With the right help, Special Ops becomes an ideal background for international business.

Daniel Pritchard will earn his International MBA with a Global Track Focus in May, 2020.

When you attend college with Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals linebacker killed in Afghanistan in 2004, it can shape your future career plans.

“Pat Tillman and I were friends,” says Dan Pritchard, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Arizona State University and is now a full-time student in the University of South Carolina’s International MBA program. “When he was killed, it was the catalyst for me to join the Army, too.”

Dan’s career in the armed forces was not completely unexpected for someone who grew up in a military family. His father served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam and he has cousins in the Army Ranger Battalion.

Dan was both mentally and physically prepared for the challenges ahead, which included successful completion of the Special Forces Qualification course and several deployments overseas including Afghanistan. Stationed at Fort Bragg with his active duty service coming to a close, the Special Forces combat engineer sergeant began exploring next-stage careers. Dan’s Major General encouraged him to consider graduate school.

Since Dan had an interest in international business, he started searching online for International MBA programs. When the University of South Carolina came up as the first result, he saw that it was the country’s top International MBA program and was all the more intrigued.

After more conversations with mentors in both the military and academia, Dan started working with Jennifer Ninh, Managing Director of Full-time MBA programs at the University of South Carolina.

For many prospective students, the admissions process can be the most daunting part of a decision to go back to school. But it was surprisingly enjoyable for the 42-year-old Special Forces veteran. The UofSC MBA program assists active duty service members by helping them build resumes that position military experiences advantageously toward the private sector. Waiving the GMAT exam for current and former members of U.S. Special Operations is also a plus.

“Jennifer was pivotal in the early stages of my transition and grad school application process,” says Dan. “She and her supportive staff were focused on military MBAs and readily available to answer my questions. They helped guide me through the application process and point me in the right direction to find resources for veterans on campus.”

A more formidable challenge occurred during his first core classes.

“I came from a world where we trained to do the impossible,” says Dan. “I would do free-fall jumps at 35,000 feet with an oxygen mask and night vision goggles in order to land on an objective half the size of a football field to take out some warlord. Now I was sitting in a comfortable seat in a state-of-the-art classroom with my head spinning over Excel pivot tables?!?”

But it wasn’t just the spreadsheets that had Dan questioning if he could succeed in business school. The contrast between service and school also impacted his sense of self. He questioned how he could relate to his peers?

“Here I was in the front row of the class in my salt-and-pepper beard, surrounded by tech-savvy millennials, and struggling with quantitative analysis,” he confides. “They grew up with computers. I was the new guy. The novice.”

He also missed his safety net.

“I used to go to work every day humbled to be collaborating with the greatest men and women this country will ever really know,” Dan explains. “I knew that all my best friends at Fort Bragg would throw themselves in front of a bullet for me. At business school, these were all new relationships.”

Through this short spell of discomfort, the veteran discovered the value of teamwork in the business.

Sure, some of his peers were stronger in accounting and finance. However, he realized he could contribute through skills some of his classmates didn’t have.

“I’m good with presentations,” he adds. “I gave them in some pretty austere conditions.”

Most of all, Dan learned how his leadership talents could translate from the battlefield to business school.

Case in point: he wasn’t the only one who was away from his tribe.

“I missed the Green Berets,” admits Dan. “But then I realized that all the international students were at a distance from their families. We had more in common than I thought.”

So, Dan took the initiative to invite his classmates over to his house for a barbeque before the first football game.

In many ways, it was a natural extension of his work in the military to live beyond yourself.

“Most veterans have the ability to bring people together,” says Dan. “In today’s conflict zones, you go into tough situations with foreign nationals and you have to build rapport through language and cultural barriers.”

The Special Operations community is especially good at it. In fact, Dan points out that the mantra of the Green Berets is “De Oppresso Libre” (Latin for “To free the oppressed”) while the Air Force Special Operations has the motto: “That Others May Live.”

“There is no other organization that has that as their whole mission and strategy,” he adds.

Even in the lighter moments, you are taught that it’s never about you.

Of course, this strong team mindset holds true in more serious, life-threatening moments. And it explains precisely why veterans are so valuable to employers in the private sector.

“In addition to a willingness to go beyond your comfort zone, you can put a veteran in any room, give them limited resources, and they will figure it out,” says Dan.

After successfully completing core classes in subjects such as financial accounting and global marketing, Dan completed electives in Marketing Research, Product & Branding Policies, and Marketing Communications, and is now interning as a Chief of Staff intern for the publicly traded internet tech company, Leaf Group, assisting with investor meetings and strategy.

“At the Pat Tillman Run in 2013, I met Sean Moriarty, a double-alumnus of the University of South Carolina, who was on the board of directors of the Pat Tillman Foundation,” says Dan. “He is now the CEO of the Leaf Group, with headquarters in Santa Monica, California. I’m proud to have been hired and now assisting a fellow Gamecock who is also giving back to the veterans’ community along with the UofSC MBA.”

Although Dan has not yet decided on a post-MBA industry, he has the propensity from his military service to do something that matters and pursue business with a purpose.

Wherever he does land in the private sector, he will continue to live beyond himself.