President Obama Recognizes GW Alumnus on D-Day Anniversary

U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Brian A. Hawthorne, B.A. ’10, M.A. ’12, reenlisted in the Army Reserve in Picauville, France in June, before attending D-Day events. (U.S. Army Photo By Spc. Joshua E. Powell)

June 11, 2014
By Lauren Ingeno

During a speech that honored the more than 150,000 World War II servicemen who stormed the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago, President Obama recognized a George Washington University alumnus who has dedicated himself to supporting a new generation of veterans.

The president told the story of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery on Friday, where 9,387 U.S. military dead are buried, to commemorate the bloody battle that forever changed the course of history.

“It was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom,” President Obama said in his address to those gathered in the cemetery, including a disappearing generation of D-Day veterans. “What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met?”

President Obama also praised the post-9/11 generation of service members, assuring the D-Day veterans who were present at Friday’s ceremony that their legacy “is in good hands.”

”For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, a new generation—our men and women of war—have chosen to do their part as well,” he said.

U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Brian Hawthorne, B.A. ’10, M.A. ’12, is one of those veterans.

After serving two tours in Iraq while in the U.S. Army Reserve, Mr. Hawthorne attended GW in 2008. During his undergraduate years, he not only served as the first legislative director of Student Veterans of America, but he also co-founded and became founding president of GW Veterans—the group that has become a staple organization for student veterans on campus.

Upon graduating, he was given the George Washington Award, one of the university's highest honors, for his work on behalf of GW’s veteran community. Mr. Hawthorne was selected as a Presidential Administrative Fellow in 2010 and earned his M.A. in political management in 2012.

President Obama spoke about Mr. Hawthorne during his address on Friday, to show that this generation’s “commitment to their fellow service members and veterans endures.”

“Brian himself served two tours in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star in Baghdad for saving the life of his best friend, and today, he and his wife use their experience to help other veterans and military families navigate theirs,” President Obama said.

Mr. Hawthorne was in Normandy last weekend to participate in a parachute jump that would commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, President Obama said. And last week, he reenlisted in the Army Reserve.

Since his return from Baghdad in 2008, Mr. Hawthorne has advocated for veterans. In his role as legislative director of Student Veterans of America, he testified before congressional committees on numerous occasions regarding GI Bill benefits and the transition from military to civilian life.

Mr. Hawthorne now serves as a board member and volunteer for Student Veterans of America. He continues to speak about the struggles and successes of student veterans and also mentors wounded warriors starting college for the first time, according to the Student Veterans of America website. For his volunteer work, he was recognized last year with the President's Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award.

He said it was an honor to participate in the commemorative D-Day events on behalf of his unit and his family, and it was "humbling to reenlist there on such hallowed ground."

"Being able to see the battlefields and memorials, and jumping into Sainte-Mère-Église where the airborne invasion began, was a true privilege," Mr. Hawthorne added. "Definitely one of the highlights of my military career."

Mr. Hawthorne’s generation of service members share parallels with the World War II veterans who sacrificed their safety to protect their country, the president said.

“This 9/11 generation of service members—they, too, felt something. They answered some call; they said, ‘I will go.’ They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self —many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way,” President Obama said. “And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

And “God willing,” as they step out of uniform, they too “will grow old in the land they helped to keep free.”