A friendly smile and a football player’s build are fairly common features with students on campus, and even though Willie Burpo is among this crowd, he stands out.
Burpo is a senior majoring in computer science, married with four kids and one on the way. His dedication has earned him respect among many on campus.
“I’m impressed with Willie’s ability to balance family, kids and school. He’s attending class full-time, and making the grade, despite having other commitments,” said Andrew Gates, the Coordinator of Veterans Recruitment and Services Enrollment Management.
Burpo is one of the 125 military veterans on campus. The Davenport native promised his parents he’d try college first, but after his freshman year he enrolled in the military.
“It didn’t change my mind, I’d always had the intention since I was a child,” Burpo said.
The aspiring entrepreneur joined the Marines.
“It’s kind of a funny story, that was the only recruiter who answered the phone after I called all the different branches, it was like that’s where I was supposed to be at,” Burpo said.
He served for four years and completed two tours in Iraq. His first deployment to Iraq was in September 2004, only a couple of months after he married Megan who he met in college. Burpo was with the Marine infantry where he says he learned more than leadership and team skills.
“You can’t be scared, but you were trained to manage and control fears, so instead of being scared you learn to react,” he said. This is the kind of training that took up the majority of the Marine’s time.
“The reality of our life is different than the real world, we train a lot to focus on what could happen so we are not free, we spend our time preparing for any situation,” he said.
The stress and danger of the job wouldn’t change his mind of becoming a Marine if he had the choice again. Burpo had many good experiences as a Marine, specifically the comradery and bond formed by the platoon where he says they still remain close friends.
Travel was a factor that attracted him to the military in the first place.
“It was cool being in the Middle East, like seeing the Euphrates River, you read about it in textbooks and I get to say I saw it,” Burpo said.
Burpo said that while at SAU he’s been able to receive much support from the University. A lot of that support comes from the Veteran Services that is run by Gates.
“The office of Veteran Services is an important resource for veterans, service members and dependents at SAU,” Gates said. The program that is relatively new on campus has eased the college experience for many veterans.
“Not only do we help with the GI Bill and other benefits, but we provide a nice ‘landing pad’ of sorts for incoming vets who might need that instant connection. It’s a critical office for a lot of students,” Gates said.