Former Football Star Killed in Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 24, 2004 He was so moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that he turned down a $3.6 million professional football contract to become an Army Ranger.
Spc. Pat Tillman, 27, who was deployed with the 75th Ranger Regiment from Fort Benning, Ga., was killed April 22 during a firefight in southeastern Afghanistan. The Defense Department confirmed the soldier's identity late April 23.
U.S. Central Command officials said Tillman was part of a coalition combat patrol that was ambushed near the village of Sperah, 40 kilometers southwest of Khowst. The patrol responded immediately with direct fire, and a firefight ensued before the enemy broke contact. Tillman and an Afghan Militia Force soldier were killed during the engagement, and two coalition soldiers were wounded, officials said.
Tillman and his brother, Spc. Kevin Tillman, made national news when they walked away from careers as professional athletes to join the Army. Pat Tillman played four seasons with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals before enlisting in May 2002. Kevin Tillman played minor league baseball in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Both brothers earned their place among the elite Army Rangers and served together in the same battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Last July, the Tillman brothers also won the Arthur Ashe Courage award at the 11th annual ESPY Awards on ESPN. The award is presented to those who serve a greater good outside the sporting arena, officials said.
Officials said both brothers shunned publicity and maintained a low profile while they served. Army Lt. Col. Don Sondo, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Infantry Training Brigade at Fort Benning, Ga., told the Army News Service neither wanted special treatment for their celebrity status. The difference between sports and combat is the cost of being wrong, said Sondo. In a sport, you lose a game; in combat, you lose lives, he said.
Today the military and sports communities alike mourned the loss of a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror.
Cardinals vice president Michael Bidwell remembered Tillman's determination, focus and fierce sense of competition and called his death "a terrible loss for the National Football League and the Arizona Cardinals." "In sports, we have a tendency to overuse terms like 'courage' and 'bravery,' and 'heroes,'" Bidwell said. "Then someone special like Pat Tillman comes along. And it reminds us what those terms really mean." Bidwell said the Cardinals and the NFL "were privileged to have Pat Tillman in its family and we are all weaker today following his loss."
The Cardinals announced the team is retiring Tillman's number 40, and that the perimeter of their new stadium, scheduled to open in 2006, will be named "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza." The team also is joining with Arizona State University, where Tillman played his college football, to establish a scholarship.
"Pat knew his purpose in life," said former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis. "He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling, which was to protect and defend our country. Pat represents those who have and will make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I am overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow, but I also feel a tremendous feeling of pride for him and his service."
Pete Kendall of the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman's former teammate, said Tillman's loss underscores the sacrifices America's armed forces make on a daily basis during the war on terror. "My thoughts and my prayers go out to his wife, his brother, his family, and to all the servicemen and women who are making this sacrifice for us every day," he said.
"Pat Tillman personified all the best values of his country and the NFL. He was an achiever and leader on many levels who always put his team, his community and his country ahead of his personal interests," said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "Like other men and women protecting our freedom around the world, Pat made the ultimate sacrifice and gave his life in the service of our country."
White House spokesman Taylor Gross called Tillman "an inspiration both on and off the football field."
"As with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror, his family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush," Gross said.