- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

"Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier."from the Army Ranger creed

Heroism has been linked with athletic feats since about 490 B.C., when Phidippides died after running what became the first marathon. But there are many who believe Pat Tillman is a hero for not competing in sports.
A hard-hitting safety for the Arizona Cardinals since 1998 and a starter the past two years, he quit the NFL in the spring and enlisted in the military, sights locked on becoming an Army Ranger. He was joined by his younger brother, Kevin.
At 25, Pat Tillman was entering his football prime, with a three-year contract worth $3.6 million on the table.
Goodbye to all that.
He instead chose a three-year commitment to the Army, a starting salary of less than $13,000 a year and enduring one of the most rigorous, even torturous, regimens in any branch of the service shortly after marrying his high school sweetheart.
The emotions among coaches, teammates, friends and fans ranged from surprised to stunned. The media went on high alert. But Pvt. Tillman, now going through basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., has refused to speak publicly about his decision. No interviews, no exceptions. The networks, major newspapers and slick magazines have been turned away.
Only those who have privately communicated with Pvt. Tillman have even a clue about his motivation. There seems to be little doubt, though, that the terrorist attacks of September 11 had something to do with it.
"If that hadn't happened, he probably wouldn't be doing this," said Bruce Snyder, his coach at Arizona State. "He might be going down the Amazon or something else, but I think September 11 made a lot of sense for him to do this."One of the first people Pvt. Tillman informed, Cardinals assistant coach Larry Marmie, asked whether the attacks inspired such a life-altering decision. Mr. Marmie was told that it wasn't the determining factor, "but, yeah, it had something to do with it."
The two met at a coffee shop in mid-April, not far from the Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe, Ariz. Mr. Marmie, who was the defensive backs coach when Pvt. Tillman joined the Cardinals as a seventh-round draft pick, is now the defensive coordinator. Mr. Marmie is close with Pvt. Tillman, and he understands him. That's important because Pvt. Tillman is considered somewhat unconventional.
At ASU, where he played linebacker and was named the Pac-10 Conference's defensive player of the year, Pvt. Tillman had the longest hair on the team, flowing locks that flapped well below his helmet. He used to meditate sitting atop a light tower.
After he made the Cardinals, he rode a bicycle to practice. Pvt. Tillman once ran a marathon simply because he was bored, he said. Then he did a triathlon. He constantly questioned his coaches, often suggesting a better way. He graduated from college in 3-1/2 years with a 3.8 grade point average and a major in marketing.
Whatever stereotypes are pinned on athletes, people who know Pvt. Tillman had come to expect something different. This, however, was something else entirely.
"I guess maybe my first reaction was like a lot of people's," Mr. Marmie said. "I was shocked. Pat is a very unique and special type of person. He's a bright guy and a very deep-thinking guy. With all those things taken into consideration, I was still surprised."
Pvt. Tillman told Mr. Marmie he'd had it pretty good as an athlete and that he wanted a new experience and a different perspective on life.And above all else, a new challenge.
"This was well thought out," Mr. Marmie said. "As much as anyone I've ever been around, Pat is all about challenges. It was a challenge for him to come to ASU. He was recruited late and not given much of a chance to become the player he became. He had to prove he could play. And then he had to prove he could play safety in the National Football League as a guy who played linebacker in college."
Mr. Snyder, a college and NFL coach for more than 35 years, said, "Pat is the most unique kid I ever coached. The ancient Greeks talked about the combination of mind and body, and, boy, this guy has it."
Not counting heavyweight boxer Riddick Bowe, who was kicked out of Marine boot camp after a week a few years ago, Pvt. Tillman is the first athlete in recent times to leave his sport and voluntarily serve. Some have compared him to baseball great Ted Williams, who left the Boston Red Sox to enlist and fly combat missions in World War II and Korea.
Cards head coach Dave McGinnis, who had to replace a pretty good player, called Pvt. Tillman's decision "honorable." General Manager Bob Ferguson said he was proud of him.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a former Navy pilot who spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, saw it another way. "Perhaps the last vestiges of the Vietnam War have disappeared in the rubble of the World Trade Center," Mr. McCain told a reporter. "I don't think there will be any doubts about [Pvt. Tillman's] capabilities as a soldier, but also as a recruiting tool. He'll motivate other young Americans to serve as well."
Pvt. Tillman's steadfast refusal to talk about what he's doing has made this an even bigger story and added to his mystique. The public-information office at Fort Benning has been swamped with interview requests, but all it can do is politely refuse and provide progress reports based on secondhand information.
"We have anecdotal reports that both brothers are doing well," Fort Benning spokeswoman Elsie Jackson said. "They've risen to every challenge."
But to become a Ranger, much more is required. After boot camp, which lasts 14 weeks for infantrymen, Pvt. Tillman begins a three-week airborne program where he will learn, among other things, to jump out of airplanes. Then comes the three-week Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), where they begin to separate the men from the special men. To Pvt. Tillman, football training camp will seem like a resort.Prospective Rangers are constantly challenged and evaluated during RIP. In addition to exhaustive physical testing, they must show proficiency in a variety of areas, including combat skills, and map and compass reading. They must demonstrate how to survive a chemical or even a nuclear attack.
A soldier who passes RIP is, for all intents and purposes, a Ranger. (Those who don't pass can try again.) But the toughest part awaits if, after several months of duty, the soldier is selected for Ranger school.
The Rangers are a direct-action force that can be deployed anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Ranger school helps prepare for special, small-unit operations, which involves taking high-value targets, such as an enemy airfield or command center.
The physical and mental challenges intensify during Ranger school. There is more endurance testing, and for the better part of nine weeks, Rangers are in the field, deprived of rest and food. The average day lasts about 20 hours.
They learn to climb mountains and scale cliffs in north Georgia (the Tom Hanks character who led his men over the cliffs of Normandy in "Saving Private Ryan" was a Ranger) and slog through the swamps in Florida. Every move, anything that indicates how they would perform under pressure, is closely monitored.
"A Ranger student is exerted physically and mentally every day," said Lt. Col. David Pound, executive officer for the Ranger training brigade. "He has to be able to function when he's cold, when he's tired, when he's wet.
"A combat situation is very stressful — periods of boredom accentuated by short periods of absolute terror. But when you're in those situations, you have to deal with close combat, up close and personal. It's pretty brutal, pretty ugly. That's what we're training them for."
Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, who instructed and commanded Rangers when the training program was created in the early 1950s, was asked how difficult the school is. "You won't get anybody to go through it twice," he said. "It's the toughest thing any of them have ever done physically."
Col. Puckett said a recent study revealed that a soldier uses about 6,000 calories a day during Ranger school while consuming about 2,000. "They come out of there lean," he said.
"We can't use live bullets," said Rich McDowell, a public-affairs officer at Fort Benning who served as a Ranger. "So we try to stress them out in other ways. Make them go long distances with minimal amounts of sleep and food. You have guys going up to oak trees wanting to put a quarter in to get a Coke out of it."
Injuries are frequent, particularly to the feet. Mr. McDowell said all the skin peeled off his feet after he completed Ranger school. But if a soldier survives and passes, it's all worth it (the success rate is about 60 percent). He earns the coveted Ranger tab, a small piece of cloth worn on the uniform that costs about 50 cents — but the value of which is priceless. "When people see it, they say, 'There's a man among men,'" Mr. McDowell said.
Teamwork is especially important, and Pvt. Tillman probably has an advantage in that regard. However we define the concept of the team player, Pvt. Tillman is it.
Loyalty? Pvt. Tillman turned down more money last year to play for a better team, the St. Louis Rams.
But Pvt. Tillman is, or was, also an individualist to the extreme, someone who challenged authority and often acted on impulse. The military is not known to embrace such traits.
During high school in Northern California, he served 30 days in a juvenile-detention facility for beating up someone who had assaulted his friend. He acknowledged the mistake and moved on.
As a freshman at Arizona State, he looked Mr. Snyder in the eye and rejected the notion of red-shirting (sitting out his first season), saying, in essence, "I'm graduating in four years and then I'm out of here, so I might as well play." He not only played, but he would also circle what he believed to be mistakes in the playbook and report them to the coaches.In high school, coaches had to hide his helmet to keep him off the field. In college, when he was taken out for strategic purposes, he would stand next to a coach and say, "Touchdown, this play." With the Cardinals, the story goes, he grabbed a seat up front before his first meeting, a seat generally assumed to be reserved for a veteran. When a veteran came up and demanded his seat, he said the only way he would get it would be to kick his butt. The other player walked away.
No one doubts that Pvt. Tillman's thrill-seeking persona (Sports Illustrated once reported that as a kid he used to go into the woods and jump from treetop to treetop) is well-suited to where he is.
But the effect of military discipline, rules and regimen on Pvt. Tillman will bear watching. At the very least, he is likely be stripped of his habit of calling everyone he meets "dude.""If I have a worry about him in the military, it's whether there will be enough flexibility, whether he can manage the culture of the military," Mr. Snyder said.
#34;I'll tell you what, he will be the brightest person, including the officers. But I don't doubt he will be successful. He will love this."

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