James Tanis ’09 has never believed in taking the easy way through life. He’s setting big goals for himself and chasing them, even if that means making two — or more — attempts to reach them. James exudes hard work, dedication and a positive outlook on life.
“I was a high school athlete, and I wanted to play football and wrestle in college,” James said. “I did not do well in my first year at Olivet because of my immaturity. I wasn’t ready for school, and I had a bad attitude about it, so I didn’t go back. I took a year off and worked in construction, but I knew I still wanted more for my life. I decided to join the Army in 2005, and the discipline in basic training did well for me and my life. At that time, I looked back and couldn’t believe I dropped out of school. I came back to Olivet right away.”
James hadn’t forgotten about his dream to play college sports either, and he joined the football team once again. Still needing to prove himself in the classroom, James focused on his studies for a year before he was allowed back on the field.
“The competition and comradery on the team reminded me of the military,” James said. “I loved the atmosphere during and after games. The lessons I learned in sports carried on in life, as well. Many transfer to the military, and that’s really cool. Sometimes you have to push through that wall and find more in the tank; keep going even when it’s tough; and remember to rely on others around you. The foundation of teamwork is so important.”
James studied financial management, but he’s the first to admit that sports were the driving force in his college journey. Graduating in 2009 during the nation’s recession crisis, James picked up on his military background.
“The economy was tough after I graduated, and I then decided to go active duty,” James said. “In September 2010 I was deployed to Iraq, during the time that the U.S. had started to pull back troops. . I served in convoy security escorting semis carrying supplies.
During one of our trips, the scout truck found an IED in the middle of the road. While we were stopped and checking on everyone, it looked to me like I could see a sniper in my binoculars. We sent a message using the communication system in our truck, and within 15 seconds Apache helicopters came out of nowhere and circled this guy. It ended up not being a threat, but my truck commander sent a message to the helicopters sharing my interest in being a pilot. Once they heard that, they flew right over us. It was an amazing experience.”
James’ ultimate goal is to become a medevac pilot — a role he knows would be both meaningful and impactful. He started chasing his dream in his 20s after returning from Iraq, but he didn’t meet the qualifications to fly helicopters based on the entry skills exam. Now in his 30s, James couldn’t put off his dreams any longer.
“I gave up on my goal to become a pilot for a while, but I realized that desire hadn’t gone away,” James said. “I needed a higher score on my ASVAB, which is basically a high school aptitude test, but there’s an age limit on many things in the military. I only had until I was 32 to become a pilot. My brother is a math teacher, so I learned basic math over again and took the test. I ended up failing by just a few points. I studied for another month and took it again, and I finally passed.
Next up was the SIFT test specifically for aviation fields. I took that test and failed by a few points again. You are only granted two chances to pass, six months apart — no one understands that level of test anxiety! I took the test again six months later and passed, but I was over the age of 32.”
James’ adversity didn’t stop there. His age provided setbacks until his brigade commander helped him earn one more chance.
“I was given the chance to drill with the National Guard, despite my age,” James said. “Pilots pride themselves on not being arrogant; they need to make good, smart decisions. I needed to prove my skills, as well as pass an interview with all the pilots in my unit. The role I was already in drilled at the same time as the aviation unit, and I couldn’t miss my own drill, so it took me about a year to do all these interviews. After that, I was selected to be a pilot.”
On June 23, James graduated from a five-week officer school, the next step toward reaching his goals. The newly minted WO1 Tanis will soon begin a one-and-a-half-year flight school, and that’s followed by more specialized training to prepare for real-world scenarios. The next legs of the journey will be the toughest, but James is far from giving up.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to pass,” James said. “I’ve been working too hard to stop now. I’ve always felt guilty for not doing better in college. It was a wonderful experience, but I didn’t try to hit my full potential. My whole life is filled with ‘could haves,’ which is why I think this goal is so important to me. I wasn’t willing to accept defeat or stop talking about my dream.
When I look back, I am so thankful for my time at Olivet in small classrooms. My professors got to know me and helped me graduate. That experience taught me how to communicate with others, how other people learn, how to prioritize my time and how to articulate my thoughts. Those skills have carried on to my life now and benefitted me tremendously.”
Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.