Leadership Stories

Melissa Patrick (’78)

Melissa Patrick graduated from Mary Baldwin with a History degree. Before VWIL was even a thought, Melissa led the way for women in leadership in the Army as the first Mary Baldwin ROTC commissionee. She served in the Army for 28 years, retiring as a Colonel. During that time, she was the first female Military Intelligence officer assigned to a combat arms unit; among the first women to earn Master Parachutist wings; and first female officer to serve as a liaison to the South Korean army (Second ROK Army). She was the second woman selected to be a Division-level G2 (Senior Intelligence Officer) and the first to deploy into a contingency operation when she headed the US intelligence activities for the operations ending the Bosnian war and enforcing the peace. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she was also the Senior Intelligence Officer heading up NATO intelligence activities in Bosnia after the September 11 attacks and the Senior Intelligence Officer overseeing NATO intelligence support in Afghanistan.

After retiring from the Army, she continued serving our country as a civilian through a project at the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), which better protected our service members in combat and saved many lives. She found her way back to Mary Baldwin as Deputy Commandant of VWIL for two and a half years. Nowadays, she stays busy with her volunteer work as the District Commander in the Veterans of Foreign Wars for a district encompassing twelve posts over five counties. She also researches African-American military service in the local area and participates in food pantry support through her church. She’s kept up ties with Mary Baldwin, mentoring and cheerleading for MBU/VWIL cadets and graduates. As a woman in a largely male environment, Melissa describes just how important her experience at Mary Baldwin was to her:

“For all of my adult life, I have served/worked in an overwhelming male environment where I have had to establish my credibility in the face of skepticism. Mary Baldwin was the perfect place to develop the self-confidence, courage, and skills needed to excel in such an environment. Mary Baldwin’s supportive environment encouraged me, a very shy, introverted seventeen-year-old, to come out of my shell and believe that I could do anything. After my freshman year, I started Army ROTC at VMI summer school. I was determined to show those Keydets what a Mary Baldwin woman could do and I garnered the top scores. As a student, I and my classmates were so proud of being Mary Baldwin students because we believed that our education made us easily the equal or better of anyone else. When I was commissioned, women comprised only 5% of the officer corps.”

After she gained that confidence at Mary Baldwin, she carried it with her throughout the rest of her career:

“My assignment to an Air Defense unit put me in a place where I frequently was told that women did not belong. My male peers often commented that they didn’t think women belonged there, but that I was okay. In those days, that was high compliment. I know all about enlisted soldiers refusing to salute or catcalls out the barracks windows. And my background as a Mary Baldwin graduate was a major part of developing the character to deal with it. As I advanced in my career and the Army opened more slots for women, I encountered less skepticism there, but I also served with the Republic of Korea Army and NATO, two military structures that at the time were culturally less receptive to women. Even as a Colonel, I still had to prove myself, once again. And now that I am active in the VFW, I still encounter it with some older veterans who never served with women. I still rely on my Mary Baldwin preparation to achieve success.”
Hats off to Melissa’s incredible service to our country and our Mary Baldwin!”

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