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OK Air Guardsman named 2016 Tillman Scholar

Staff Sgt. Jay Vinnedge stands in the waiting room of the 137th Medical Group clinic at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, June 9, 2016. Vinnedge was one of about 60 U.S. students to be named as a 2016 Tillman Scholar and scholarship recipient. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward/Released)

Staff Sgt. Jay Vinnedge is one of two University of Oklahoma students named as a 2016 Tillman Scholar. Vinnedge was one of about 60 U.S. students to be given a 30,000-dollar scholarship by the Pat Tillman Foundation. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward/Released)

WILL ROGERS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Okla. -- Every day, Oklahoma Guardsmen break the barrier between home and work. The lives in their homes where their boots hang and their lives wearing the military uniform are motivated by one thing -- their communities.

As an Oklahoma native and University of Oklahoma College of Medicine student, Staff Sgt. Jay Vinnedge bridges the gap between student and Airman, becoming one of two students from OU to be chosen by the Pat Tillman Foundation to be a 2016 Tillman Scholar and receive a 30,000-dollar scholarship.

For him, the scholarship that only goes to about 60 applicants nationwide offers more than money for medical school -- it offers a chance for change.

"It's more than just being smart," Vinnedge explained. "It's about having that attitude of service and having that broader idea of what's wrong in your community that you want to make right."

The Pat Tillman Foundation was founded in 2004 and invests in military veterans and their spouses who have "extraordinary academic and leadership potential, a true sense of vocation, and a deep commitment to create positive change" to build a diverse community that is committed to service to others, according to their website.

"Yes, this scholarship pays for school, but it's opening doors to a network of go-getters," Vinnedge said. "They're subject matter experts in their own field and create a network of mentors who have implemented social change in their communities. That support means I can think and dream a lot bigger than I ever could without their help."

As a former aeromedical evacuation technician with the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City and a current Airman of the 137th Medical Group's early appointment program for physicians at the same base, Vinnedge said he will take his current knowledge, combine it with the new knowledge of medical school, and use it to serve as a health practitioner and teacher in his civilian career and a flight physician in his military career.

Beyond that, Vinnedge said he wants to use those platforms to be a force of change in his community, focusing on the systematic implementation of proper nutrition and its positive effects.

"I've always been someone who when I see a problem, I fix it," he said. "If I can fix it systemically, I'm going to try to do that. In the world that we live in, that's what works, and that's what lasts."

Vinnedge's military community has had no doubt of his drive or his ability to succeed within his civilian one, said Lt. Col Carla Walker, 137th Medical Group medical administrative officer.

"Excellence is easy for Jay," she explained. "He is always seeking a greater understanding of the world through either education or personal experience. He applies this knowledge to everything he does and creates a product of excellence. Anyone who crosses his path benefits from his intelligence, awareness, and sensitivity."

For Vinnedge, success simply comes down to passion.

"I've been in for more than seven years and I'm looking back and thinking, 'Man, what a career that I accidentally have,'" he said shaking his head. "It all has to do with engaging the world around me and naturally becoming passionate about it. I love to solve its problems."

Though the Tillman Scholar program has rewarded Vinnedge for his passion and dedication to his community, both as an Airman and citizen, Vinnedge said it will ultimately allow him to persist at creating the community he envisions.

"I became a mover and shaker in the field, and I can only hope to continue to do and be that."