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Dustin created the first ECU Pirate Veterans group for students.

East Carolina University senior Dustin Hawley is the founder of Pirate Veterans, a new student organization that facilitates connections among student veterans.

“I knew there were a lot (of veterans) on campus, but there wasn’t a central way to meet them,” said Hawley.

When he first came to campus, Hawley had some difficulty connecting with other veterans. He then took matters into his own hands, and created Pirate Veterans as an official student organization during the 2013 spring semester.

Coordinator of first-year programs Hank Bowen serves as the faculty advisor of Pirate Veterans. He said, “The university has always prided itself on serving our military, and the organization allows us to actually provide them that support.”

Bowen said he is proud of the progress that the organization has made locally and nationally. The group has joined with the national organization, Student Veterans of America. Pirate Veterans has also gotten involved with local research initiatives and community service projects. Currently Pirate Veterans is conducting a supply drive to make care packages for troops deployed overseas, in time for the holidays.

Being an active participant in the community is important to Hawley. “I just want to be a good veteran,” he said.

Hawley ended his five years of service with the U.S. Army as a sergeant in 2008. It is OK to finish the commitment and be done with the military, he said, but his goal is to “get out and represent veterans and make sure stories aren’t forgotten and make sure men and women who have been lost aren’t forgotten.”

Three fellow soldiers whose memories Hawley tries to preserve include Sgt. Joshua Barrett Madden, Sgt. Jesse J.J. Castro and Pfc. Travis Cabot Krege. Hawley knew these men before deployment and served together in the same platoon while in Iraq.

These soldiers remain with Hawley after his time in the U.S. Army and continue to serve as his role models and constant sources of inspiration.

Hawley said Madden was an extremely devoted family man and just a really great guy. “He was really inspiring and always wanted to do the right thing for everybody,” he said. Hawley admired Madden because although he only knew his son for a short time, Madden tried to be the best father possible.

Hawley still admires Castro because he knew how to lead his soldiers and how to set the right example for them at all times. “Whenever there was something to be done or to be learned, he put 100 percent into it every single time,” he said.

When Hawley has to speak in front of a crowd he pulls courage from his memories of Krege.“He was somebody that if he had something to say, he was just going to say it,” Hawley said. He said he realized through Krege that he had nothing to fear.

“The growth I have seen in myself as a leader is why I would push anyone toward taking on a leadership role in an organization and putting your all into it,” he said. Hawley challenges himself as a biology major with aspirations to attend dental school next fall.

Why did you start Pirate Veterans?

When I first came on campus, I went to the Veterans Affairs office to do the GI Bill and they had a poster on the wall advertising for a veterans group on campus. I emailed and never heard anything back. I didn’t understand why there wasn’t one (an organization for veterans) on campus. I eventually got introduced to Hank Bowen, our faculty advisor for the group, and I just started working with him and developed it from there.

Do you think the organization is forming a new community on campus?

Slowly. I think the organization as well as Student Veterans office and ECU as a whole are really working together to develop that community and to get veterans on campus comfortable with acknowledging that they are veterans. Some veterans will come on campus and don’t want people to know – for their own reasons. Sometimes they’re older students and sometimes they’re married; they just want to come to school, go to class, and get done with it as quickly as possible. There are about seven to 15 members at any given meeting and we email about 40 to 50 people.

What do you hope this group will do for other veterans on campus?
I hope it gets people to be more comfortable being themselves. The Pirate Veterans and Student Veterans Services office try to get veterans to come out of their shells. For anybody really to just come out of their shells, get involved in campus, and try to get involved with SVS veterans groups or any other veterans groups. Get out and just be proud of the military. Be proud of who you are.

Why did you choose ECU?
We moved to North Carolina after I left the military. My wife went to UNC-Greensboro to finish her undergraduate degree and I went to community college. Then we were looking for physician assistant schools for my wife. She interviewed and got in, and then we saw that ECU was starting a dental school, so that was really exciting. The dental school and the PA school are really what brought us here.

Do you feel ECU prepared you for your future?
I feel that everything I have done here and everyone that I have worked with definitely has prepared me for the future. As soon as I moved into Greenville, I spoke with a lot of dentists and then the school in general. With the Diversity in Medical Dentistry Society and the other pre-professional groups, they are doing great things. The transition from community college to here was a huge difference because I was taking all online classes. So transferring was a difference but it wasn’t necessarily so overwhelming that I couldn’t do it. I have grown more since I first got here, so yes they have prepared me a lot.

Written by: Jamitress Bowden
Photography by: Cliff Hollis

"The growth I have seen in myself as a leader is why I would push anyone toward taking on a leadership role in an organization and putting your all into it"

- Dustin Hawley