Graduate's emergency management experience began during wildfire evacuations

Charles Cooney's military service includes helping hurricane-ravaged community

Charles Cooney, public affairs, outstanding graduate, spring 2023

U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Charles Cooney is the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Outstanding Undergraduate Student for spring 2023.


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Escaping natural disasters while growing up, then witnessing the ravages of violence during his deployment around the world, U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Charles Cooney experienced a firsthand view of the emergency management field.

The Crestline, California, resident said that during the many times he had been evacuated from wildfires, he observed emergency management staff responding, “doing everything they could to help everyone.”

Later, Cooney, a Marine since 2008, said he participated in missions ranging “from offensive to humanitarian aid” that included helping Havelock, North Carolina, recover from Hurricane Florence's destruction, as well as assignments in the Middle East. 

Cooney, the School of Public Affairs Outstanding Graduate and the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Outstanding Undergraduate Student for spring 2023, said he and his wife worked with his military unit and a military spouses organization to organize a donation drive for the Havelock community.

“We’d take goods and items for those who needed them, cleaned up places that suffered mold and patched holes in roofs,” he said.

The aftermath was eye-opening, Cooney said, and demonstrated how long and how complicated the recovery process can be, as the Havelock area suffered from three weeks of pouring rain and flood surge.

More recently, he was deployed in Bahrain, where emergencies ran the spectrum from potential armed attacks to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to adapt and flex from potential attacks from Iran into Iraq, and help individuals seek medical aid and assistance,” Cooney said. “These experiences have propelled me to want to become a professional in emergency management and get my degree in it.”

Cooney will earn his Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy (emergency management and homeland security) before returning to duty at Camp Pendleton, California.

He said he learned from his internship with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs that emergency management involves an entire community.

To create an effective emergency plan, staff must be prepared to work with local communities, to assess their strengths, weaknesses and how they have dealt with past events, he said.

Read on to learn more about Cooney’s ASU journey:

Editor's note: Answers were edited for length and clarity.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I have learned through ASU that emergency management is very encompassing, involving the whole community from all levels, from local to federal. (I also have learned) theory and doctrine in the classrooms from the instructors, (and received) real-world experience during my internship with the Arizona Department of Emergency Management and Military Affairs. It has broadened my perspective and opened my eyes to learning about the multiple agencies that comprise the mission of public safety, that there is still a lot to learn, and to never stop learning.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I chose to focus on emergency management for my degree, I found that ASU had a top-rated program and was military-friendly for online students. I also at the time was applying for the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Degree Completion Program for the Marine Corps to go to school to finish my bachelor's degree for my future job in the corps. ASU is affiliated with the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, which made it easier to apply for my degree program, eventually get accepted, then go to ASU in person to finish my degree. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have learned a lot from the professors at ASU, especially in the emergency management curriculum, learning skills that will directly apply to the present and future. Professor Thomas Holland, my public service ethics professor, was very inspirational as well. He showed me more of the public policy side and invited me to join the International City/County Management Association and learn more about the city manager position and serving the public in different positions in city government. I also learned through lectures in class about citizen governance and ideals for changing communities for the better. He opened up an opportunity to tour the city of Goodyear where we were able to tour City Hall, learn about the departments and network with the professionals who worked there.  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give students?

A: To continue to pursue their education goals and continue to strive to be the best they can be. This is only the beginning, middle or somewhere in the process of their journey in life. They will have to continue to adapt to the changing environment in the world. Learn something new every day and adapt to be successful and make a difference. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I was primarily an online student and had to find the time to do studying whenever I had downtime at work while on active duty, sometimes during lunch when my maintenance shop was empty, or most of the time when I was home after my kids were asleep, crunching in classwork and studying before sleeping. It required staying on top of assignments and maximizing the time that I had to prioritize what was assigned in class. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to go to my next unit in California on Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, where I’m assigned to Marine Corps Installations West working in base safety ensuring compliance with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense regulations and orders for the operating units aboard the installation. I will continue to pursue my education with a master's degree. I have five more years until I'm eligible for retirement from active duty, and from there, transition to working in emergency management, continuing to serve the public in one of the Southwest states. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I were to be given $40 million, I would look into helping with mental health services for veterans and homelessness that is present in veterans’ communities across the United States. I would invest in available and unutilized property to create a sanctuary for those in need of services who can have basic needs for shelter, food, health services and education opportunities to help them.  

More Sun Devil community


People sit at desks full of several monitors displaying footage of activity taking place around a college campus.

Real Time Analysis Center enhances protection of community, resources

It’s a nightmare scenario: A report of an active shooter at a building on a bustling university campus.But instead of panic, the…

ASU swimmer Ilya Kharun swimming in a pool.

From the high wire to the pool

Arizona State University swimming and diving coach Herbie Behm didn’t truly know how well-known Ilya Kharun’s family is until he…

Sun Devils mingle around a table at the ASU Alumni Association's 2023 Young Alumni summer mixer.

ASU Alumni Association ranks as No. 1 largest Phoenix-area networking association

With more than 640,000 members, the ASU Alumni Association was recently ranked the No. 1 largest Phoenix-area networking…