STAUNTON, Va -- Monday was the last day of Veterans Day commemorations in the United States, but this year's holiday was the first time honoring the men and women who served in uniform since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in Dec 2011.
It was also a chance to thank those who stormed the beaches during World War II, which is a population that is rapidly shrinking with most of those former troops now in their 80s and 90s.
The next generation of veterans could include more women than ever before and a veteran at Mary Baldwin College said the role of women in the military has changed over the years.
Retired Colonel Melissa Patrick has served in the military since college. She remembered being one of the only women in her first unit assignment.
“There were women serving, but the numbers were pretty small,” said Patrick.
Now, Patrick teaches women at Mary Baldwin College how to be leaders at the country's first women-only cadet corps, called the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, or VWIL.
“There are many young women who want to serve, and they want to serve their nation. They feel very strongly about having the opportunity to serve.”
One of those women is Brenda Echak. She is in her first year at VWIL and she said the program brings out her competitiveness.
“That's what really motivated me. I like to do everything my best, and joining the Marine Corps, especially as a woman, is really special to me,” said Echak.
VWIL is the country's only all-female cadet corps, and so far they have commissioned about 200 people to serve in the military.
Patrick said women joining the military changed perspectives of men serving and the face of the armed forces.
“They were not accustomed to having women around, and in some cases, they just flat-out didn't want them there. They made that pretty clear. You would never encounter that type of reaction now,” said Patrick.
She is thankful to lead the next generation of veterans in Staunton.
“It's a great opportunity, and I feel so fortunate and so blessed to be able to do that.”
Patrick served several years abroad in Korea, Germany and Bosnia. VWIL leaders plan to commission more students into the military this spring.
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