A student and a soldier

Abigail McLaughlin ‘16 balances school and the military


Abigail McLaughlin ‘16 (right) with a fellow Basic Training graduate. Photo courtesy of McLaughlin.

Hannah Howard

In the midst of everything on a student’s plate, they may forget about some of those people who make their daily life possible. In light of the passing of Veterans’ Day, one student soldier helps keep perspectives in check.

“I think it’s important for students to know that there are people out there, our age and younger, making huge sacrifices for our country,” said Abigail McLaughlin ‘16, an active member of Washington and Lee’s ROTC and the National Guard. “I have friends right now serving overseas in places like Afghanistan and Kuwait that had to postpone their academic careers—some indefinitely—in order to deploy. I think a lot of us don’t realize that many of the soldiers defending our country right now are students just like us.”

McLaughlin took this semester off from W&L to attend Military Police School. She noted that it was definitely a change of pace to be in class everyday from 8 to 5, but she felt prepared because the academic level did not match that of W&L classes.

“I never realized how much I enjoyed being in school until I wasn’t here anymore. But I had a lot of support from friends here while I was away though, and they’ve helped to make my transition[s] easy,” she said.

Despite the difference from what she was used to, she appreciates the lessons and experiences  gleaned from Military Police School. Her life this semester was totally different from what most students ever encounter.  For McLaughlin, the most unique and rewarding experience was her pinning ceremony, called Rites of Passage, at the end of the schooling.

“It was the ceremony where my battle buddies and I were officially welcomed into the Military Police Corps,” she said. “After the pinning, our drill sergeants and the entire cadre—including the brigade and battalion commanders—came by and shook each of our hands and welcomed us individually to the Regiment. It was a very emotional experience for all of us, as it was the first time that we were recognized officially as Military Police Soldiers.​”

McLaughlin added: “The greatest benefit that I’ve gotten from MP school and the National Guard has been the incredible friendships that I’ve made. These kind of bonds that you share with your peers in the military are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in civilian life.”

These experiences, amongst others, are the kind of thing that McLaughlin feels is preparing her for her future. She has always wanted to be in law enforcement, eventually joining the FBI. The military is one of the few places which allowed her to take steps toward this career while still in university. These goals are what prompted her to enlist last spring.

“After listening to a brief from one of the cadre at VMI about the National Guard, I realized that joining the Guard could be beneficial for my career aspirations. Now, I’ve been trained in many weapons systems, and that combined with the discipline that I’ve been taught by my Drill Sergeants will definitely help me in getting there,” she said.

Throughout her time spent with the military this semester, McLaughlin was thankful for W&L. She knew she could handle the intensity of the trainings because of her support system and experience on campus. Her prior involvement with ROTC taught the basics of military leadership along with additional training in drill and ceremony, land navigation, physical fortitude and marksmanship. Going into basic training and MP school, she thus felt more prepared than her peers.

McLaughlin now looks forward to being able to combine her military experience with her traditional university experience. This dual background gives her a unique advantage in understanding different paths young people can take and an opportunity to truly appreciate those who, like herself, have chosen to serve.

“Personally, I believe that all US citizens should serve in some capacity,” she said. “We all enjoy the freedoms afforded to us by this country, and being in the military has taught me to appreciate what others have sacrificed to enable us to live in a free nation.”