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Tillman Scholar’s High-Flying Dreams Land at NC State

Incoming NC State College of Veterinary Medicine student Amie Pflaum (class of 2020) is the kind of person who wants to change the world — and then does it.

Does that sound like hyperbole?  Perhaps some clarification is in order.  We’re talking about Major Amie Pflaum, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with plans to become a public health veterinarian in the United States Army specializing in humanitarian missions in the developing world. Her clear vision for her future and her dedication to service has earned her a place among the 60 Tillman Scholars selected this year by the Pat Tillman Foundation.

For those who are not familiar with the story of Pat Tillman, he was a professional athlete who, after 9/11, walked away from a successful and lucrative career in the National Football League to volunteer for military service.  He was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004. To honor his memory, friends and family established the Pat Tillman Foundation, whose mission is “to invest in military veterans and their spouses through academic scholarships — building a diverse community of leaders committed to service to others.”

Major Amie Pflaum, a Tillman Scholar, talks about what inspired her to pursue a doctor of veterinary medicine degree…

The Tillman Foundation could not have selected a better example of service than Amie Pflaum.  She was a senior in high school  with a budding interest in science and medicine in 2001 when the attacks on September 11 took place. Living in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., the events of that terrible day struck close to home. She resolved immediately — to her mother’s dismay, she recalls — to find a way to be of service in the military.  After graduating and earning an ROTC scholarship to attend Wake Forest University in North Carolina, she continued to pursue her goal of military service while getting her undergraduate degree in political science, with minors in history and international studies.  

In 2006, at age 22, she was commissioned as an officer and joined the Army’s Aviation Corps as an active duty Blackhawk helicopter pilot — a role she relished and performed for approximately the next eight years.  This included a tour as a platoon leader in Afghanistan flying missions to evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield.  As Amie describes it, she learned how to stay focused and calm “in life-and-death situations.”  No wonder her mother had been nervous about her career choices — although her family is extremely proud of her service and her decisions today.

“I am passionate about flying and I love the Army,” Amie says. So why would she give up her wings to become a veterinarian?  

Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

As part of her service in locations around the world, she was later stationed in Honduras, where her unit’s mission included providing humanitarian assistance and medical care to impoverished Central American and Caribbean communities. As a company commander, she led numerous aid delivery missions throughout Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize, where she discovered how veterinary and public health services are vital to ensuring the health of local populations’ tenuous food sources and preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases.  She observed the vital role veterinarians play in helping local people establish sustainable animal agriculture, promoting public health and helping to assure an adequate food supply.  In this way, she discovered a new passion that was even more compelling than flying her beloved Blackhawk.

She cites some daunting statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations when explaining her decision.  “By 2050 the earth’s population will be 9.6 billion.  Supporting that many people will require a 70% increase in agricultural output. Veterinarians are in the forefront now of making sure that can happen.” What she saw in the developing world was basic and powerful — “mothers are just trying to find enough food to feed their children.”

That’s what it sounds like to be someone who is dead serious about changing the world.  It helps explain why Amie Pflaum was selected as one of the top three percent of applicants for the Pat Tillman Scholarship, which is awarded not only for academic merit, but for leadership.  

With the full cooperation of the Army, in 2013 Amie left active duty to join the North Carolina Army National Guard — where she still flies — to pursue her new studies. She enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Science at NC State as an undergrad to fulfill the prerequisites for veterinary school.  She was serious enough about realizing her ambitions that she ended up being accepted by no less than six colleges of veterinary medicine!

“I discovered that NC State has a world-class veterinary program. It’s a powerhouse. Choosing to go there was really a no-brainer.”

With that many available options, we had to ask why she selected NC State. The answer came easily.  “I was stationed at Fort Bragg for three years, and while I was there I discovered that NC State has a world-class veterinary program.  It’s a powerhouse.  Choosing to go there was really a no-brainer.  I’m thankful that life has taken me down this path.”

After graduation, Amie’s plan is to return to active duty as a public health veterinarian in the U.S. Army.  She is quick to point out that the military is actively engaged in humanitarian missions all over the world, “with assets in over 150 countries.”  Military service means much more than combat, she explains. Helping nations to become successful and self-sustaining means they become more stable — and peaceful.  That’s a win-win proposition for everyone.

So if you ever wonder what NC State’s slogan “Think and Do” really means, consider Major Amie Pflaum exhibit “A.” She’s one of those people who make changing the world seem not so impossible after all.

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine