Less than a year after giving up a lucrative NFL career to serve his country, former Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman has become an Army Ranger and has been deployed, presumably to the Middle East.
Tillman and his brother, Kevin, a former minor league baseball player, are now part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, comprising three battalions and 2,300 men. The Tillmans had been stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., but were deployed within the last two weeks. Even relatives do not know specifically where they are.
The Tillmans had earlier declined media requests. Friends say the brothers were deeply affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and felt compelled to enlist. Their father, Patrick, said his sons were determined to keep low profiles.
"They don't want recognition separate from their peers," he said. "It's a pretty elite crowd they're running with. All of those guys are stand-up guys. I don't think you can pick one out and say one's better than another."
Pat Tillman, 26, who walked away from a contract that would have paid him $3.6 million over three seasons, set a Cardinal record in 2000 with 224 tackles. He is believed to be the first NFL regular since World War II to voluntarily leave the game for military service. His new job pays between $1,022 and $1,433 a month.
Halfway through Arizona's 2002 season, Tillman had completed his Ranger training. At graduation, he was chosen as the flag bearer for his unit, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment.
"It's a very tightly knit brotherhood of soldiers," said Carol Darby, spokeswoman for the Army Special Operations command.
Tillman adds to NFL pride over its ties to the military. More than 600 NFL players served during World War II. And, whereas Tillman's path to the Rangers might be unprecedented, in many respects he blends into the crowd.
"In the Ranger regiment, you get a broad group of individuals," Darby said. "There has been a Harvard graduate, people from very moneyed backgrounds. For whatever reasons, they wanted to be associated with the Ranger community and the Ranger brotherhood."