LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas - The United States needs "authentic leadership," the wife of NFL athlete-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman said in her first public comments since her husband was cut down by friendly fire in Afghanistan.
Marie Tillman told the audience at the University of Arkansas Wednesday that it was difficult to talk about her best friend, a man who was dynamic and action-oriented.
"Pat was a man with enormous talent. His athletic ability was matched by a deep and complex moral and intellectual side," said Marie Tillman, a featured speaker at the Clinton School of Public Service. "He always tried to do the right thing, and he was the first to admit when he didn't."
Pat Tillman was killed April 22, 2004, by bullets fired by his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, not by enemy fire, as the U.S. military initially claimed. The military said officers knew within hours that Tillman's death was from friendly fire but did not tell his family or the public for five weeks.
Tillman's death attracted worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"Many things have changed since Pat decided to join the Army. And unfortunately, leadership on many levels has come into question," Marie Tillman said. "We are in need of authentic leadership on many levels, social, economic and political."
During a congressional hearing Aug. 1, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and three former generals expressed regret with the Pentagon's delay in telling the truth. They took no blame for the violation.
Pat Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, and other family members maintain that Rumsfeld and others must have known more about her son's death sooner than they have acknowledged. The family has alleged a cover-up leading to the White House.
But Wednesday, Marie Tillman and brother-in-law Alex Garwood, who together lead the Tillman Foundation inspired by his memory, steered clear of discussion about the controversy. They said they were invited by the Clinton School to speak, and Marie Tillman said she believed it would be a good forum to discuss the foundation.
Marie Tillman and Garwood said the foundation was committed to developing leaders among young people. Through its programs at Arizona State and in Tillman's hometown of San Jose, California, young people work with mentors and focus on solving real-life problems, they said. The college has an undergraduate program on leadership similar to the Clinton School graduate program, Garwood said.
In the seventh investigation of the Tillman affair, most of the blame for the response to Tillman's death was laid on Philip Kensinger, a retired three-star general who led Army special operations forces after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Army censured Kensinger for "a failure of leadership" and accused him of lying to investigators and failing to notify the Tillman family properly. A review panel of four-star generals will decide whether Kensinger should have his rank reduced.