For as long as he can remember, 2nd Lt. Ethan Allison wanted to be a doctor. As an Oklahoma native coming from a long family list of University of Oklahoma alumni, there was never any question about where he would go to medical school.
“I was born and bred. My grandma on mom’s side graduated from OU in the 1950s, my granddad on my dad’s side graduated from OU in the 1950s, my parents met at OU and I met my wife at OU,” Allison said. “If I’d gone anywhere else, my granddad probably would have disowned me, so I didn’t have a lot of options.”
Called to serve
Although Allison started school at OU in 2003, his education was interrupted after only three semesters when he put his dreams of becoming a doctor aside and enlisted in the Army.
“The 911 attacks happened when I was a sophomore in high school, and I started OU in 2003. Shortly thereafter, we invaded Iraq,” he said. “I remember watching that happen as a freshman in pre-med at OU and thinking, ‘Somebody is fighting in my place right now.’”
Once in the Army, Allison graduated from the Special Qualifications Course in 2008 and spent the next nine years as a Special Forces medical sergeant in the 5th Special Forces Airborne Group, receiving numerous military awards and decorations, including two Bronze Stars.
Following six combat deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Levant, Allison left the Army to finally pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
Honored for his service
Allison was honored for his military contributions when he was named Patriot of the Game during the OU-Iowa State football game last November. Allison was able to also honor his late grandfather, United States Air Force Capt. James Allison, when he was introduced on the field. His grandfather, an OU alumnus, was the person who gave him a love for serving his country and the Sooners.
“The 911 attacks happened when I was a sophomore in high school, and I started OU in 2003. Shortly thereafter, we invaded Iraq. I remember watching that happen as a freshman in pre-med at OU and thinking, ‘Somebody is fighting in my place right now.’”
“My uncle secretly nominated me and coordinated it with my wife. His big plan was, the hope was, that we’d get everyone around my grandad on the field. My grandad was older and had been sickly. That was what it was supposed to be about,” he said. “Unfortunately, in November my grandad got sick, went home on hospice and ended up passing away. This was all supposed to be about my grandad and really a way for us to have a cool experience with him, then he wasn’t there.”
After consulting with Ryan Rasnick with Sooner Sports Properties, Allison was allowed to bring a photo of his grandfather on the field with him and include information about his grandfather in the on-field video introduction.
“Nobody knew about it except for my wife,” Allison said. “My dad didn’t know about it, and he was tearful when he saw it. My uncle was in the stands with my grandma, who was up in the top in a wheelchair. She saw it, and they both started crying. That was probably the coolest way to send off my grandad that I could ever think of. The whole family is there, he’s on the field in spirit at an OU game, the thing he loved more than anything. It really was a special moment.”
Allison said if he’d known his family had nominated him, he probably wouldn’t have gone along with it. After the fact, however, it was an experience he’ll never forget.
“To be perfectly honest, it’s very much not my style. I don’t like to flaunt my military service, and I don’t like to use it for personal gain,” he said. “Once we did it and got in there, it was incredible. It was almost overwhelming. It was truly, truly incredible. There is probably no cooler feeling in the world than throwing the horns down in front of 83,000 people. I will never forget it as long as I live.”
A return to medical school
While serving in active duty, Allison finished an online degree in intelligence studies with a concentration in Middle East area studies at the American Military University. He left the Army in 2016, returned to OU and is now commissioned in the Oklahoma National Guard. He is in his third year of medical school and hopes to attend OU’s Emergency Medicine Residency in Tulsa to finally pursue the dream he’s had since he was a child.
“There are always going to be achievements that you look back on that you’re proud of that are achievements on paper or awards or medals. I think really the thing I’m most proud of is probably better measured in people and the good I was able to do for other people. Being able to work with other special forces guys and that brotherhood, that camaraderie, is irreplaceable.”
“I literally got out of the Army on Christmas Day 2016, and three weeks later, I was on OU’s campus,” he said. “I always knew it was going to be a challenge to get out, because the military isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. There’s far less structure. I think that’s why the OU Student Veterans Association was so awesome for me.”
While completing his post-graduate work and prior to applying to medical school, Allison became involved in the OU Student Veterans Association and was encouraged to apply to become a Pat Tillman Scholar.
“One of my best buddies was the president of the OU Student Veterans Association at the time. He kept pushing me to apply for it,” he said. “I eventually decided to apply and throw my hat in the ring, and it worked out. I was lucky enough to get picked.”
The Pat Tillman Scholarship Program, a highly competitive program that selects up to 60 Tillman Scholars each year, honors veterans, active-duty service members and military spouses. The scholarship covers education expenses, including tuition and fees, books and living expenses, as well as other opportunities.
“It was an immense honor,” he said.
Investing in others
In addition to being named a Pat Tillman Scholar, Allison said one of his greatest achievements is being able to relocate his interpreters to the United States when they left the Middle East.
“We work with local and national interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when we came back, we did everything we could to get special visas to bring them home with us,” he said. “A lot of my interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan are living in the United States. They’re my best friends now, and I get to see them as Americans having families here as U.S. citizens in the safety of the United States.
“There are always going to be achievements that you look back on that you’re proud of that are achievements on paper or awards or medals,” he added. “I think really the thing I’m most proud of is probably better measured in people and the good I was able to do for other people. Being able to work with other special forces guys and that brotherhood, that camaraderie, is irreplaceable.”
Presented by the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies, Patriot of the Game honors military service members at home football games, as well as various men’s and women’s basketball games, baseball games and softball games.
Patriot of the Game is just one of many ways the college serves military families. PACS is a leader in military education with more than 55 years of experience supporting the educational needs of service members worldwide. PACS brings the excellence of OU degrees and programs to students, wherever they may be. Visit our website for more information on our degrees and offerings for service members.
Do you know someone who deserves to be Patriot of the Game? To nominate a service member, visit patriot.pacs.ou.edu and tell us why.