TAMPA — For more than eight years, Joshua Pericles put on a uniform and represented the United States in the U.S. Army Special Forces, earning his Green Beret and completing multiple deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom.
So when the St. Petersburg native separated from the Army in 2014 and thought about what he wanted to do next, the exact field he wanted to pursue wasn't immediately known, but the experience Pericles longed for was clear.
"I wanted to work for an organization where it wasn't like, 'Hey, let's make this widget and become billionaires,'" said Pericles, who attended Seminole High. "I wanted to work in something that was meaningful. It meant a lot to wear a flag and serve my country."
And in a way, he continues to do so.
Pericles, now a computer engineering major at the University of South Florida, is completing a co-op program at NASA, where he works alongside aerospace engineers as he pursues his degree. His lofty aspirations of full-time work at NASA recently earned him yet another prestigious title: Pat Tillman Scholar
The Pat Tillman made Pericles, 33, one of 61 military veterans and spouses nationally to earn the designation.
In 2004, friends and family of Pat Tillman started a foundation to honor the man who put an NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve in the U.S. Army. Tillman served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was killed in 2002.
Since 2009, the Foundation has awarded about 60 scholarships annually, recognizing individuals for military service, leadership and strong academics. When it came to Pericles, program and scholarships director Elizabeth O'Herrin said, it was his ambition and determination that made him stand out in a pool of 2,100 applicants.
"He demonstrated a lot of perseverance," said O'Herrin, who served on selection committees for the scholarship. "He really was laser-focused on what he wanted to accomplish, and with his background, we really felt like he was well-positioned to follow through and make an impact in computer engineering."
After earning his GED, Pericles attended college for a couple years before enlisting in the Army in 2006. Once there, he completed training for work in Special Forces, earning his Green Beret and serving on missions in Afghanistan and South America. When he left the Army, Pericles did research on careers he wanted to pursue, ultimately choosing computer engineering, he said, because of his experience in problem solving during his time in the Army.
Wanting to live near family, Pericles only applied to USF, where he said the Office of Veteran Success was instrumental in helping him determine the prerequisites he needed for admittance to the program. Pericles said his previous experience in college helped him transition from military to student life, a task that isn't always easy for people leaving the routine of military service.
"A lot of times, vets get out and they really aren't sure what the path is. (Pericles) found it really quick," said Larry Braue, director of the USF Office of Veteran Success. "He knows what he wants to do, and with his background in special ops and special forces, he knows how to get the mission accomplished. And that's kind of what he's doing."
Once he graduates in the fall of 2019 with a degree in computer engineering, Pericles dreams of gaining full-time employment at NASA and moving to Cape Canaveral. The $10,000 award that comes with being a Pat Tillman Scholar will certainly help him achieve that.
But beyond the financial benefit, Pericles said he feels privileged just to be associated with a foundation that honors a man like Tillman — whose story of sacrifice, he said, should be known throughout all time and space.
"It's a huge honor because I know what it's like to want to serve your nation and serve in the capacity as a war fighter," Pericles said. "I think it's a virtue that's not real common, and I think people need to hear that story. So if I can be a part of a foundation that promotes that selfless service, that's huge."
Contact Kelly Parsons at [email protected]