Pat Tillman Speaks Out

Pat Tillman Speaks Out

August 16, 2010 – There is a film coming out in theaters this Friday and I’m counting the minutes until I can purchase my ticket and take a front row seat.  It may surprise you to find out that this film is a documentary, and for many, that automatically suggests it will be boring and educational.  I can promise you it will not be boring, and I predict that once you see it, you will start thinking from a different perspective.

How can I be so sure of this movie’s impact before any of us have had a chance to see it?  I’m sure because I can relate to just about everything Mary Tillman has been saying about the military’s systemic problems and the way the death of her son, Pat Tillman has been handled.  You see, they lied to the wrong family.

I am not the mother of a fallen soldier, and I don’t know what it’s like to mourn the physical death of a child, but I do know what it’s like to deal with the deception and duplicity of the military.

I do know what it’s like to see powerful military leaders go to great lengths to orchestrate evidence and events to cover up for their own errors, rather than simply admit they made a mistake.

I do know what it is like to feel disillusioned when congressional leaders look the other way rather than do the job that we elected them to do. I’ve seen, firsthand, how all of these things can destroy entire families and I’m glad that the Tillman family has had the determination to keep fighting for the truth.

It seems that some people have asked why Pat was so special and why his death got more attention than the deaths of countless other troops.  His mother, Mary, will tell you it isn’t that Pat, or his death, were more important than any other person’s death, but rather that his noteworthy career in football gave the Tillman family a voice, ‘our voice’, if you will.

Frankly, I’m thankful that the Tillman family realized that they would be negligent not to exercise ‘our voice’.  The fact that they were given the responsibility to be ‘our voice’ by something as unrelated to war as a their son’s talented football career is irrelevant.  How and why they acquired the responsibility of being ‘our voice’ is insignificant.  What they do with ‘our voice’ is monumental.

It has always driven me crazy to think that the world is full of people who are far too caught up in who’s who.  I’m typically turned off by name droppers, and I am proud to be just one of the “little people”  who stays off of social ladders to get the job done.  I have recently come to realize however, that there are times when utilizing a renown spokesperson is the only way to get ‘our voice’ heard.  If I can live with the sincerity of my intentions than I am going to make an exception to my personal rules of engagement and allow Pat Tillman’s voice to speak on my behalf.

There are countless military families who have been victims of this ‘game of life’ played so casually by our military leaders and government officials.  I’m not just referring to those who have died by fratricide, but those who have been wounded or perhaps who have been made to take the fall for another’s mistake.  Careerism is the driving force behind decisions made by powerful leaders at the top. It is with that filter most outcomes are decided.  For those at the bottom of the food chain, we have no chance of being heard if we don’t join forces with someone that has a louder megaphone than the one we have been given.

The Tillman family could have dropped this whole thing a long time ago.  Nothing they can do will ever bring their boy back.  Though they’ve likely learned to move forward, they really can’t get very far from the pain as long as they have to get up every day and jump back into this fight.  So why do they do it?   I think I’ve got a pretty good idea.

I’ve been fighting the same system for over a year.  My boy was not felled by fratricide, but he was destroyed, in a system of sloppy care for wounded warriors, by his own, those who proclaim the motto of Semper Fidelis.  The more I investigated, and the more I discovered, the uglier the game became.  The true victim, unfortunately, has been my Marine, and I don’t think I’ll ever really get him back, but I can’t deny that our entire family has suffered greatly for having taken on this burden.

Back when I first sensed that something wasn’t right, I thought it was just one fallacious captain who needed to be reminded of his obligations or perhaps, even relieved of his duties.  I made sure I had all the facts and evidence to back those facts up before I proceeded.  I knew I was stepping into dangerous and forbidden territory as mothers don’t typically get anywhere when they take on the almighty military machine, and my Marine was very hesitant to allow this to take place.  If he had not been desperate to get out of his situation, and had not come to the realization that he did not have a voice, or a better choice, he would never have looked the other way as I made my move into the game. I entered with the confidence that six months of documentation would suffice and we’d be on a better path within a week.

As soon as I stepped into the mire, I quickly realized that I was a very naive individual.  I suddenly found myself in the middle of a bad movie that wouldn’t stop.  I had never seen such lying and manipulative behavior, and I was beginning to understand what real fear feels like.  I’ve often wondered what our lives would be like if we had not taken that first step and opened Pandora’s Box, but once the step was taken there was no going back; and besides, what choice did we really have?  Our son’s life was at stake.  I guess you could say that once again, they lied to the wrong family.

It’s been a long, lonely, scary road and the answers are still hanging in the balance, but our family has come too far to turn around now, and we’ve got renewed strength and energy, thanks to the Tillman family and their efforts to find the truth no matter the cost.  Their situation is not exactly like ours, but the source of the problem is the same.  If they can expose the corruption that lies within our nation’s military leadership, the rest of us can benefit from their victory.

In her Senate testimony in 2007, Mary Tillman made many powerful statements. I’ve tried to condense the main concepts together here.   Mary said, “This isn’t about what they did to Pat……. We have an institution in place to find out what happened to him…..Pat died for his country and he believed that it was a great country……it’s your job to find out what happened to all the other soldiers……by making up all of these false stories, you are diminishing their true heroism……this is really a disservice to the nation and the nation needs to realize that this is an ugly war……everyone should be a part of what’s going on and we shouldn’t be allowed to have smoke screens thrown in our faces.”

Mary pointed out in a 2009 interview that when soldiers enlist, they know going in that they could die, be wounded, or damaged mentally or emotionally, but they don’t expect their government, and the military in which they serve, to disrespect that service by lying to their families.

Words could not be more true.  I shudder to think of how Pat Tillman would feel if he were alive today to see how this has all turned out.  I can attest to the fact that physical and mental wounds are not nearly as debilitating to the soul as the wounds inflicted by those in leadership who serve themselves rather than their country.

When Pat Tillman decided to walk away from his promising football career to enlist and serve his country, he knew that he was essentially giving up his voice.  Once a soldier has signed his name on the dotted line, he gives up his identity and becomes a piece of property owned by the US Government.  He is expected to follow orders, whether or not be believes in these actions.  He is no longer able to exercise his constitutional rights such as the right to speak freely and whether he realizes it or not, he will be dependent on outside advocates when he finds himself in the middle of a bad situation.

I’m grateful that Pat Tillman was willing to take off his Arizona Cardinals jersey, and walk away from millions of dollars just so he could put on the uniform that would allow him to serve his country as an enlisted soldier.  I’m appreciate his willingness to give up his voice for the short time he was enlisted. I’m thankful that Pat Tillman’s voice has been restored, and his family members are willing to share it, and make it ‘our voice’.

Take time to go see The Tillman Story which opens this Friday at a theater near you.  You will find even more detail in Mary Tillman’s book, Boots on the Ground by Dusk – My Tribute to Pat Tillman.