignore it but rather help you. I never thought my Army career would be this way, but it’s because I always did my best to improve the situation around me. As a cadet, you always hear “leave your unit better than when you got there.” I always try to apply skills I’ve learned to my job and seek roles in which I could help. I learned to always continue to grow and seek new experiences around me; continuing to learn and giving my best effort has led me to success.”
EXPLAIN WHY YOU TRANSITIONED FROM ACTIVE DUTY TO THE RESERVES AND WHAT YOU PLAN TO DO NEXT.
“I decided to get out because I really felt that, for my own personal growth, I needed to go back to college as a civilian and get a civilian perspective on policy and economics. I also wanted to develop and see who I was outside of the military, as I was with affiliated with the Army for so long. I also wanted to see how I could serve in a different capacity. When I graduate from Duke, I’m looking at working in a field similar to Civil Affairs, at the intersection of development, diplomacy, and defense.”
UPON YOUR MASTERS IN PUBLIC POLICY FROM DUKE, WHAT DOES YOUR IDEAL JOB LOOK LIKE?
“If I had my dream job I would be a liaison for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) or the State Department and the special operations community because I feel like the mission of these organizations overlap to achieve their goals, but there are definitely some institutional cultural differences. Ultimately they’re all trying to accomplish the same thing, just speaking different languages and that can be frustrating for both institutions. I want to be a sort of interagency diplomat to pull groups together.
Through Duke’s public policy school, I’m learning the different pathways that can have an impact that I didn’t even know existed before I started school. There’s also a lot of opportunity in the policy health sector. The more I learn at school, the more curious I am about how I can best maximize my health, foreign, and national security policy experiences from the Army and tie through my academic framework to have a more efficient impact. My goal is to find something I can potentially use my medical expertise in but also help our foreign and national security objectives. The world needs a few generalists to be the glue between the specialists.”
HAVING JUST COMPLETED YOUR FIRST YEAR AT DUKE, PLEASE SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR CURRENT INTERNSHIP AND THE RECENT OPPORTUNITY YOU EARNED.
“I am working at the State Department Political Military Affairs Bureau, specifically at the POLAD Office, helping foreign affairs officers prepare for their assignments at the Department of Defense. Foreign Service Officers act as a liaison between the State Department and the Commanders. It’s really interesting learning about an organization you’ve worked alongside, through the inside perspective. While in DC, I have also been invited to a summit on development, defense, and diplomacy put on by the US Global Leadership Coalition and I will be talking to state representatives about my experiences as a veteran. In addition, I’m going to be part of the Duke Geneva program, where I’m taking a one-week intensive course in Humanitarian Action in Geneva, Switzerland. I’m looking forward to learning among international students and U.S. students, with the hopes of gaining a new perspective. We’ll also be going to the UN headquarters, which will be an interesting first-hand experience after seeing the UN on the ground.”
ASIDE FROM THE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE, WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP ENABLED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“When most people get out of the military they miss the brotherhood that comes with being a soldier. Being part of the Tillman Scholar community, you still have that brotherhood and others to reach out to who are going through the same thing you are – transitioning from the military to the civilian world, knowing you want to serve in a different capacity. Some of the issues we’re trying to tackle are not easy, so having someone that’s just as frustrated and going through the same thing as you helps keeps things in perspective and with keeping your eyes on the long-term prize. We’re there for each other, pushing each other to be successful and to do our best. We also keep each other accountable. Having extra motivation when you need it from fellow Tillman Scholars is great.”
WHAT DOES BEING PART OF THE TILLMAN SCHOLAR COMMUNITY MEAN TO YOU?
“I was completely surprised when I learned that I was a Tillman Scholar because I read the amazing bios of the scholar year before. The day I received the call notifying me I had been selected as a Tillman Scholar, I was on a plane, getting ready to take off to Germany after my last day in the army the day prior. The meaning changed from simply earning a scholarship to becoming a Tillman Scholar after I attended the Leadership Summit in 2015. That’s when things got real, meeting such impressive people in person, all at once, and I told myself I can’t let my fellow scholars down as they’re expecting big things from me. I want to do my best to represent the Tillman Scholar community. It also gives my schooling a higher sense of purpose outside myself. To be part of Pat’s legacy is something I am very proud of.”