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NEWS | Nov. 15, 2022

MEDCoE celebrates Veterans Day with local community

By Tish Williamson U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence Public Affairs

Soldiers and leaders assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, or MEDCoE, celebrated past and present service members by engaging with local San Antonio and surrounding communities on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2022.

While not officially part of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s 52nd Annual “Celebrate America’s Military” events, MEDCoE fulfilled more than half a dozen requests for color guard and guest speakers in support of local school and community events for the holiday.

Maj. Gen. Michael Talley, MEDCoE commanding general, served as guest speaker at Davenport High School in Garden Ridge, Texas, during one of the first formal events of the day.

Talley, who has served in the Army for nearly four decades, told more than 400 students, family members, community leaders, staff, and faculty in attendance that he would speak more broadly about service to the nation rather than focusing on one branch of the military.

“Being that we are called ‘Military City USA,’ I am pleased so many veterans could join us today,” Talley said, thanking each veteran for their service. “I’d wager that if I asked each of you why you chose to serve, the answers would be as diverse as the armed forces.”

In honor of those who served honorably, past and present, Talley urged all veterans to take a moment to share their personal story of service during the holiday.

“While duty to our country is often a prime reason many people choose to serve, it’s only later that they learn that the military is also a great career,” Talley said. 

He went on to explain that during the Vietnam era, more than 10% of Americans served.

“In today’s all-volunteer force, however, only one percent of the nation serves in the military,” Talley said. “Sixty-one percent of those who do serve are more likely to have been exposed to military life through friends or family, and in turn, will go on to encourage their friends and family to serve.”

Lt. Col. Sara Hegge and Col. Dewey Bechtol, MEDCoE veterinarians, spent their Veterans Day sharing their unique stories of service with students at the Torah Academy of San Antonio. The Veterinary Corps is responsible for animal medicine, public health, food protection, and research. 

During the one-hour hands-on presentation, students ranging from kindergarten to seventh grade experienced what a job in the Army Veterinary Corps is like, for example, examining kosher Army Meals Ready-to-Eat using methods similar to the Corps’ food inspectors. 

The group also spent time engaging with the Diesel Canine Simulator, dressing its wounds, and even got to meet a military working dog in training named “EEphy.”

Hegge has worked on community pets, military service animals, farm animals, and a variety of other animals during her service as an Army veterinarian for the last 13 years.

When asked to come speak at the school for their Veterans Day program, she decided that demonstrating what an Army Soldier does would be more impactful than simply describing what a veterinarian is to the group.

“With this age group, I thought it was important to demonstrate the cool jobs many of us in the Army get to do, rather than just tell them,” Hegge said.

The Army and Army Reserve offer more than 150 different full-time and part-time career specialties. There are more than 60 science and medicine career paths to serve, and veterinary service is one of more than 50 specific health care specialties, such as nursing, doctors, dentists, laboratory technicians, and combat medics.

“In the short term, I am sure many of the students left the event excited about getting to pet a puppy or watching the canine mannequin simulate breathing,” Hegge said.  “In the long term, I hope they remember the day they met a couple of Soldiers and feel a greater appreciation for the Army and military service in general.”

MEDCoE leaders and Soldiers also engaged with the students and other community members during Veterans Day celebrations in support of a variety of local schools and organizations, to include the America’s Cup Tennis Tournament, Memorial High School, Fort Sam Houston Cemetery, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Baylor University.

“Continue to tell your stories, those who have served,” Talley told the audience at Davenport. “It was a great way to honor today’s veterans, past veterans, those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, and their families.

“Regardless of the military branch in which our veterans serve -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, or Space Force -- this day belongs to them, those generations of patriots that dedicated themselves to the defense of our country, to make us stronger and more resilient as a nation,” Talley added.