November 11, 2014 - Bonnie Hayes (G'15) a United States Air Force veteran who provided mental health services to soldiers during the war in Iraq, has been named a Tillman Military Scholar.
Hayes, a student in the graduate Sports Industry Management (SIM) program at the School of Continuing Studies (SCS), was one of only 59 veterans selected nationally for the scholarship from about 7,500 applicants.
“We are thrilled that Bonnie was selected for this incredible national honor,” said SCS Dean Kelly Otter. “She is a great example of the Jesuit tradition of men and women for others and we have the utmost faith in her ability to make her vision of a sports facility for wounded warriors a reality with the help of the innovative SIM program.”
Hayes, a native of Chicago, hopes to one day create a sports facility with a basketball court, exercise equipment, track and bike trails for wounded warriors who want to stay mentally and physically healthy.
“I want to have… things like that so people can exercise and still compete and still keep that warrior spirit within them,” says Hayes, who adds the scholarship will cover 75 percent of her tuition. “My facility will focus on cultivating and maintaining warriors who are physically, mentally and emotionally fit.”
The Pat Tillman Foundation was established after the death of its namesake, a former National Football League player who put his playing career on hold to serve as a U.S. Army Ranger. He died while serving in Afghanistan in 2004.
According to the foundation, the Tillman Military Scholars program supports "our nation’s active-duty service members, veterans and military spouses by investing in their higher education.”
Since the scholarship program’s inception, the foundation has invested more than $4.6 million in scholarships for 290 scholars across the country.
“It was definitely an honor and an unexpected achievement,” says Hayes, who spent seven years in the Air Force. “[Tillman] put his life on the line and he ultimately lost it in defense of our country and that’s pretty cool to me.”
Hayes spent four months in Kuwait in 2004 as Operation Iraqi Freedom transitioned into Operation Enduring Freedom to help bolster the military’s mental health resources.
While deployed in the Middle East, she provided mental health services to members in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, including individual counseling, anger management, suicidal/homicidal evaluations and post-traumatic stress disorder management.
“I had to listen to and live through stories from people who went through circumstances that I never had to endure and to help them process their feelings…” says Hayes, who received her mental health training during her 14 weeks in technical training after basic training.
She says she let them know that their struggles are natural, “considering the situation is not natural.”
When she’s not studying, Hayes works at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as a liaison in the Exceptional Family Program, which provides help for dependents of Army and Navy active duty personnel, including those who have special needs children.
Hayes says the best part about the SIM program has been learning from professors and fellow classmates who have worked in the sports industry.
“The stories we get [from the professors] are so awesome because they’re relatable,” says Hayes. “I appreciate that people can talk and tell me where they’re coming from and also that there were other veterans so [there are] people I could relate to.”