Chasing a dream: Master Sgt. Eric Emerson

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Madison Collier
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Stepping up and signing the dotted line is no easy decision; it demands sacrifice, commitment, and dedication. Joining the U.S. armed forces doesn't just mean embracing new challenges and experiences but also gaining a new family. As of 2023, less than 1% of the United States population serves in the military, and each member has a unique story for why they joined and continue to serve.

For U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Eric Emerson, joining the Air Force wasn't his initial plan. He had set his sights on a career in law enforcement with the San Angelo Police Department, but that dream was cut short after six months of training when he was told he wouldn’t be hired.

"I immediately walked out of the police department recruiting station and noticed right across the hallways was an Air Force recruiting station,” said Emerson. “That’s legitimately where everything started for me. I knew I could fulfill my dream of doing law enforcement, even if I wasn’t hired as a police officer.” 

This slight detour led him to a career he could have never imagined. In 14 years, Emerson has accomplished and experienced many things he would have never been able to if his original plan had panned out. He has been deployed to Baghdad, Iraq; Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan; and Doha, Qatar and was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base and F.E. Warren AFB. Emerson is assigned to the 17th Security Forces Squadron on Goodfellow AFB, right back where he started, in San Angelo, Texas. 

As a senior airman stationed at Lackland, he had the opportunity to serve on Lackland’s honor guard. Throughout his time, he honored 73 families for the sacrifices their loved ones made, and he was constantly reminded why service members endure hardships, such as being separated from family and being moved to unfamiliar locations. The impact members leave behind when they relocate to a new base or finish their military career is long-lasting. This duty is where he realized the reality of serving the United States and the type of legacy he could leave.

"Realizing and hearing the impact that the individuals who had passed away made while in the United States Air Force was awesome,” Emerson said, smiling while recalling a memorable moment. "I felt super honored to be able to honor them and their families." 

Going forward in his career, Emerson strived to lead as an example and mentor to his troops, working closely with them and acting as a support system that young Airmen may need when faced with life-changing events. He spoke of different instances when he had an Airman in need and reached out a hand and resources to get them where they needed to be, taking being a supervisor one step further for the well-being of his troops. 

Working in security forces is no easy task. Airmen face busy weekends, long work nights, and unforgettable moments. Coming face to face with suicide is never easy, something that no one wants to encounter, but it’s a reality and a hard one to face. Protecting the emotional health of peers in a demanding job can be tasking but always necessary. When Emerson received a call from a distressed coworker who had recently lost a family member, faced a failed marriage and faced obstacles seeing their family, he supported her, a small action they carried with them throughout their time in the Air Force. 

“My wife and I drove her from San Antonio to Louisiana for her to have a vehicle to drive to her mom and take care of whatever she needed,” said Emerson. “The relationship built from me assisting her that one time over 10 years ago still has a lasting impact. She is no longer in the Air Force and we still talk to each other all the time.”

In a demanding environment where not every day has a happy ending, impactful moments motivate Emerson to continue serving his country, unit and Airmen. 

"He is always seeking to make things the best they can be for his unit and the Air Force as a whole," said Michelle Schwartz, 17th SFS standardization and evaluation section chief. “He is the epitome of servant leadership, which is to say that he will always stop to help anyone in need. I have seen him give countless hours of his own time to assist someone with their career or help them through a difficult time in their lives."

Emerson plans to finish his Air Force career with 20 years under his belt. In return for the sacrifices he and his family have made, he has obtained his associate's and bachelor's degrees with minimal cost. He is able to provide for his family and travel the world. While serving in the military is a demanding career, it's one that he is proud of and would recommend to friends, family or strangers looking for a sense of belonging. 

"There is a great need across the country for members to join," Emerson emphasized. "Even those with established careers can continue their education and finish with benefits even out of the service."