Honoring the Choice to Serve

Event Celebrates High School Seniors Planning to Enter Military

  • Angel McPhee, right, a senior at Thetford Academy, shakes hands with Col. Carl F. Hausler of the Vermont National Guard during a ceremony honoring high school military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. McPhee will be joining the Army, where her older brother Kevin McPhee Jr. already serves. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Angel McPhee, right, a senior at Thetford Academy, shakes hands with Col. Carl F. Hausler of the Vermont National Guard during a ceremony honoring high school military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. McPhee will be joining the Army, where her older brother Kevin McPhee Jr. already serves. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Zach Cole of North Pomfret, Vt., stands with other high school seniors during a ceremony honoring military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. Cole will be joining the Marine Corps. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Zach Cole of North Pomfret, Vt., stands with other high school seniors during a ceremony honoring military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. Cole will be joining the Marine Corps. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kevin McPhee hugs his daughter Angel McPhee, a senior at Thetford Academy, after a ceremony honoring high school military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Kevin McPhee hugs his daughter Angel McPhee, a senior at Thetford Academy, after a ceremony honoring high school military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Angel McPhee, right, a senior at Thetford Academy, shakes hands with Col. Carl F. Hausler of the Vermont National Guard during a ceremony honoring high school military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. McPhee will be joining the Army, where her older brother Kevin McPhee Jr. already serves. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Zach Cole of North Pomfret, Vt., stands with other high school seniors during a ceremony honoring military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. Cole will be joining the Marine Corps. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Kevin McPhee hugs his daughter Angel McPhee, a senior at Thetford Academy, after a ceremony honoring high school military enlistees at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 18, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

White River Jct. — American flags flapping in the warm May breeze greeted 14 high school seniors and their families as they drove up Veterans Drive to the VA Medical Center, where they were honored on Sunday afternoon for choosing military service following their pending graduations.

Marine Corps enlistee Zach Cole of Woodstock said the patriotism of the occasion “really hits home .”

Army enlistee Angel McPhee, a soon-to-be Thetford Academy graduate who led the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of Sunday’s ceremony, said the event felt “really good.”

With tears in her eyes, McPhee’s mother, Tanya, said she was “very proud.”

McPhee said she is the only TA student planning to enter the military after graduation, so she enjoyed being around other enlistees and veterans.

Sunday’s event marked just the second time the state’s youngest military recruits have gathered for such a ceremony. Last year, two Woodstock moms, Nancy Davis and Patricia Howardell, organized the celebration to honor young people, including their sons, who chose to enlist.

Both were on hand again this year to wish the new enlistees well.

Davis, who is a 32-year-employee of the VA, said, “We want these young men and women to know they have a whole family here when they need us afterward.”

This year the VA expanded the invitation list to include enlistees in the four New Hampshire counties served by the White River Junction hospital: Coos, Grafton, Sullivan, and Cheshire.

Even so, all of the enlistees honored Sunday were Vermonters. Some made longer trips than others, traveling from hometowns as far as Burlington, Rutland, Manchester and Barre, and as near as Strafford and Woodstock.

A color guard composed of members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club and the Patriot Guard riders attired in leather motorcycle vests formed two lines at the entrance to the research building where the ceremony was held.

VA Chaplain the Reverend Mary Lewis Webb led those gathered in God Bless America and provided an invocation and benediction. She told the group that it is a soldier, not a preacher who guarantees the freedom of religion, and that it is a sailor, not a reporter who guarantees the freedom of the press.

She urged the enlistees to remember that while their chosen paths would lead them away from the Twin States, they would remain “tethered” to those here.

Similarly, VA Medical Center Director Deborah Amdur urged the enlistees to remember “this is your VA” when they return from service.

Of the White River Junction VA’s 1,000 employees, 350 are veterans, she said.

Pointing to qualities such as discipline and a sense of duty, Amdur said, “Veterans are among our best (employees).”

During his chance to speak, Colonel Carl Hausler, deputy surgeon of the Vermont National Guard, warned the enlistees that basic training is purposefully difficult and stressful.

He recalled a motto from his early training: “We never promised you a rose garden.”

But, he said, the recruits would emerge as better people.

He said that while there are times to be serious in the military, there are also times to have fun. He encouraged them to take advantage of opportunities to see the world and advance their careers.

Amdur’s assistant Andy LaCasse called each enlistee to the stage at the front of the crowd by name and military branch. Thirteen of the 14 participants will enter the Army, while Cole, of Woodstock, will enter the Marine Corps.

Cole’s chosen branch earned special cheers from the color guard.

“They always save the best for last,” said one flag bearer.

In an interview after the ceremony, Cole said he chose the Marines, in part, because he “really liked the way they carried themselves.”

He said he felt the Marines will be a “bigger challenge” while he aims to better himself throughout his career.

Cole said he knew from the age of 10 that he would choose to enter the military after high school. He said his grandfather was in World War II, his uncle was in the Army and his cousin is a Marine.

Similarly, Angel McPhee said she was drawn to a military path through family connections.

Her brother, Kevin McPhee Jr., is in the Army, stationed in Washington state, she said.

After her training, which begins at Fort Jackson in South Carolina in September, McPhee said she plans to become a machinist, responsible for making and repairing mechanical parts.

While she hopes to make a career for herself in the Army, her primary goal is to become a “better person,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.