Pat Tillman was was an American football player who left his professional career and enlisted in the United States Army in June 2002 in the aftermath of theSeptember 11 attacks. His service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequent death, were the subject of much media attention.
Tillman joined the Army Rangers and served several tours in combat before he died in the mountains of Afghanistan. At first, the Army reported that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire. Controversy ensued when a month later, on May 28, 2004, the Pentagon notified the Tillman family that he had died as a result of a friendly fire incident; the family and other critics allege that the Department of Defense delayed the disclosure for weeks after Tillman’s memorial service out of a desire to protect the image of the U.S. armed forces.
Tillman was the first professional football player to be killed in combat since Bob Kalsu, who died in the Vietnam War in 1970. Tillman was posthumously laterally promoted from Specialist to Corporal. He also received posthumous Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. Tillman’s jersey number 40 was retired at the Cardinals’ first home game of 2004.
MILTARY CAREER & DEATH
Tillman and his brother Kevin enlisted on 31 May 2002. Kevin gave up the chance of a career in professional baseball as he had already signed to play for the Cleveland Indians. In September 2002, they completed basic training together The two brothers completed theRanger Assessment and Selection Program in late 2002 and were assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion in Fort Lewis, Washington. Tillman resided in University Place with his wife before being deployed to Iraq. After participating in the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, in September 2003, he entered Ranger Schoolat Fort Benning, Georgia, and graduated on November 28, 2003.
Tillman was subsequently redeployed to Afghanistan. On April 22, 2004, he was initially reported to have been killed by enemy combatants. An Afghan Militia Forces allied soldier was also killed in the action. Tillman’s platoon leader first lieutenant David Uthlaut and his radio telephone operator (RTO), 19-year old Jade Lane, were wounded in the incident. The Army initially claimed that Tillman and his unit were attacked in an apparent ambush on a road outside of the village ofSperah about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Khost, near the Pakistan border. It wasn’t until after his burial that investigations by the Department of Defense and US Congress were launched, eventually ruling his death as friendly fire.
The Army Special Operations Command initially claimed that there was an exchange with hostile forces. After a lengthy investigation conducted by Brigadier General Gary M. Jones, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that both the Afghan militia soldier’s and Pat Tillman’s deaths were due to friendly fire aggravated by the intensity of the firefight.
An investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) concluded that Tillman and the Afghan militia soldier were killed by friendly fire when one allied group fired upon another in confusion after nearby gunfire was mistakenly believed to be from enemy combatants. The CID Report summary, dated 19 March 2007, stated that: “during their movement through the canyon road, Serial 2 [Tillman’s platoon had to split up because of a broken Humvee; the parts were called Serial 1 and 2] was ambushed and became engaged in a running gun battle with enemy combatants. Serial 1 [Tillman’s portion of the platoon] had just passed through the same canyon without incident and were approximately one kilometer ahead of Serial 2. Upon hearing explosions, gunfire, and sporadic radio communication from Serial 2, Serial 1 dismounted their vehicles and moved on foot, to a more advantageous position to provide overwatch and fire support for Serial 2’s movement out of the ambush.” Upon exiting the gorge, and despite attempts by Serial 1 to signal a “friendly position,” occupants of the lead vehicle of Serial 2 opened fire on Tillman’s position, where he was fatally shot.
He started his college career as a linebacker for Arizona State University in 1994, when he secured the last remaining scholarship for the team. Tillman excelled as a linebacker at Arizona State, despite being relatively small for the position at five-feet eleven-inches (1.80 m) tall. As a junior, he helped his team go undefeated that season as well as helping them make it to the Rose Bowl that year. In 1997, he was voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Academically, Tillman majored in marketing and graduated in three and a half years with a 3.85 GPA. He also earned many academic awards including: the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award in 1996 and 1997; the Sporting News Honda Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1997; and the 1998 Sun Angel Student Athlete of Year. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
In the 1998 National Football League Draft, Tillman was selected as the 226th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman moved over to play the safety position in the NFL and started ten of sixteen games in his rookieseason.
At one point in his NFL career, Tillman turned down a five-year, $9 million contract offer from the St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals.
Sports Illustrated football writer Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z) named Tillman to his 2000 NFL All-Pro team after Tillman finished with 155 tackles (120 solo), 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 pass deflections and 1 interception for 30 yards.
Tillman finished his career with totals of 238 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions for 37 yards, 3 forced fumbles, 12 pass deflections, and 3 fumble recoveries in 60 career games. In addition he also had 1 rush attempt for 4 yards and returned 3 kickoffs for 33 yards.
In May 2002, eight months after the September 11 attacks and after completing the fifteen remaining games of the 2001 season which followed the attacks (at a salary of $512,000 per year), Tillman turned down a contract offer of $3.6 million over three years from the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army.
On Sunday, September 19, 2004, all teams of the NFL wore a memorial decal on their helmets in honor of Pat Tillman. The Arizona Cardinals continued to wear this decal throughout the 2004 season. Former Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer requested to also wear the decal for the entire season, but the NFL turned him down, saying his helmet would not be uniform with the rest of the Denver Broncos. Plummer later grew a full beard and his hair long in honor of Tillman, who had such a style in the NFL before cutting his hair and shaving his beard off to fit military uniform guidelines.
The Cardinals retired his number 40, and Arizona State did the same for the number 42 he wore with the Sun Devils. The Cardinals have named the plaza surrounding their University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza. Later, on November 12, 2006, during a Cardinals game versus the Cowboys, a bronze statue was revealed in his honor. ASU also named the football locker room entryway to Sun Devil Stadium the “Pat Tillman Memorial Tunnel” and made a “PT-42” patch that they place on the neck of their uniforms as a permanent feature. In 2011, Pat Tillman Veteran’s Center in the lower level of the Memorial Union opened on the Tempe campus.
Before the 2013 seaon, the Tillman Tunnel was renovated with graphics, signage, double doors separate the locker room from the tunnel, and television replaying Tillman’s career highlights, sound system and a gate opens up to the field featuring an image of him looking as if he’s leading the team out.
In September 2008, Rory Fanning, a fellow Army Ranger who was stationed with Tillman in Fort Lewis, Washington, began his “Walk for Pat" — a walk across the United States in an effort to raise money and awareness for the Pat Tillman Foundation. The stated fundraising goal is $3.6 million — the value of the contract Tillman turned down when he decided to enlist in the military.