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New commandant takes over Virginia Women's Institute

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Posted: Friday, October 18, 2013 7:00 am

STAUNTON -- Mary Baldwin College officially changed command on Thursday of its Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership program as Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric took over as the new commandant of the corps of cadets.

But during a 90-minute parade and ceremony at the Staunton women's college, tributes were offered to outgoing commandant, Brig. Gen. Mike Bissell, who became the first full-time commandant of the VWIL cadet corps in 1999.

"I'm personally grateful for his leadership and determination to be there for me, VWIL and Mary Baldwin,'' said Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox. Fox said Bissell's leadership was apparent in everything from the VWIL marching band to the color guard.

VWIL is a four-year leadership program that has the country's only all-female corps of cadets. VWIL's graduates go on to careers in the military and civilian life.

A VMI graduate, Bissell served two combat tours in Vietnam and was a helicopter pilot who earned the Distinguished Service Cross. He also served as commander of the 17th Aviation Group in Korea.

Fox also paid tribute to the new commandant, Djuric, who most recently was deputy director for the space and intelligence office in the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Djuric is a graduate of both Mary Washington in computer science and holds M.A. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Colorado. She also has a master's of strategic studies degree from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Fox said Djuric can further elevate the VWIL program and help its graduates "to succeed in their military and civilian endeavors."

Djuric said one of her goals is to "make a difference in each cadet's life." During an interview on Wednesday, Djuric said she wants to continue the traditions established by

both Bissell and the founding director of VWIL, the late Brenda Bryant. "I'm standing on the shoulders of giants like Dr. Brenda Bryant and Gen. Mike Bissell,'' she said.

Djuric said her plans are to do a "deep assessment of the curriculum. I want to look at the practical application of the program and when a cadet goes from being a freshman to a sophomore and a junior to a senior,'' she said. She said she also wants to look "at how we measure success."

"My goal is to grow the program. The cadet corps can grow. The college can support a larger cadet corps,'' she said.

Djuric said of VWIL's 362 graduates, 150 have been commissioned in the military.

Bissell, in concluding remarks, said he wished the VWIL program had grown more over the 18 years he has been involved in it. "I have a dream. I want to make this corps stand out in the world,'' said Bissell.

A colleague of Bissell's, VMI Superintendent Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, said "Mike has made a lasting mark in every organization he has been affiliated with."

Peay said if "you are looking for a genuine hero, look no further than Mike Bissell."

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