Honoring Emory Veterans

Staff, faculty and students reflect on how military service shapes their impact at Emory

As a veteran helping veterans in need, James Brown is feeling good these days. His experience in the U.S. Air Force taught him to build rapport quickly. He now uses those skills as a veterans outreach coordinator at the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, which treats post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other invisible wounds of military service.
“My passion has been to help people in the military, to make a difference by helping them overcome obstacles, and to make sure that they can cope,” Brown says. “I see that in my Emory career. In two weeks, the program changes veterans’ lives. They go from not talking and being nervous and depressed to being transformed. They want to be entrepreneurs and travel, for instance. I love to see it. That’s my passion.”
On Veterans Day, Emory celebrates Brown and others like him who bring their military experience to the university's mission to “create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.” 

Brown is among eight Emory veterans and active duty service members profiled here.

Two portraits of James Brown: In military uniform and today

James Brown

  • Emory role: Emory Healthcare Veterans Program veterans outreach coordinator
  • Military service:  11 years of active duty, domestically and abroad, with the U.S. Air Force. Served as a dental tech, sexual assault victims advocate, resiliency trainer, Dover Port Mortuary team member, dormitory manager and other roles. E5 at time of military separation.

“I joined the military to see the world, because in my small town of Gastonia, North Carolina, most of my family and friends never really left. I was posted at an Air Force base near London, and got to see all of Europe. That got me into constantly collecting passport stamps. At Emory, I travel in the U.S. to veterans conferences to create awareness of our programs. I’ve been to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Texas, Delaware, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Alabama and DC. I would not have been to those places if not for the military and Emory.”

Two portraits of Carlissa Carlson: In military uniform and today

Carlissa Carson 08L   

  • Emory role:  Senior staff attorney, Emory Law’s Volunteer Clinic for Veterans (VCV); adjunct professor, Emory Law
  • Military service: Completed Army ROTC at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2005. Commissioned as a military intelligence officer and completed Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course. Transitioned into the Army JAG Corps, served as a judge advocate in the Army from 2009 to 2012. Switched branches in 2012, to Air Force (Air National Guard) as a judge advocate. Currently serves as lieutenant colonel and staff judge advocate. Completed Air War College and aims for a certificate of eligibility next year for promotion to colonel.

“Our clinic represents low-income veterans with discharge upgrades, VA disability benefits, and basic estate planning. Because I started in January 2020, I had to quickly adjust to work-from-home and assist with transitioning Emory VCV to the virtual environment. Fortunately, the military prepared me for new challenges. This came through the power of perspective. Service members are trained to face dangerous threats and to adjust fire in unexpected moments. In my civilian job, no matter what is happening, I am most likely better off than being in Fallujah facing insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades. Having this type of perspective keeps you grounded. Without a proper perspective, it’s easy to magnify mistakes made, become overwhelmed, and/or lose sight of a desired end state. With the proper perspective, however, one can remain calm and collected. Ultimately, this leads to better decision making.” 

Two portraits of Will Gurtowski: In military uniform and today

Will Gurtowski 23T

  • Emory role: First-year master of divinity student at Candler School of Theology
  • Military service: Commissioned officer in the Mississippi Army National Guard since 2018, working as a chemical officer, platoon leader and as a recruiter. Candidate for Army chaplaincy.

“Emory is a place with trailblazers and leaders in the world. Candler is really trying to push the student body to go out and make a difference — not just get a job, but make the world a better place. I see that in the military as well. All soldiers try to build up each other to be successful and healthy in the military and the world outside. One of my military instructors said that good leadership is always 10% outside of your comfort zone, and I’ve been put in situations with being a military chaplain that are out of mine. This military experience has given me the courage at Candler to speak to and get to know people on the shuttle bus or gym. It’s all about building community, and though it’s only been two months, I feel like I have made a real home here.”

Two portraits of Alexander Isakov: In military uniform and today

Alexander Isakov

  • Emory role: Professor of emergency medicine, Emory School of Medicine; Director, Section of Prehospital and Disaster Medicine; executive director, Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR)
  • Military service: Entered the U.S. Navy through the Health Professions Scholarship Program while in medical school. Graduate of the Naval Undersea Medical Institute and the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center. Served on active duty and in the ready reserve as an undersea medical officer, and later as an emergency medicine physician. Resigned commission as a commander, Medical Corps, United States Naval Reserve, in 2009.

“In my view, people that are drawn to service in uniform are drawn to a mission, to a sense of purpose, to contributing to something greater than oneself. I believe in the Emory mission. I feel privileged to be part of a community that is committed to making a positive difference in people’s lives. Military service challenges you to be resolute but also adaptable. Both qualities are important when facing challenges and uncertainties. I also experienced great camaraderie in the service. It’s amazing what you can accomplish and how rewarding the experience when you are part of a great team.”

Two portraits of Tayana Jones: In military uniform and today

Tayana Jones 22N

  • Emory role: Master's degree student in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and applying for the Doctor of Nursing Practice program
  • Military service: Served in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2017, with a rank of sergeant at discharge. In the process of joining Army National Guard as an officer. 

“I was stationed in Okinawa for seven years, and I volunteered as a medical assistant with the Red Cross, and that brought my love for health care to me. I got to deliver 10 babies with the Red Cross. Like the Marines, nursing is a strenuous job and you’re on your feet all day dealing with various people, and that can take a toll. If you’re used to dealing with that, it’s nothing. I became more of a people person and learned to talk to people in the military. Every hospital room is a fresh start, and you learn by talking to people that not everyone is the same. The weight that the Emory name holds reminds me of the Marine Corps. ‘Oh, you are a Marine!’ and ‘Oh, wow, you go to Emory!’ drew me here.”

Two portraits of Ken Keen: In military uniform and today

P.K. (Ken) Keen

  • Emory role: Senior lecturer of organization and management; associate dean for leadership, Goizueta Business School
  • Military service: Lieutenant general, U.S. Army (retired), 38 years of military service with more than 11 years working and living abroad in the Republic of Panama, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, Germany, Egypt and Pakistan, including serving as commander of Joint Task Force – Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake, as well as serving on three U.S. Embassy Country Teams leading all military forces in Colombia, Haiti and Pakistan during crisis periods.

“The seven values of our Army (Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage) are very similar to the Goizueta values (Courage, Integrity, Accountability, Rigor, Diversity, Team, Community). For me, chief among these values that have made Emory and Goizueta a great fit for me in my transition from the military are the concepts of putting team before self, being a person and leader of character (integrity), and selfless service or serving others. Having the opportunity to serve others, and help our Emory and Goizueta students prepare to be principled leaders to have a positive impact on business and society, is both an honor and privilege.”

Two portraits of Deatra Perkins: In military uniform and today

Deatra Perkins

  • Emory role: RN, senior nurse manager, Medical Oncology Clinical Services and Operations, Winship Cancer Institute
  • Military service:  Served as an enlisted member of the Army Reserve as an operating room technician for eight years and became a commissioned officer in the Navy Nurse Corps after earning her bachelor of science in nursing degree

“I supervise nurses and medical assistants in the Medical Oncology Clinics at Winship, and in addition to the ongoing medical stressors of COVID-19, I also have members of my staff dealing with the challenges of childcare and virtual school learning; dealing with their own illness and/or the illness or death of loved ones due to the coronavirus; and [dealing with the challenges of] working in their clinical areas. In my leadership training in the Navy, the military culture includes that leaders take care of their team. It is paramount that a leader makes sure that their employees feel that they are being supported, especially during a time when circumstances are so uncertain. As a result of providing emotional and mental support to my team, it has resulted in their resiliency — which ultimately enables them to provide safe, efficient and effective care to our Winship patients.”

Two portraits of Chris Weakley: In military uniform and today

Chris Weakley 22BBA

  • Emory role: Undergraduate in Goizueta Business School with an area depth in strategy and management consulting
  • Military service: Former U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialist with 12 years of experience in the Army, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and a stint with an EOD response team protecting the White House

“At the time of transitioning to online classes during COVID-19 lockdown, I was living with two other people, so at times it became challenging to have some quiet time for myself. My roommates were always home, my neighbor was always home and doing yard projects, and my dog craved attention. The military helped me in dealing with extreme circumstances and situations. I was able to remain disciplined and use effective time management. I would just get up extra early to do my schoolwork while my roommates were still sleeping. I did not enjoy getting up extra early, but it allowed me to still do well during the semesters of the pandemic.”

Emorys Support for Veterans

There are initiatives for veterans across campus and through Emory Healthcare.

Through the Yellow Ribbon program, Emory provides funding to help post-9/11 veterans pay for educational expenses beyond what is covered by the G.I. Bill. Learn more about veterans education benefits at Emory.

Undergraduate students planning military careers can participate in Army or Air Force ROTC through a cross-enrollment agreement with Georgia Tech. Students complete their undergraduate degrees at Emory and military training at Tech.

The Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, part of the Emory Brain Health Center, provides expert, collaborative care for post-9/11 veterans and service members dealing with a variety of mental health concerns, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, depression and anxiety. Treatment options include traditional outpatient and intensive outpatient programs that integrate care in multiple areas including psychiatry, neurology, sleep, rehabilitative medicine, wellness and family support.

Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing is one of 18 nursing schools nationwide selected for the elite Veteran Affairs Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP) through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Undergraduate and graduate nursing students selected for the program gain valuable training in providing quality care for our nation’s veterans.

The Emory Law Volunteer Clinic for Veterans provides pro bono legal services for veterans, assisting them and their families with legal issues including disability claims before the Veterans Administration and subsequent appellate proceedings, estate work and discharge upgrades before the Department of Defense.

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