December 1, 2020

Ryan Hastings: Military Man

Staff Sgt. Ryan Hastings served for 20 years with the U.S. Army before becoming UMW's veterans liaison in 2019.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Hastings served for 20 years with the U.S. Army before becoming UMW’s veterans liaison in 2019.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Hastings began the year on a mission. He wanted to purchase lapel pins for faculty and staff to show solidarity with veterans and students from military families, who make up a sizeable chunk of the University of Mary Washington community. He shored up support from the Staff Advisory Council, the Office of the President and UMW’s Veterans Resource Center and found a local veteran-owned business to produce the pins.

Then came COVID-19. Everything was put on hold, that is, until Hastings decided to pay out of his own pocket for the pins, he said, “in a small act of defiance against the pandemic.”

This kind of commitment to those who have served is what led to Hastings – a 20-year U.S. Army veteran – becoming UMW’s Veterans Liaison in 2019. He previously earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree in History and Communication from UMW and a post-baccalaureate degree in Leadership and Management Studies.

“As a student, I found it difficult to relate to many of my younger classmates,” said Hastings, adding that veterans tend to be older and married with children. Based in the Registrar’s Office on the Stafford Campus, he draws from personal experience to help the graduate students seeking their MBA or Master in Education, as well as the undergrad students using the V.A. Vocational Readiness and Employment education benefits to acclimate to life at UMW, often coordinating with other departments across the University.

After arranging tutoring for one student, Hastings shared how UMW’s Office of Disability Resources had helped him in college. He also brought him to the Veterans Resource Center on the University Center’s first floor, where veterans and military-connected students can study, relax and connect with other former service members.

“If you’re a veteran looking to recapture the camaraderie you had in the military,” he said, “I encourage you to give it a try.”

Q: What motivated you to join the military?
A: I grew up in a musical family, so I wanted to serve in one of the military bands stationed near Washington, D.C. After an intense audition process, I was fortunate to earn a spot with the U.S. Army Fife and Drum Corps and serve as a bugler at Fort Myer in Arlington for 20 years.

Q: What do you remember about your time in the military?
A: Marching in five inauguration ceremonies for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama and performing at the opening of the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, where I met Tom Hanks. But I’m also haunted by the memories of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon. Many of us saw it happen and were later tasked with removing the remains.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Engaging with UMW’s veteran community and helping them make their academic goals a reality.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Working with a student who just transitioned out of the military. There are a few required steps to set up education benefits through the Veterans Affairs office, which moves at a glacial pace.

Q: How has life changed for you now that you’re a veteran?
A: I’ve enjoyed using the word “no” a lot. I wasn’t able to say it very much between 1995 and 2015.

Jessica Roberson: Saluting a Veteran

Most days, you can find Jessica Roberson at the U.C.’s Veteran’s Resource Center, where she helps student veterans apply for GI Bill benefits and transition to student life. She knows of what she speaks. Roberson spent five years in the Air Force managing aircrew flight equipment before enrolling at UMW.  A senior majoring in international business, she also helps coordinate events for the Association of Student Veterans. Though she generally spends her days on the ground heading to classes, she knows what it’s like to jump out of a plane.

Q: What spurred you to join the military?

A: I joined the military when I was 19 years old. My former boyfriend’s dad, who was an Air Force F-15 pilot, constantly talked to me about the benefits and real-world experience that you get from serving in the military, so he really pushed me to join, and I really appreciate him for that to this day.

Q: Why did you choose to study at Mary Washington?

A: I grew up in Fredericksburg and my parents moved to Orange County when I was 16. I’d always been around the campus and really liked the liberal arts feel of this school. I looked online for Veteran’s Administration educational benefits and saw that UMW had a recognized program in the area. Two years ago, UMW had about 400 veterans enrolled with a 75-percent graduation rate, which is pretty high.

Q: What is one memory you have of a special moment on campus that you see intersecting with your veteran status?

A: Devil Goat Day 2016, which was one of my first experiences since I had just transferred to UMW in the spring. It’s really kind of cool to me that the graduation classes come together as a whole on that day, like the odds and the evens. When you are in the military, you depend on that camaraderie and group dynamic.

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