NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Smith College alumna and graduate student Melissa Torres will mark Veterans Day on November 11 with a phone call to her father, Miguel. As veterans of two branches of the Armed Services—Torres, the Marine Corps, and her father, the Army—the two share a bond in the observation of Veterans Day.
Other friends and colleagues typically approach Torres on this holiday just to say “thank you.”
Torres is among several members of the Smith community who are military veterans or children of veterans. Among undergraduates, 10 have a parent currently or previously in the military. Another six students in the Smith School for Social Work either served themselves or have a parent who did so. And, Torres is among three Ada Comstock Scholar veterans.
After a four-year tour in California assigned to work with one of the country’s first spy planes, Torres headed east and enrolled in the program for non-traditional aged students.
She graduated from Smith in 2010 with a degree in biological sciences and entered the master’s program here. Torres now performs research with Steven Williams, Gates Professor of Biological Sciences, and serves as a lab instructor for two courses.
For Torres, 34, who once led a Marine Corps platoon, a leadership role is not unusual. And lately, she said, she often looks back to her training to think about how the military taught her to be an effective leader.
“I’ve been really thinking about what makes a good leader and applying that to what I do now,” she said. Serving in the Marine Corps “really is something that is part of my identity…You were initiated into something that was bigger than yourself.”
Other Adas who served in the military include Alex O’Garro AC ’03, an Army veteran, and Jen Verbeck AC ’02, an Air Force veteran.
“I do miss being in the military service,” said O’Garro, 60, who served active duty for four years, beginning in 1976. “There is a sense of pride that I am a member of the Armed Forces—responsible for securing the freedoms of my fellow Americans and the world at large.”
O’Garro moved from Texas to Massachusetts to attend Smith, majoring in psychology with a minor in neuroscience. She now works at Houston Community College as a tutor to first-generation and low-income students.
On Veterans Day, O’Garro spends time in quiet reflection to remember those who died while fighting for the country. She also participates in celebrations, dining with other veterans and, this year, attending the parade in downtown Houston.
“The holiday is quite meaningful to me, because it states that there are citizens who care about usâ€¦People who remember that freedom is not free,” said O’Garro. “With this in mind, they take time to pause and say ‘thank you.’“
Verbeck, 38, joined the Air Force after high school because she wanted to fly. While enlisted, she went to Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and was stationed on various bases in Europe, Australia and the United States.
“The USAF sent me to places I never would have seen otherwise, and that was perhaps the best part of serving in the military,” said Verbeck, who now resides in San Francisco and works as an analyst with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Much like Torres and O’Garro, Verbeck is the recipient of numerous phone calls and emails of appreciation on Veterans Day.
“Hands down, the best part of Veterans Day every year is the email I get from Tara Hoffman (AC ’02),” said Verbeck. “Since our first year at Smith, she hasn’t missed saying ‘thanks’ on Veterans Day, and that means a lot to me.”
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