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Terms of endearment / Commandant strikes balance in Mary Baldwin cadet program

Sunday, November 7, 1999

Times-Dispatch Staff Writer



As commandant of cadets at Virginia Military Institute, Michael Bissell argued for single-sex education during the state military school's battle against coeducation.

Last month, Bissell was lampooned by a female cadet at Mary Baldwin College.

It was a display of endearment.

A few days before Halloween, the cadets at the college's military-style leadership program showed up for their early morning run in costumes.

The biggest hit was the garb worn by a senior cadet who dressed as Col. Bissell, the new commandant for the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin.

Everyone had a good laugh at the get-up, including Bissell, who saw pictures of her later that day.

"I thought it was cute. Everyone was going around saluting her," Bissell said. "I might add it wasn't a real complimentary costume, either. She had a bald head and everything."

Bissell helped establish the VWIL program as an alternative to coeducation at VMI. Then, after VMI was ultimately forced to accept coeducation, Bissell played an important role in accommodating women there.

But Bissell remained so impressed with the women's leadership program at Mary Baldwin and the cadets it had attracted, he said, that he left his alma mater in Lexington and became VWIL's first full-time commandant in September.

As commandant, Bissell, 61, oversees discipline and the military component of the leadership program. VWIL cadets are required to take ROTC classes, some of which are held at VMI.

That a VWIL cadet could poke fun at Bissell demonstrates his ability to maintain a rare but important balance of toughness and warmth, said Brenda L. Bryant, VWIL's director.

"They love to do skits, jokes and tricks about him," Bryant said. "That lets you know that, while they respect him, they also understand that he has a sense of humor and enjoys being part of their group."

The easy-going relationship between commandant and cadets also reflects the vast differences between the military programs and their cadets.

A native of Boston, Bissell graduated from VMI in 1961. He spent 26 years in the U.S. Army, earning the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in the Vietnam War.

During a three-year stint in private industry, he helped a Boeing Sikorsky design team win a $33 billion contract to build Comanche helicopters for the Army.

Bissell had been an Army helicopter pilot or flight instructor almost the entire time he served. Helicopters were his expertise when he arrived at VMI in 1990. However, arriving as he did on the eve of the federal court challenge to VMI's all-male admission policy, fate would bestow on him another expertise: women in the military environment.

He spent many hours testifying in court and in depositions on behalf of VMI's single-sex admission policy. He advocated the state's plan to keep a coed military training program at Virginia Tech, keep VMI all male and begin an all-female program at Mary Baldwin College.

"I feel there are certain young men and young women who really benefit from the single-sex environment for education, and others who don't," he said. "I felt the option that the state came up with had a lot of merit."

As Bissell served as commandant at VMI and helped set up the VWIL program, a heart attack took him out of action in 1994. "My heart decided it needed new plumbing," he joked.

During his recovery, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the arrangement and ordered VMI to begin admitting women. Bissell returned to the school first as director of the post museum and later as a special assistant to Superintendent Josiah Bunting III. His primary responsibility was to oversee the assimilation of women into the corps.

"My attitude was that we need to salute, get on and do it better than any other college has done it to date," he said. "It was time to march on and make it happen. That's kind of the approach that we tried to instill in all of the people."

After a full year of first-hand research touring the nation's military colleges and interviewing students and administrators, the helicopter gunship expert became an authority on military education and women in the ranks.

"I probably know more about women in the military than any other man," Bissell said, leaning forward with a broad smile.

As it became apparent that the VWIL program would stand on its own feet, without financial support from VMI, which had been contingent on winning the federal court case, Bissell decided to apply his experience full time at Mary Baldwin.

"The more I saw of it, the more I became impressed with the VWIL methodology and the corps of cadets," he said.

Unlike VMI students, VWIL cadets are not immersed in the military lifestyle. The women live and attend classes with the rest of the Mary Baldwin student body when not participating in leadership activities.

Still, the program takes VMI as its model, including its dual heirarchy of regimental command and class ranking. VWIL uniforms are styled after those at VMI, and Mary Baldwin cadets seeking military commissions travel to Lexington to take Reserved Officer Training Corps courses.

The emphasis on leadership courses sets the VWIL experience apart from other military colleges, Bissel said.

"They really delve into a lot more detail on leadership than the other senior military colleges," he said.

Bissell said he always thought there were differences in the way women and men handle the demands of a military environment. His experience at VWIL has confirmed the notion, he said.

One way is how men and women tend to respond to discipline. He gave a recent example of how a group of VWIL cadets painted a canon as a prank. Bissell told the women that he would reprimand their superior for the action, since she was responsible for them.

Young men, Bissell maintains, would have been glad to get off with little or no punishment for the deed and would have relished in the punishment visited on their superior.

The VWIL cadets? "You would think I had shot somebody," Bissell recalled.

Letters deluged the office criticizing the ranking cadet's punishment. Fathers called complaining that their daughters were crying all the time and couldn't study. "It just took them emotionally and physically that they let her down," Bissell said.

VWIL cadets appreciate their attentive commandant, who drives about 40 minutes from his home in Lexington to make their 6:30 a.m. physical training, sometimes after staying late for corps organizational meetings. Bissell also attends all functions and competitions, they said.

Those who are either slipping in their duties or having problems can expect a personal visit from Bissell, they said.

Bissell cultivates leadership in each cadet, said Charlynda Kelly, a senior from Marion.

"He sees the potential of cadets," Kelly said. "Even when they may not see it or don't want to develop it, he kind of gives them responsibility so that they'll rise to the occasion."

The women don't mind having a male disciplinarian at an all-female college. It's good preparation for both the military and the outside world, said Kathryn McCormack, a senior from Henrico County.

"It's still a man's world, no matter how much people say it's changed," said McCormack. "It's important for women to work with a guy and under a male. It's good experience."

Bissell and the cadets believe he's learned a great deal about women at VWIL, even though he has two daughters. The best cadet he's worked with during his 10 years with VMI and VWIL has been a female cadet, he said.

He often shakes his head talking about the young people he's worked with in amazement.

"Being around young people keeps you youthful," he said. "They challenge the heck out of you, but they're really good."

Five VMI Cadets Are Dismissed

LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) — Five first-year Virginia Military Institute cadets were expelled Tuesday for beating a classmate.

The five ``rats,'' as first-year VMI students are called, entered a classmate's room around 4 a.m. Friday, restrained him and hit him several times. The victim's face was cut and bruised.

The VMI Executive Committee, made up of officers from the three upper classes, heard evidence Monday and recommended that the five cadets be expelled. School officials agreed, spokesman Mike Strickler said.

Strickler declined to identify the expelled students or the victim.

``Violence against a cadet is just not something we're going to tolerate here,'' Strickler said. ``That's not the way to resolve a conflict.''

During their first six months at VMI, cadets are pushed physically and mentally and constantly hounded by upperclassmen as part of a process of instilling discipline. Physical abuse is forbidden.

Last year, six cadets were expelled for spanking first-year cadets. In 1996, six students were suspended for assaulting a freshman and nine others were disciplined for their role in the incident.

Thursday, November 04, 1999
Rock fall killed a tourist from Georgia 2 weeks ago
Crews shore up Natural Bridge

Experts plan to secure the underside with up to
20 camouflaged metal plates attached to steel cables.


NATURAL BRIDGE -- After 5 million years of standing on its own, one of the natural wonders of the world is getting some help from mankind.

Since a piece of Natural Bridge fell on a tourist and killed her two weeks ago, the bridge's owner has brought in a team of geotechnical engineers and a company of rock stabilization experts from Canada to make sure it never happens again.

The specialists have devised a plan to drill through the 30-foot-thick limestone bridge and secure loose rock on its underside with up to 20 metal plates attached to steel cables.

That means the span -- which the experts say is the only natural arch in the world with a road on it -- will be a little less natural than it used to be.

But it will be safe for tourist traffic, ensuring a continued flow of 250,000 visitors a year to a part of Rockbridge County dependent upon the bridge, hotel, conference center, caverns and wax museum for its livelihood.

A geologist also did seismic testing to make sure that traffic on U.S. 11, which runs over the bridge, is not causing rock to loosen. That doesn't appear to be the case. The experts say the bridge is sound overall.

"We would rather go to the extreme than not do enough" to ensure public safety, said Mike Tatro, managing director of the bridge complex. The cost of the work will easily exceed $70,000, Tatro said.

Unfortunately, said Daniel Journeaux, owner of JANOD, the rock stabilization company, people often call for his company's services only after a tragedy.

"When you haven't had a problem, you don't think about it," he said.

The drilling is expected to begin today, prompting the closing of U.S. 11 for up to two weeks.

In the meantime, JANOD crew members are spending their days dangling from ropes on the sides of the Cedar Creek gorge, knocking loose rocks from their moorings with specially made wrecking bars.

The walkway under the bridge is closed, but visitors seemed pleased to watch Francis Chamberland and Pierre Jionet scale the gorge walls and send boulders crashing into the creek below -- 15 to 20 tons of them so far.

The JANOD crew has become part of the show at Natural Bridge.

"They're going to have to give us some of the ticket money," Journeaux said.

"Mother Nature wears away things in bits and pieces, and we're trying to predict which bits and pieces are next and bring them down in a controlled manner," said Skip Watts, a Radford University geologist who is helping advise the bridge management on the project.

Watts, of Radford University, called JANOD immediately, pulling the crew off a job shoring up a rock wall next to a condominium complex in New York City.

"We knew it was a tourist area, so we sort of stopped everything to do this," Journeaux said.

JANOD is one of only four or five companies in the country that could tackle the problems at Natural Bridge. They typically work on highway cuts and rockslide areas. This is the first time they've worked on a tourist attraction.

Within a few days after Oct. 23, when Louise Cathy, 83, of Stockbridge, Ga., was killed, Natural Bridge management had assembled a team of engineers from Virginia Military Institute, Radford University, the Roanoke engineering firm Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern, and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The engineers and Journeaux considered and discarded several ideas before arriving at the bolts as a solution. One of the ditched plans involved spraying water into the cracks under the bridge and letting the natural freeze-and-thaw cycle break the dangerous rock away.

It was Journeaux who came up with the plan for the bolts. He said every job is unique and requires a unique solution, and that can come only from vast and varied experience in rock stabilization.

He's been doing the work since he was 15, starting with his father, who founded JANOD. His U.S. crew, based in Vermont, consists of eight men, most of whom had never climbed anything but a backyard tree before Journeaux hired them.

Jionet, 27, earned a degree in computer science but wanted to do something different. He's been with JANOD for five years.

"We can take anybody," said Andrew Salmaso, JANOD project manager. "If you've got the nerve to go up, we can teach you."

The danger at Natural Bridge is putting workers under the span, because, if more rocks fell, they would not be able to move quickly enough to get out of the way. So the cables and bolts will be assembled and threaded through the holes by ropes pulled from the roadway overhead.

All of the hardware will be painted to camouflage it.

Tatro, the bridge manager, said the owner plans to have JANOD come back every year. The geologists on the project also may set up some laser equipment to track even the slightest movement in the rock arch.

"This is not an insignificant effort to ensure public safety," Tatro said.
More Job Opportunities: I received the following from Matt Gill, '93.


I received a good response from the posting of Perot Systems Sales opportunities. Here is another great opportunity for VMI grads:

"hire character, train skills" : Opportunities For Military Officers at Perot Systems
Perot Systems seeks high caliber military officers interested in a career in information technology (IT).
Qualified officers will enter into the Engineering Development Program (EDP), a 2-3 year paid IT training program designed to accelerate the development of future business and technical leaders of Perot Systems.
Previous IT skills are a plus, but not required for entrance into the program--aptitude, potential and desire are the key traits we seek.
Email your resume to: matt.gill@ps.net

A little insider information:
My contact at Perot Corporate's Military Recruiting is a Citadel grad. He has had a hard time reaching out to VMI through VMI's career office. He is looking for LT- and CPT-level officers from any of the armed forces. They also hire undergrads who demonstrate significant team leadership skills and IT and/or business experience.The program allows them to choose between business, e-commerce, and software development tracks.
You won't be one of those geeks who sits in a cube and just codes programs for life. Unless you want to.... EDP builds a foundation that will support your career growth into business IT consulting, too.
Starting pay is in the $40 - 60,000 range, with serious upside potential based on your performance.

FYI: I may qualify for referral bonuses for connecting candidates to the recruiter. But so will anyone who is hired and then refers good people...

This is a hot program, and is respected more than the Microsoft Certified programs, and almost as much as an MBA ! I can connect those interested via telephone with some coworkers here in Richmond who entered the EDP after the Army ( a West Pointer) and Navy (Annapolis).

Matt Gill, '93
Speaking of Job Opportunities: I was perusing the USA Today on Nov 11 and come across an interesting article on page A-4. There's a new web site at www.VetJobs.com that is designed to assist military veterans find jobs in the civilian sector. Anyone who has left the military or is contemplating such a move may want to check this out.
Area Minister Leaves the Lexington Area: I am including the following in the event that some of our participants may have know Reverend Bearinger.

- From Where I Sit -
By Rev. Charles Bearinger
Rockbridge Gazette
From Where I Sit
Saying Goodbye

There were times in my life when saying goodbye was easy. Leaving highschool was easy. I was ready. Leaving college was easy. I was ready. Leaving the killing fields of Vietnam was easy. I was ready. Leaving Rockbridge County and so many people whom I love and respect is difficult.

I am not sure I am ready this time. But, I must say goodbye and I need to say goodbye. My heart strings are pulled because so many have opened their homes and hearts to the "preacher." Organizations have been kind enough to invite the preacher on the board or committee.

What a high honor to have been a servant. It is true that the preacher serves God. In so doing, may others are served. I shall miss serving in Rockbridge County. I shall miss the friendly faces and pleasant hand wave of the passers-by. I have found my house key and that is good because I am selling the house. My wife has not found hers. The new occupants might wish to lock the house. I will miss the Stonewall Jackson Hospital because it has both friendly employees and competent care. Maybe not everyone shares that view but few have been there more often than I.

I must say goodbye to dear neighbors--Jim and Ann, Rob, Joe and Dorothy, Betty etc. Most have cared enough to grant privacy which is much needed when professional life is so high profile. I must say goodbye to the many service organizations which daily help those in need. I must say goodbye to physicians who, 100% of the time, have seen a patient and reviewed medications when requested. We are so lucky to have such fine doctors. For the most part the clergy have been remarkable in their spirit of cooperation. Legitimate clergy have not been about the business of stealing sheep from other churches nor have they been particularly interested in self-aggrandizing. They have my most profound affection. Some of the people I shall miss the most and for whom a goodbye is painful are the hospice people. They are doing so much good for so many that I believe they are angels on earth. It has been such a high honor to have been associated with them.

We are so lucky and blessed to live here. Our judges are not corrupt. Indeed, they "bend over backwards" to be fair. Our three governments are run well and are free from corruption. These things will not be true always in my future. I shall miss the cadets dressed so neatly and walking so proudly. I shall miss the traffic patterns and safe driving speed. I shall miss my church and the overwhelming numbers of members who are so sweet. I shall not miss the old grouches, like the sign indicates on a building as one enters Buena Vista. Thankfully those are few.

To a newspaper publisher who would allow a clergyman to write his thoughts, observations and philosophy each week without even changing a word or a phrase I have nothing but gratitude. It is so difficult but, alas, necessary to say to this wonderful place and super nice people--goodbye. God's blessings be upon you.
Correction: In last week's update I mentioned the Memorial Run for Mark Wilson '88. Seems I got some of my facts wrong. I was able to discern that there will be a run and it will take place on Saturday, November 20. See below for some correct facts. I apologize for the errors.


Mark has a son, Mark Jr., not a daughter as reported below. Also the
proceeds of the race go to fund a scholarship to VMI for a local
Richmond high school graduating senior. We had 224 runners last year
and are looking to top that number this year.

Thanks, keep up the good work.

Frank '88
Houston Area Alumni Get Together....Tomorrow!: Please note that a get together is planned in the Houston area tomorrow for the Citadel game. See below info for particulars.

Thank you for all the assistance in helping me reach out to fellow VMI grads via the net...I have one problem, however...I placed all the addresses on my computer at work, which is misbehaving to the point that the City of Houston will be forced to consult a witch doctor and a chicken foot for repairs....

Can you send out another e-mail to the Cyber Corps for anyone who is in the Houston area to form up at the SRO Sports Bar (6982 W FM 1960) this Saturday, 13 November, at 1200, for the football game against the Citadel. Please make RSVPs to JLeonard83@aol.com

Thanks for your help (again...)

Relocation of Alumnus Business: In case anyone was wondering, Bob Patterson '71 has relocated his business to Charlottesville. He asked me to share the following with our participants.

September 1, 2000 is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of our
consulting practice. Since then we have grown to service clients in the
Mid-Atlantic, the Mid-West and the United Kingdom. In the spring of 1999 we
surpassed the $250 million mark for client assets that we monitor on an
ongoing basis and we are on target to reach $300 million by the end of this

We are pleased to announce the opening of our office in Charlottesville,
Virginia on December 1st, 1999. We will continue to retain the office in
Alexandria, Virginia for the time being and our office in Norfolk, Virginia
will remain as well. The purpose of our new office is to expand our client
servicing resources and to fulfill the mandate from the Virginia Hospital
and Healthcare Association to provide our services to their members
throughout the state of Virginia.

We will be following up with a more formal announcement. In the meantime,
here are the coordinates of the new address:

ASC Advisory Group, Inc.
Citizens Commonwealth Building
Suite #304
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902-5044
Tele: 804-220-9300
Fax: 804-220-9370
E-mail (personal): rpatterson@ascadvisorygroup.com
Web Page: www.ascadvisorygroup.com

If you have not visited our web page lately, please do so. We have updated
it significantly. Recently, we have been approved by IBM to be part of
their E-Businness Group because of our experience in using Lotus Notes
Technology to foster communication. More about this will appear on our web
site in the future."

Kind regards, - Bob

Robert R. Patterson
ASC Advisory Group, Inc.
Tele: 01-804-220-9300
Fax: 01-804-220-9370


Grandson of legendary coach is a VMI assistant
Next Lombardi

Keydets tight ends coach Joe Lombardi says he has a different style
than his famous grandfather.


LEXINGTON -- Sitting around the table, you once may have been asked which historical figures you'd most like to have dinner with.

Joe Lombardi would pick the grandfather he never met -- Green Bay Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi, who is VMI's tight ends coach, was born nine months and three days after his grandfather died on Sept.3, 1970, at the age of 57.

"This will probably get me in trouble, but certain people have remarked that the spirit might have been passed down," John Lombardi, Joe's brother, said from his home in Nashville.

Vince Thomas Lombardi coached the Packers from 1959-67 and the Washington Redskins in 1969. He led Green Bay to five NFL championships in seven years, including victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Joe Lombardi, 28, knows that choosing the same career as his grandfather can be a burden.

"My dad had warned me a lot about, "You really want to be wary about getting into football. It's a tough profession. You've got a name that's going to bring you a lot of scrutiny,'" he said.

John Lombardi said: "There's probably a higher expectation. For him to be successful, he's probably going to have to achieve a higher level than a lot of people because of the comparison."

Joe Lombardi said he doesn't want to feel "imprisoned" by his grandfather's success.

"If I say, "I'm never going to be the icon he was, I'm never going to be the legend he was, I'm never going to live up to the expectations he set so I'm not even going to try,' that would be limiting," Lombardi said.

At least he doesn't have his brother Vince's first name.

"He got so much grief from his [high school football] coaches that he didn't think it was worth playing anymore. I think he stopped playing after his sophomore year in high school," said Lombardi, who graduated from a Seattle high school. "I definitely got some grief about it -- not as much as he did, by any means. I decided early that if I tried to hold myself to the accomplishments of my grandfather, it would be hard to match up.

"Even as a youngster, if somebody tried to bring my grandfather into it to try to motivate me, I'd make it clear not to go there."

Lombardi is the only member of his family with a football career. His father, Vince Henry Lombardi, is a former NFL executive who works as a motivational speaker. John Lombardi, a former NFL scout, works for an air conditioning company. Joe's brother Vince is a lawyer, and his sister, Gina, works for Cosco.

Lombardi, who recently finished reading David Maraniss' biography of his grandfather, said his father and grandfather didn't have a great relationship.

"If [Lombardi's grandfather] would have lived longer, I know my Daddy would have liked to have gotten over some of those issues they had. Because he was tough -- the same way with his kids as he was with his players," Lombardi said.

Coaching wasn't Lombardi's longtime goal. After playing tight end for Air Force, he began his military commitment at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton in 1994. He was a program manager, supervising the development of a fighter jet.

Lombardi found he missed football, so he decided to give coaching a try. He moonlighted as a part-time coach at Dayton, a nonscholarship Division I-AA team, the past three seasons. He would begin his Air Force job at 6 a.m. so he could make it to football practice, and would use vacation days to attend road games. When the Air Force offered to cut military commitments from five years to four, Lombardi took the deal and left in June 1998.

When Cal McCombs left his job as Air Force's defensive coordinator last December to become VMI's head coach, he hired Lombardi as one of his part-time assistants.

Lombardi and McCombs' son Will -- VMI's offensive line coach -- had been teammates and best friends at Air Force. Cal McCombs and his wife became "surrogate parents" to Lombardi.

"We'd spend almost every weekend going over to the McCombs and getting fed by them, and now I'm doing it in Virginia," said Lombardi, whose fiancee lives in Dayton.

Lombardi, whose grandfather was once an assistant coach at Army, likes his job at VMI (1-9). He said he has a different coaching style than his demanding grandfather.

"I'm probably a little more laid-back," Lombardi said. "I don't holler at them a whole lot."

Lombardi was born in Minnesota, where his father served in the state legislature. Once Lombardi's father began an NFL career, the family moved quite a bit. The elder Lombardi's first job was as an assistant to the Seattle Seahawks' general manager.

"I remember being at the Seahawks' camp throwing a football with Steve Largent and Jim Zorn as a little 5-year-old, 6-year-old kid," Lombardi said. "That's kind of when I got hooked on the sport."

Lombardi also lived in New York, where his father worked for the NFL Management Council, and in Michigan, where his father was a USFL general manager. The family returned to Seattle when Lombardi's father left football. This time it was Joe who got a job with the Seahawks, helping out in the press box on game days when he was in high school.

Lombardi now spends game days in the coaches' box.

"I hope I don't sully the name at all," Lombardi said. "Growing up around it, seeing the films, kind of carrying on a little bit of that family name, it's exciting."

LEXINGTON, Va. -- The VMI wrestling team will host the 13th annual Keydet Invitational Tournament on Saturday, November 13 at 11AM in Cocke Hall on the post of VMI.

Freshman wrestlers from the following schools will be competing: Davidson College, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Appalachian State University, Duke University, Washington & Lee University, and VMI.

The tournament is open to the public and the admission charge is $3.00.

For more information contact Coach John Trudgeon in the VMI Wrestling Office at (540) 464-7513.

VMI Basketball: It's true. Basketball season is upon us. I believe the team recently defeated a team called Sports Reach (no, I don't know who this is) in an exhibition game by the score of 90 - 78. I believe the regular season opens Nov 18 at home against Southern Virginia. I also believe we'll be able to listen to the games on the internet just like we've been doing for the football games.

That's it for this week.

Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75

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