Army veteran from Lebanon died of heroin overdose in Mass.

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Tina Emard in the uniform she was so proud of. (Courtesy photo)

LEBANON - She was known by all as someone who would stand up and fight for the underdog, but in the end, she couldn't save herself.

Tina Emard, just 28, fought her heroin demons for the last time last weekend. She was found dead of a heroin overdose alone inside her car in the parking lot of a Leominster, Mass., strip mall last Sunday, her mother, Ann Howgate, said on Saturday.

A decorated Army veteran, Kristina M. Emard, spent a year in Korea where she worked in medical logistics, earning several military honors and citations such as the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal among many others.

Howgate said she spoke to her daughter for the last time Sept. 23 around 10:30 p.m.

Tina was in Massachusetts where she lived with her boyfriend and "She sounded great," Howgate said.

But Howgate and her mother, Rita Corliss, said Tina had been struggling with her addiction the past two and a half months.

Tina Emard

Much of Tina's life had been a struggle, Howgate said, but those struggles, like moving to a new school like Noble High as a freshman; and suffering a sexual assault by an Army officer she trusted in Korea had taken its toll.

By the time she returned to the states after a protracted trial in Korea found the officer innocent, Tina was at rock bottom. That's when she got hooked, her mom said.

"When she returned to Georgia after the trial in Korea she was treated badly," Howgate said. "They (the Military) treated her like a traitor. She went from award after award, to you wouldn't see her. She was shunned."

Tina was ultimately awarded an Honorable Discharge and 100 percent disability for what she endured in Korea.

But her fight was far from over. She joined Narcotics Anonymous and Team RWB, an advocacy group seeking to help returning veterans prevail over issues like substance abuse and PTSD.

Tina began running as part of her therapy and outreach with Team RWB, culminating in running her first marathon in Vermont recently, something she was very proud of finishing.

"When they ran the race, it was very hot - in the 80s plus high humidity," Corliss recalled. "There was torrential rain, trees down, lightning, so they stopped the race and the organizers decided to call in all the runners. Tina was running with a relative who was an accomplished runner. So they were told to pull out and they said, 'Are you forcing us to stop?' The team organizer said they weren't. Well, they were at Mile 20, so they refused to stop. 'Hell, no,' they said and finished the race."

Corliss recalled for Tina it was a shining moment of her young life.

"She was a fighter," she said.

In fighting her battle with addiction, she got clean twice for a full year without using.

No one knows why she relapsed recently. She had recently met a man, "her soulmate," was living in Gardner, Mass., and seemed very, very happy, Howgate said.

Tina graduated from Noble High in 2006 and joined up with the Army the next year, re-enlisting in 2011 before getting the Honorable Discharge.

During her junior and senior year at Noble, she went to vocational school earning her CNA license, which she was very proud of.

But perhaps what she was most proud of was defending an underdog.

"She'd seek them out," Corliss said. "She would try to give them confidence."

Tina was also a defender of what was right, Corliss said, recalling the time her granddaughter was arrested for having a bottle of rum in her car when she was 16.

She said Tina was driving around with a friend from Massachusetts who was 18 when they were stopped by a local officer on a traffic stop.

"There was a pack of cigarettes in the car and even though the friend was old enough to smoke, the officer said she was in violation of the law because she was driving," Corliss said. "They handcuffed her and took her to the station. And when they towed the car, the officer checked and found a bottle of Captain Morgan under the seat, so they charged her with that, too.

"Well that was in April and that Captain Morgan had been under the seat since someone else had used the car to go to a New Year's Eve party and on the way home put it under the seat.

"I knew that so she put me on the stand at Rochester District Court and I told them that and the judge tossed the case out.

"I remember just before the case started, the officer who arrested her and was sitting behind us in court asked her to just plead guilty, and she said, 'Never!'"

"She was a defender of the truth," Corliss smiled. "And she had a smile that could knock your socks off."

A graveside service with military honors will be held today, October 3, 2016, at 11 a.m. at the Southern Maine Veterans Cemetery, 83 Stanley Rd., Springvale, Maine.

To help with the cost of final expenses a Go Fund Me Account has been set up. Click here to donate.

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