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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Retired Col. Michael Clawson aims to keep UNCP ‘military friendly’

A 23-year old who has carried a weapon into Iraq or Afghanistan is a different kind of college student, said Michael Clawson, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the new coordinator of Military and Veterans Services at UNC Pembroke.

Michael Clawson“A veteran faces the difficulty of returning to civilian life in society that generally appreciates their service—but doesn’t always understand it,” Clawson said.

A former commander and helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne, Clawson is a 28-year veteran who deployed twice to Iraq, twice to Afghanistan and served in Desert Storm. A civilian since 2009, he joined UNCP in late 2012.

“UNCP deserves a pat on the back for recognizing the need for assistance to veterans who are transitioning into higher education, but we have work to do as we provide and expand services to all military-affiliated students,” Clawson said.

Because of Pembroke’s proximity to Fort Bragg, there are opportunities here for veterans, active duty servicemen and women and their families. The university’s designation as a “military friendly” institution is a helpful recruiting tool, he noted.

“Educational opportunities for military members and UNCP veteran enrollment took off in 2009 with UNCP’s “military-friendly” designation and the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill providing educational benefits to spouses and dependents,” Clawson said.

UNCP has earned several “military friendly” designations from G.I. Jobs magazine, and in late 2012, Military Advanced Education included UNCP as one of three state-supported universities in North Carolina on its list of military-friendly schools.

“The numbers for the spring semester show UNCP has 752 students with military connections, and 440 of them are dependents,” Clawson said. “Dependents may have the most potential for UNCP recruiters, but our biggest challenge is service to vets and active duty soldiers, including National Guardsmen and reserves.”

Clawson is in a unique position to serve UNCP and veterans. A North Carolina native and Appalachian State University graduate, his son is a senior at UNCP.

“My son has had an outstanding experience in four years at UNCP and will graduate this May,” Clawson said. “I’m proud of his sacrifices as a military dependent, and I’m proud that he can be a product of what UNCP can provide under the GI Bill education benefits.”

Because of his service in airborne operations, the retired colonel also has an appreciation for the men and women of Fort Bragg.

“Life inside the military is one of tightly shared values and commitments,” Clawson said. “You show up on time, dressed in the right uniform with the right gear; you are responsible for your buddies, and they watch your back. Decisions matter. You respect your superiors and question them only to a point, then you have to move on once a decision is made – it’s not always like that for life on a university campus with much more freedom and open expression. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a transition that many veterans need help with.

“I was not behind a desk for most of my career, and I can relate to service members” Clawson said. “When this opportunity came up, I thought it would be a great way for me to do some good and give back.”

The new Military and Veterans Assistance Office is located in the D.F. Lowry building inside the university’s student support services cluster.

“We’re ideally situated,” Clawson said. “I meet tomorrow with the UNCP Veterans Task Force to discuss our mission. This a new position, and we are just beginning to define it.”

The Veterans Assistance Office is part of the Office of Engaged Outreach. Clawson reports to Dr. Cammie Hunt, an associate vice chancellor.

“As UNCP continues to build and enhance our reputation as a military-friendly institution, we felt it was vital to create a one-stop shop for our active duty, dependents and military veterans,” Dr. Hunt said. “These students have different life experiences and needs, and we are committed to finding someone who would serve as an ombudsman for this special population. 

“We are pleased to welcome Col. Clawson to our UNC Pembroke team,” she said. “His vast military experience and enthusiasm will prove valuable to our team as we continue our work to better meet the needs and expectations of military/veteran students and will allow us to increase our presence in the military arena on both a statewide and national scale.”

Clawson earned two master’s degrees, one from the National Defense University in national security strategy and one from Webster University in human resources development. He qualified to fly the Apache, Black Hawk, Cobra, Huey and Kiowa helicopters.

He finished his career in the Pentagon as a military assistant for tactical land warfare systems in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Before that, he served in the Pentagon as special assistant to the Army chief of staff.  Other operational assignments include commander of the 1st Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Clawson earned two Bronze Stars, six Meritorious Service Medals, an Air Medal and an Air Medal for Valor, three Army Commendation Medals, seven Achievement Medals and a National Defense Service Medal as well as a Southwest Asia Service Medal for tours in Iraq and Turkey.

Clawson is spending his first weeks on the job defining his role and meeting with UNCP administrators. He meets with the Veterans Task Force, which is drawn from across campus.

“As we define this position, I’ll be getting to know the campus better,” Clawson said. “I enjoy working with people and look forward to being here.”

Thus far, Clawson said “everybody at UNCP has bent over backwards to help out.” He had especially kind words for his student assistants, who are both veterans and successful students and who, he said, “know the ropes.”

To learn more about the Military and Veterans Services at UNCP, please contact that office at 910.775.4438 or email veterans@uncp.edu.

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