It was extremely cold when Marine Sergeant Sarah D’Agostin, now a senior at West Virginia University, landed in Iraq at 1 a.m. in February of 2005. Her unit was transferred to a base in a seven-ton military truck and engaged in a 360-degree cover, guns loaded, as they made their way to the barracks.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1868 to honor those who had died in combat in the Civil War. It eventally was expanded to include all those who had died in the nation's wars and observance was set for the last Monday in May. In 2000 President Bill Clinton asked the nation to endorse a humanitarian organization's addition of a moment of silence to the holiday, designating 3 P.M. local time for a minute of quiet reflection on the meaning of America's war dead.

It was just the beginning. There mostly was the work as a radio operator in the Battalion Commanding Control Center. But there was also the pain and loss: three of her close friends were killed while she was in Iraq.

“It’s at times like those when you find yourself making a pact with God,” said D’Agostin, now a student at West Virginia University. “You realize what your dreams are when you don’t think you have them anymore.”

When D’Agostin finished her tour of duty, she decided that she did not like life in the Marine Corps while in the states. Coming from a war zone, the peace and blissful ignorance of American life was a hard transition and she felt like she had no purpose. She compared it to being on a sports team – practicing and preparing for that big game, but never getting to play.

D’Agostin, a native of Jane Lew, decided to attend WVU, where she is one of about 100 women among the more than 500 veterans currently enrolled. She is majoring in recreation, parks and tourism resources, plans to graduate this coming December, after which she wants to pursue a master’s degree and get a job at an outdoor resort.

WVU’s support of its veteran students has made her transition easier.

“At WVU we are proud of our veteran population and try to do everything we can to help them transition back into school and their everyday lives as smoothly as possible. The fact that we are attracting such a high population of women veterans is just another testament to how WVU is a veteran-friendly campus,” said Terry Miller, the University’s veterans’ advocate.

“At WVU, you feel like they really care about their students – veteran or not,” she said. “They made sure I had what I needed and was well taken care of.”

D’Agostin enjoys frequenting the local Veterans of Foreign Wars’ post and attending WVU Veterans meetings. She is a former vice president of the student organization, and was the first female to start attending meetings.

It’s “veterans-friendly” reputation is one reason WVU, and Morgantown, were selected in April for a visit by Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It’s obvious that you care,” Mullen said then.

The University offers a veteran’s mentor program, student organization for veterans and veterans’ tuition and payment plans, among other things.

In order to make the transition easier for veterans, WVU is also working on creating more classes targeted to veterans. There is already a veterans Adventure West Virginia class as well as an English 101 class and a transition class that takes the place of the required freshman orientation class.

“The goal is to eventually have enough veterans classes so that they will be able to take classes with mostly veterans for their whole first year of school. That way, they can slowly integrate into their new surroundings,” Miller said.

D’Agostin is the first female marine in her family. During her time of service, she strived to never be left out or judged just because she was a woman.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, out of the 23 million surviving veterans, only about two million are women – making up about 8 percent of the total veteran population, and the Marine Corps has the lowest percentage of woman officers at just over 5 percent.

“I think we all give it our best shot, and may the best ‘man’ win,” D’Agostin said. “That’s my philosophy in life.”

More information on services offered to veterans at WVU is available at the Military Veterans’ website.



CONTACT: Terry Miller, Veterans’ Advocate

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