BUIES CREEK — A veteran, husband, and father, Erasmo Espino would have been known as a "non-traditional student" at one time. Those characteristics are not so "non-traditional" anymore. Yet, they do make Espino — a member of the Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine's charter Class of 2017 — exceptional.
The Pat Tillman Foundation has acknowledged Espino's exceptional qualities by selecting him to be one of 60 students to receive a Pat Tillman Scholarship in 2014.
Tillman was a football star and natural leader who had an impressive football and academic career at Arizona State University before joining the NFL's Arizona Cardinals in 1998. Three years later, after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Tillman left the NFL to join the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin. The two were assigned to the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington and served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman's unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his death.
In 2004, Tillman's family and friends founded the Pat Tillman Foundation to invest in military veterans and their spouses through educational scholarships to build a diverse community of leaders committed to serving others. The scholars chosen embody the true legacy of who Pat Tillman was his entire life; they must show extraordinary academic and leadership potential, a true sense of vocation, and a deep commitment to create positive change through their work in the fields of medicine, law, business, education and the arts.
In the 10-year anniversary of the foundation, Espino says is honored to have been selected as a member of this elect group.
"What Pat did [leaving the NFL to join the military] is something you don’t see in our generation," Espino says. "I remember at the time — when his story became national news and seeing his photo — feeling like he was a larger-than-life hero. And now, wow. For me to be mentioned in the same context with him, what an honor. This has a huge significance to me, much larger than the scholarship itself."
Espino says he believes his 13 years of military service combined with his desire to continue to serve are part of what the Pat Tillman Foundation saw in him as an applicant. He has been on 10 deployments and will go on his 11th this summer as a member of the North Carolina National Guard. Coincidently, Espino served in Afghanistan not long after Tillman was there on his final tour, and both servicemen have been awarded the Silver Star for Valor in recognition of their heroism while serving in Afghanistan.
The scholarship award is for the remaining three years Espino has at Campbell University's medical school and brings a significant relief to he and his family while he completes his education. Espino is a husband and father of two. He graduated from Campbell University with a degree in health science, and now he is a medical student who is active in many organizations: Emergency Medicine Club, Internal Medicine Club and the Military Medicine Club.
"We are very pleased and gratified that Mo has been selected for this award," said medical school dean Dr. John Kauffman. "Over the past year, he has left an indelible impression here at Campbell. Recently, he traveled with our students and faculty on a medical mission trip to Honduras. He transitioned seamlessly from the classroom to the clinic, seeing patients with ease. He is a leader among our students and actively mentors premedical students. He is a soldier, father, husband, mentor and medical student. Whether on the battle field or in the classroom, we believe there is no finer individual who exemplifies the spirit of Pat Tillman than student doctor Espino."
Espino will travel to the scholarship summit in Chicago June 26-29 where he and the 59 other scholarship recipients will be recognized by the Pat Tillman Foundation.
- by Sarah H. Bowman