City of Fairfax Honors Mason Alumnus for Dedication to Veterans

Posted: June 28, 2010 at 1:04 am, Last Updated: July 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Joshua Lawton-Belous

While Independence Day is considered the most patriotic day of the year, recent Mason graduate Joshua Lawton-Belous shows his support for the country and those who serve it every day.

To recognize his efforts and the contributions he has made to the City of Fairfax, city officials chose Lawton-Belous as the Honorary Grand Marshal of the 2010 Independence Day Celebration. The event took place in the Fairfax Historic District on Saturday, July 3, beginning with a parade at 10 a.m. An evening show of fireworks concluded the celebration.

As a U.S. Army veteran, Lawton-Belous understands the challenges faced by members of the military when returning home from active duty. After six years in uniform and two tours in Iraq as a medic, he returned to the Northern Virginia area. He has been making a difference in the lives of veterans ever since.

“Being recognized for the work I’ve done feels very rewarding, but even without the recognition I would still be doing everything I can to support veterans and current service members,” says Lawton-Belous.

“Veterans need a different kind of support than most people, and not everyone understands this. One of the most important things that veterans need to readjust to civilian life after returning from a combat zone is to connect with people who understand what they have gone through. Seeing a veteran make this connection and transition easily is the only reward for which I am looking.”

Lawton-Belous’ career in the military began exactly one month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He enlisted in the U.S. Army with the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment of the 1st Armored Division, and eventually became a staff sergeant.

In 2003, his unit fought in Baghdad, Sadr City and Karbala and earned the Presidential Unit Citation. In 2006, Lawton-Belous was again deployed to Iraq, where he was wounded and sent home to recover.

During his recovery, Lawton-Belous founded the nonprofit organization Education for Virginia Veterans. The organization worked with Veterans Society chapters at several universities in the area to lobby Virginia legislators on behalf of the state’s military personnel and veterans.

In 2007, Lawton-Belous enrolled at Mason, and this spring he earned a BA in history with a minor in business.

While at Mason, he served as vice chair of the Mason Veterans Center Project Task Force and helped develop a proposal for resources that would help student veterans. These efforts led to the creation of Mason’s Office of Military Services and the growth of the university’s veteran-related programs.

During his senior year, he served as president of Mason’s Student Veterans Association and spearheaded the third annual Veterans 5K Run/Walk to raise money for the Veterans Scholarship Endowment. According to Lawton-Belous, the endowment helps bridge the gap between tuition increases at the university and the limited funds available from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Scholarship Endowment Fund awards scholarships each year to Mason students who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. Special consideration is given to combat veterans, past awards received or leadership in the community. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA to retain the scholarship for a full academic year.

Lawton-Belous also initiated the Student Veteran Mentor Program as part of the Student Veterans Association. The program connects student veterans with mentors who are former or current military students or members of the local community. Mentors provide advice on transitioning to college or other fields in which the veteran is interested.

In addition to supporting student veterans at Mason, Lawton-Belous served as the junior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8469, one of the largest posts in Northern Virginia. Lawton-Belous and other veterans helped raise more than $14,000 to donate to charities and other organizations in support of veterans. One of the main goals of the post, he notes, is helping veterans understand and have better access to benefits available to them.

Lawton-Belous also helped found the Virginia Veteran website in 2008. The Virginia Veteran addresses critical issues facing veterans and their families, including mental health injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, health care and GI Bill educational benefits.

Shortly after graduating, Lawton-Belous accepted a position at Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the leading strategy and technology consulting firms in the country. Although he won’t have as much free time, he notes that he will never stop supporting veterans in any way he can.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu