In its fourth year as one of just 15 Pat Tillman Foundation University Partners, Syracuse University proudly announces Laura Buys ’18, G’21 as its 2020 Tillman Scholar. Buys is one of only 60 students nationwide to be awarded the prestigious scholarship.

“As a Syracuse University Tillman Scholar, I feel honored to be part of a community of multidisciplinary professionals who are committed to creating a better future through service and humble leadership,” says Buys. “As a clinical social worker, this means advocating and working for innovative, inclusive, socially just, and culturally competent mental health policy and programs.”

Laura’s path to military service and Syracuse began in St. Paul, MN, where she spent a chaotic childhood moving between schools. Her family struggled with poverty and by the time she was 15, she was both attending school and working to support her family. In hopes of a better future, she studied hard to graduate early and in 2012, after scoring well on the Air Force test, Laura enlisted in the Air Force and became an operations intelligence analyst. At only 19 years old, she had earned a top security clearance and was briefing military and political officials who had been serving longer than she had been alive. During her time in uniform, she would go on to serve under and collaborate with the NSA, CIA and the Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency.

In 2014, Laura deployed to Qatar and later with the prestigious Cobra Ball—a rapidly deployable aircraft which flies joint chiefs of staff on directed missions of national priority—in Alaska and Japan while supporting international treaty verification. On one deployment, of the 71 service members in her unit, Laura was one of just two women.

During her military career, Laura delivered over 600 intelligence briefings to Air Force leadership, aircrew and government officials around the world. She also supported 160 U.S. Central Command combat missions, leading to more than 11,000 signals intelligence reports and eight relief airdrops to displaced Yazidi civilians in northern Iraq. As a result of her exemplary service, Laura was awarded a medal for Meritorious Service Achievement and recognized as Senior Airman Below the Zone.

After honorably separating in 2017, Laura was able to fully immerse herself in a career in human services, choosing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in women’s and gender studies and a master of social work degree from Syracuse University. Laura is also currently serving as the school’s disability services liaison for student veterans, a confidential program where she helps connect student veterans like herself to the Center for Disability Resources and other community and campus wellness programs.

“Syracuse University truly is the best place for veterans—I know this from experience, having earned almost two degrees here,” says Buys. “There are so many resources for military-connected students and veterans. I can’t say enough good things about the opportunities I’ve been given here.”