To honor heroes to a higher degree

After five deployments, Adam James is now a medical student and Tillman Military Scholar

You could attach any number of tags to Adam James’ name: survivor, dreamer, scholar, overachiever, and even hero. And in a few years you’ll be able to add “emergency medicine physician.”

James grew up in an inner city housing development complete with an array of questionable friends. “I realized that if I continued to surround myself with the people I was hanging out with, I was either going to end up dead or in jail,” he says. 

So, in 2002 he joined the Air Force and became a pararescueman (also known as a PJ). A PJ is essentially a special operations medic that either rescues isolated military personnel in hostile territories or provides emergency medical aid to service members injured during conflicts. He deployed on five separate occasions to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and the Horn of Africa.

James left active duty and joined the Reserves in 2009, then began his college education—first at Pima Community College and then at the University of Arizona, where he earned a degree in molecular and cellular biology.

Now he’s in his first year of medical school at the University of Minnesota as a Tillman Military Scholar. The scholarship is named after Pat Tillman—the man who left a lucrative career in the National Football League to join the Army Rangers, post-911, and was killed in Afghanistan. 

“I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing more gratifying than rushing to someone’s side and pulling them out of the worst possible scenario and ensuring they will step foot on American soil again.”

One of James’ main goals is to give back to underserved youth in environments like the one in which he grew up. “It wasn’t until I was able to climb out of that environment that I began to realize that anything I wanted in life was within my reach,” he says, “as long as I was willing to work for it.”

He says his future will definitely include more time in a uniform, likely in harm’s way. “Having the opportunity to go back and treat service members as a physician still gives me goose bumps,” he says. “I just hope I can live up to the legacy that Pat Tillman has left behind.”