This Pirate lives
to serve others.
Russ McClain, a veteran, now serves with the ECU Ambassadors
Before he started volunteering at East Carolina University, Russ McClain spent nine years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I felt like it was my duty to do my part in protecting our freedoms,” said McClain, who enlisted after 9/11. “I would not trade my time in the service for anything. It’s the greatest decision I’ve ever made and I’m blessed that I was given the opportunity to serve.”
McClain was a machine gunner for security convoys during two tours in Iraq. While in the military, he also secured borders with the U.S. Border Patrol and fought wild fires with California Fire Departments.
When McClain left the Marines as a sergeant with an honorable discharge to go back to school at ECU, he found himself just “going through the motions. I’d go to class, and then I’d go home,” he said. “I wasn’t involved in anything and I felt like I was missing out.”
That’s when McClain’s interest in the ECU Ambassadors began. “I always saw those people in the purple polo shirts walking around. They were doing campus tours, working football games, alumni tailgates and tons of other social events,” he said. “I was intrigued and wanted to see what they were about.”
After attending an information session, McClain was drawn in by the community service and volunteer work that ambassadors do. “Everything they do is for other people, whether it’s helping grow the university or the community, the ambassadors are there,” he said.
“Coming from the military and having that brotherhood and comradery and then being able to find that family here at ECU – it’s amazing,” said McClain, who is now the vice president of administration for the ECU Ambassadors. “The Ambassadors are one big family who are always there for each other; that is why we call it an ‘Ambily.’”
McClain’s favorite event has been the special populations prom for individuals with special needs. “We have decorations, food and a DJ, and they just come out and have a good time,” he said. “I love seeing how excited the parents are and how the kids get to see other kids they haven’t seen since last year’s prom.”
The ECU Ambassadors also host a field day for the Boys and Girls Clubs in the Greenville area. “We set up a 3-legged race, flag football, kickball, and have food and drinks for them,” he said. “It’s just another way for us to get involved with the community and show people that ECU cares.”
During his military service, McClain said he received training that he thought he could put to good use outside of the military. “It became a dream of mine to get into the FBI or U.S. Marshals,” he said.
McClain is double majoring in criminal justice and finance to become a strong candidate for a career in federal law enforcement. After graduating in 2016, he plans to start the two-year FBI special agent application process. In that time, he plans to gain experience by working with a local law enforcement agency.
Why did you decide to come to ECU?
I grew up in Ohio, so my dream was to attend Ohio State University. But after visiting ECU, which is where my wife graduated, I fell in love with the atmosphere. Everything about ECU’s campus sucked me in, from the small-town feel, approachable students and faculty, awesome athletics and amazing transit system.
What is it like returning to school as a nontraditional student?
At first it was difficult, but it was just me holding myself back. I was afraid that people were going to judge me, so I didn’t talk to other students. Once I opened myself up and realized that we’re all students, I began breaking down those barriers, and now everything is smooth.
What is your advice to other Pirate veterans?
Get involved and take advantage of everything that ECU has to offer. You may feel like you are not in touch with current students, but that is not the case, and getting involved helps make a smoother transition from military to civilian life. Don’t be afraid to join organizations because you’re too old, or you think that your military background is going to scare people away. ECU is one of those welcoming communities … it doesn’t matter where you are in your walk of life or what you’ve done, you’re going to be accepted and you’re going to be able to do great things.
What is something that everyone should do while at ECU?
I think one thing that everyone should do while at ECU would be to just go lie in the grass on the mall with no homework and no phones. Just go, relax and watch the world pass by.
Photography by: Cliff Hollis
Written by: Grace Haskin
College: Human Ecology and Business
Major: Criminal Justice and Finance
Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
Hobbies & Interests: Sports and tactics
Clubs & Organizations: ECU Ambassadors and
Pirate Veterans Organization
Hangout: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
Place on Campus: Memorial Walk and Freedom Wall
Place to Eat: Winslow's Tavern
Class: JUST 2009 - Correctional Systems,
taught by Jonathan Sorensen
TV Show: King of Queens
Most Influential Professor: Jeff Foster
Dream Job: FBI Special Agent
You Can’t Live Without: My family
Role Model: Ronald Reagan
Words to Live By: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” - Colin Powell
Advice to Fellow Students: Be the change you want to see in the world.
Something cool about ECU you wish you knew as a freshman: ECU has over 400 registered student organizations. There is something for everyone.
“Get involved and take advantage of everything that ECU has to offer....ECU is one of those welcoming communities...it doesn’t matter where you are in your walk of life or what you’ve done, you’re going to be accepted and you’re going to be able to do great things.”
– Russ McClain