2021 Tillman Scholar

Emerald Ralston

Air Force
Antioch University New England

“Service is the cornerstone of our society. As a therapist, I hope to serve those who serve us by providing and de-stigmatizing mental health care in the military.”

Emerald joined the Air Force shortly after her 18th birthday, hoping to pursue a career as a mental health technician. When she got to basic training, however, the Air Force had other plans. She was assigned to the role of Public Affairs Specialist and served for five years on active duty. When Emerald was deployed to Afghanistan, she got the devastating news that her brother had been hit by an IED in Iraq. He was left completely paralyzed, and Emerald was given the option to separate from her active duty contract to become his caretaker.

The weeks following this traumatic event had a profound impact on Emerald, and she became fascinated by the effects of trauma, and how to counter them in the acute aftermath of the event. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education to further study the phenomenon of trauma, focusing on how mindfulness-based practices can help alleviate the trauma response.

After earning her degree, Emerald returned to civil service as a Public Affairs Officer. She became a speechwriter for the commander of Air Combat Command, and routinely infused mental health themes into communications at every level. Remembering her early dreams of being a mental health care provider, she is now pursuing a doctorate in psychology. She plans to focus on military trauma, and how to increase post-traumatic growth, rather than post-traumatic stress, in our service members who experience trauma, both deployed and at home.