After three combat deployments — one to Iraq and two to Afghanistan — Paul Wade is no longer in the U.S. Army. However, he is still serving others.
Story by Josh Murray
Earlier this summer, Wade, a student in the MU School of Law, earned the Pat Tillman Scholarship, which is presented to student veterans who show strength in character, academic excellence and potential. The scholarship is named for Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who put his playing career on hold to serve his country after 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire. Since the Pat Tillman Foundation formed, it has named more than 520 Tillman Scholars from more than 100 universities. Wade is one of only 60 student veterans selected as a 2017 Tillman Scholar.
More than a decade after earning his undergraduate degree from Truman State, Wade has returned to school to pursue a law degree that he plans to use to help countries in search of stability.
Between graduating from Truman State and entering law school at Mizzou, Wade spent 12 years in the Army. He earned a Purple Heart after surviving an anti-tank mine explosion that happened 10 feet from where he was standing. He was also shot at, had grenades thrown at him and had friends give their lives for their country.
Wade and his family revered the Army—his dad was in the Army Reserves—but he did not seriously consider enlisting until the events of September 11, 2001 took place. At that time, Wade was a senior at Truman State and had a job at Wal-Mart, where he had applied for a full-time manager program.
“I was kind of done with school,” he says. “I had it set in my mind that I was going to be a manager at Wal-Mart.”
Wade graduated from Truman State in 2002. His interest in joining the Army grew and in 2003, he enlisted.
“I remember going into the HR office at Wal-Mart the day after I enlisted,” Wade says. “The lady said I had been recommended for the manager program. I told her ‘well, you probably should have told me that yesterday because I am in the Army now.’”
He was off to basic training and then to the 82nd Airborne Division. His first of three deployments came in 2004, and happened quickly. He received word of his deployment to Iraq on the Monday after Thanksgiving; six days later, he was in Baghdad. He spent four months there, helping provide oversight of the first Iraqi elections.
Upon returning to the U.S., Wade considered attending law school, but did not feel the time was right. He reenlisted in 2006 and deployed to Afghanistan, where he spent 15 months. It was during that deployment that the land mine exploded near him.
“You are always concerned for your safety,” he says. “I thought I was gone then.”
Wade returned to the States and attended Officer Candidate School. He commissioned as an infantry officer and served as an executive officer and company commander. He spent six more months in Afghanistan on his third deployment, this time working as an adviser for the Afghan national police force.
“I really liked doing that,” he says. “I was working hand-in-hand with a lot of Afghan nationals and trying to get the Afghans to train the police like we train them here.”
That experience got him thinking about law school again. He returned to the U.S. and became a basic training commander at Fort Benning in Georgia. While there, he finished up his master’s degree, took the LSAT and began applying for law school. Wade considered several law schools, but found MU right for him.
“Mizzou is really veteran friendly,” Wade says. “Honestly, that was one of the things that really got me.”
The opportunities offered through the Veterans Clinic at the School of Law help convinced him that MU was the right place. Students in the clinic help veterans and their families secure disability benefits. The clinic, in which experienced attorneys supervise students through each step, provide an opportunity for students to work in a law firm atmosphere with real client needs.
Wade participated in the clinic last year, working on VA claims and other client work with Professor Angela Drake.
“The work being done by the clinic is the veteran’s only resource,” Wade says. “I don’t think people realize the importance of organizations like the Veterans Clinic. Using the skills I learned at Mizzou Law to help these people is the most academically fulfilling experience I’ve had.”
Wade is in his third year of law school and plans to receive his degree next spring. After that, he wants to help American businesses get established overseas in countries searching for safety and stability.
His time training the police force in Afghanistan showed him that a stable economy, in which people are working and children are attending school, leads to a dramatic drop in violence. Wade believes that having American businesses expand to places such as Afghanistan can bring about stability.
“It is something that is advantageous to the businesses, but also makes the people’s lives better in those countries,” he says.
Knowing Tillman’s mission to improve the lives of others, Robert Ross, the director of the MU Veterans Center, and Sean McLafferty, an MU alumnus, 2015 Tillman Scholar and friend of Wade’s, urged Wade to pursue the Tillman Scholarship.
“Paul represents Mizzou’s values, and especially excellence in scholarship,” Ross says. “He is an outstanding representative for the Pat Tillman Foundation, Mizzou and Mizzou student veterans. His keen intellect and persistence are traits that have served him well in the U.S. Army and on campus. I have no doubt that Paul’s ideas and vision will be beneficial for the U.S. and the world.”
The Tillman Scholarship offers financial and academic benefits. However, there is more to be gained, according to Wade.
“The networking alone gives you a huge boost,” Wade says. “The Tillman Scholars are the type of people you want to put together, people with positive visions and working toward a higher goal. Being part of that group is an honor.”
One strength of the Tillman Scholarship, Wade points out, is that its focus is not just on veterans, but on making the world a better place. In that spirit, Wade serves as the veterans engagement director with the local chapter of Team RWB (Red, White and Blue), which connects veterans to their community through physical and social activities.
“I think of Team RWB as being a community organization because we are all better when we integrate veterans and make them part of society,” Wade says. “As a veteran, I don’t believe myself to be any better than my civilian classmates, but I recognize that my experiences are drastically different from many of the people I run into on a daily basis. For that reason, we need veterans as part of society.”
Wade is determined to play a role in society now and into the future. He remains active in the Missouri National Guard while pursuing his law degree and will then put that degree to work to improve the lives of people around the world.