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Student veterans organization builds sense of community at WSSU

Charles Calamese says people are often surprised when they find out he’s a veteran. “I don’t always introduce myself as a veteran,” says Calamese, a sophomore at Winston-Salem State University. At 24, Calamese is part of a growing number of student veterans on college campuses nationwide.

Between 2009 and 2013, the number of student veterans in the United States doubled to over 1 million. At WSSU, the number of student veterans and active-duty military has increased over the past two years to nearly 200.

As president of WSSU’s Military Students and Veterans Organization (MSVO), Calamese, 24, is working to build a sense of community for student-veterans.

“I’m so excited about the military organization,” he says. “We’re not just looking to serve but to have an impact on our community.”

From 2011-14, Calamese served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper in 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. For seven months in 2012, he was deployed to Afghanistan.

Calamese, the son of a U.S. Army officer, says the military was a great fit for him as a recent high school graduate.

“It allowed me to learn how to be organized and have a set schedule,” he says. “Honestly, I like to tell people the military is the oldest corporation in the nation. It really teaches you how to be a professional.”

After being released from the Army in late 2014, he returned to his hometown of Charlotte. He says he struggled a little with the transition but found a home at Winston-Salem State, starting in August 2015.

“Charles brings his passion and energy to other military and veteran students across campus, and it’s contagious,” says Joel Lee, assistant vice chancellor for Enrollment Management and advisor for the organization. “He’s always looking for ways to get students engaged and further the bonds between military students.”

Calamese is using the GI Bill benefits he earned to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in economics and minor in psychology.

“There’s a system in place for veterans to succeed on campus,” he says. “I think of Winston-Salem State as a utopia. You have the curriculum geared toward you as an African American. There’s definitely a supportive environment here.”

From noon-2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, MSVO will set up a table in the breezeway outside the Cleon F. Thompson Jr. Student Services Center to distribute ribbons to students, faculty and staff. They’re encouraging everyone to show their support for veterans by wearing the ribbons on Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

From 3-5 p.m. on Thursday, MSVO will sponsor, in partnership with the Winston-Salem chapter of the National Association of Black Veterans, a benefits fair. The event will be held in the Donald J. Reaves Student Activities Center, Room 100B, and is open to the public. The events are part of Non-Traditional Student Week at WSSU.

“Short term, we’re hoping to show veterans the value of the organization,” he says. “Veterans want to see, ‘Does this organization assist us?’ We can offer a sense of community on campus, people who understand terminologies and can understand our experiences.”

Long term, Calamese says he’d like to see the organization become as a bridge between student-veterans and faculty and staff on campus.

“There’s kind of a gap between faculty, administration and the student veteran population,” he says, “and that’s where we can come in, helping faculty to understand unique needs of veterans.”

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