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Military enlistees celebrated by families, community on Saturday

Recruiters, local veterans, friends and family members filled Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building to celebrate 51 military enlistees on Saturday morning.

The seventh annual Enlistee Recognition Ceremony was held by Our Community Salutes of Greater Charlottesville to support the soon-to-be high school graduates. It was the first in-person ceremony since 2019, and a meaningful moment for students and their families.

“Everyone leaves emotional and in tears because all these kids are there — with their long hair that they’re not going to have much longer — and they’re shuffling in and I think: ‘Kid, in a couple of months this is not going to be you,’” Lettie Bien, director of Our Community Salutes, told the Daily Progress the day before the ceremony. A retired Army Reserve colonel, she also founded the Enlistee Recognition Ceremony.

It was a prediction that proved to be true for family of Chloe Rodriguez Thomas, who held back tears as they celebrated her commitment to the Marines.

“I’m excited for her,” said her mother Allison Rodriguez Thomas. “I’m so proud that she made this level of commitment. I think she wasn’t sure and I love that she’s thinking of purpose and that, as well, is driving her. So I’m incredibly proud and excited to see what she becomes.”

The 18-year-old graduating senior at Western Albemarle High School has never been away from her friends and family for longer than a school-related field trip, she said, adding that being away from her loved ones for three months will be the “hardest pill to swallow.” The feeling was mutual.

“I guess I don’t want her to leave,” said Chloe’s younger sister Violet while holding back tears.

The enlistees from Charlottesville, Albemarle, Harrisonburg, Greene and Lynchburg received a patriotic welcome from musicians of the Cville Band and the University of Virginia Joint ROTC Color Guard. Then they took their seats to listen to testimonies and words of encouragement from local veterans and service members’ loved ones.

Keynote speaker Brigadier General Beth Salisbury of the 99th Readiness Division in Lakehurst, N.J. reminded the teenage recruits that this year is the 50th anniversary of the United States ending the draft, meaning U.S. citizens “depend on all of us that are in uniform today and who are now enlisting.”

“Those of you who serve may reenlist at some point and your career and continue to make the Army a career,” Salisbury said. “I will tell you when I enlisted in the Army many years ago, I never thought that I would stay this long. That sense of pride and professionalism makes our military the best in the world.”

Other speakers included Albemarle County Police Chief Sean Reeves, who spoke to the group about his days as a military police officer in the Army 27 years before becoming county chief.

In addition to anecdotes and advice, the enlistees also received letters from Virginia’s U.S. Senator Mark Warner and Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Craig Crenshaw; a certificate from Senator Tim Kaine; and an Our Community Salutes challenge coin—the first challenge coin of their military careers.

Bien told The Daily Progress that she was “blown away” by the community support for the annual enlistee ceremony. PrintSource owner Ben Brigges donated free services for posters & programs; The Market by Tiger Fuel donated 100 bagged lunches for the enlistees and their families; and the Charlottesville Fire Department and Albemarle Fire Rescue hoisted fire truck ladders to hang the American flag over the building entrance as ceremony attendees came and went. As a final sweet treat, Our Community Salutes gifted each of the enlistees with a gourmet chocolate bar donated by former military cook and Gearharts Fine Chocolates owner Tim Gearhart.


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