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ASU student veteran wants to counsel vets with PTSD

Diana Kramer and twin sister Jenna Williams
June 03, 2014

Arizona State University student veteran and Tillman Military Scholar Diana Kramer credits growing up “tomboy” in the high country of California’s Lake Tahoe region with her desire to become a U.S. military explosives disposal expert.

“I guess it’s dangerous, at least that’s what they tell me,” she deadpanned. “When I enlisted in the Air Force, I qualified for a number of jobs. They told me that an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialist gets to blow stuff up and work with robots. It sounded like fun.”

An ASU student veteran pursuing her online degree in psychology, Kramer was recently named a 2014 Tillman Military Scholar by the Pat Tillman Foundation in recognition of her service, leadership and academic excellence. She has been deployed twice each to Iraq and Afghanistan. Her career goal is to help counsel fellow veterans coping with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Kramer remembers that she and her twin sister, Jenna, were self-described “silly girls,” encouraged by their mother and stepdad to develop outdoor pursuits – from fishing, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding to Kramer’s new favorite pastime, landscape photography. Her past three years stationed at Eielson Air Force Base near North Pole, Alaska, has made it easy to continue indulging her love of the great outdoors. Currently, she is transitioning to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, where she was recently reassigned.

It was more than a decade ago that Kramer was working part-time at a Tahoe ski resort and taking local community college classes with plans of becoming a writer. Then her stepdad suggested she talk with a military recruiter. Kramer did and decided to join the Air Force, training to become an EOD specialist – an expertise shared by only 20 or so other enlisted women at the time. With America fighting on two fronts, she explained that EOD was in high demand by the military, mostly U.S. Army infantry and combat engineers.

Following her first deployment to Baghdad, Kramer said she realized that she was experiencing some symptoms of PTSD. “I spent seven months hunting IEDs (homemade bombs called improvised explosive devices) with the Army guys and seeing such horrific things,” she recalled. “When I got back to normal Air Force life, there was such a gap in my experience.”

Kramer said she sought counseling through the Air Force to help her cope with the stresses from her military service, as well as the pain from a marriage that was ending.

“Having a counselor who understood what it was like for me, what I was exposed to and the things that I saw – it was huge for me to get that help,” she said.

According to Kramer, it was her own positive encounter with counseling that inspired her to pursue an academic degree in psychology. Similarly, the story of a military friend who told her he was accused by a counselor of lying about his combat experiences spurred Kramer to want to make a meaningful difference in veterans’ lives.

“It floored me that someone finally had gotten past the stigma of seeking help, and was then shut down by his counselor,” she said. “It was so disheartening to hear that.”

Because her EOD specialty sends Kramer to locations worldwide, she said she searched for an academic program that was online, flexible and “not a degree factory.” Not only did ASU’s online bachelor’s degree in psychology fit the bill, but Kramer also appreciated the university’s special attention to student veterans through its Pat Tillman Veterans Center. “What I like about ASU is that it seems like they really care about their military students,” she said.

Kramer explained that she works like a carpenter, always thinking two steps ahead, and so is already looking at graduate programs that would qualify her to become a clinical psychologist. In addition, she said another reason to complete her degree is so she can become a role model for the children she hopes to parent.

“I don’t have children yet, but I do want to be a mother someday,” Kramer said. “And I want to be a role model for my children. I want them to look up and say, ‘My mom could be in the Air Force and disarm bombs. And my mom went to college and got her degree. And if my mom could do it, I can do it, too.’”