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West Point Warriors

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Marching orders for the modern West Point Women’s Club: raise money for charity, and have a damn good time doing it!

 

 

There are any number of reasons to visit the storied United States Military Academy campus at West Point. You can catch a football game, stuff yourself at the Hotel Thayer’s famous Sunday brunch, or stop by the museum to brush up on your American military history. But on February 23, you can also get married — by a bona fide Elvis impersonator — inside the historic Thayer.

All right, so the marriage won’t be legal, but let’s not quibble over details. Viva Las Vegas — the West Point Women’s Club’s annual Sin City-style night of gambling, partying, and fun — attracts almost 500 attendees to play blackjack and poker (sorry folks, it’s all funny money) and win a whole host of prizes including hotel stays, trips, wine baskets, spa packages and perhaps even a general’s dinner (that trumps a roll of quarters). This year’s event, which is open to the public, is expected to bring in a whopping $17,000 for charity.

 

 

Although the role of a typical army wife has changed over the years, the 330-plus members of the Women’s Club continue to support each other (and their military men) while working to build a better relationship between the military academy and the neighboring Orange County town of Highland Falls.

“Do we wear white gloves and leave calling cards anymore? No. We are modern women who do all kinds of things,” says Club President Janet Browne, who has been stationed at West Point with her husband Todd, a lieutenant colonel, and their two sons since 2000. “A lot of us work, but we still maintain those traditional roles. But I have seen it change. When I first became part of the military, everything was a luncheon, but now many functions are in the evening so that everyone can attend.”

A former elementary school teacher, Browne says that most of the women in the club don’t end up working full-time, mainly because West Point is geographically isolated. “It’s easier to work at other bases.” Another modern change: several members are enlisted women, not military spouses.

And the club’s activities have become more up-to-date, too. Last November, for example, motivational speaker Dan Clark gave an address to the members. “For years and years we had a gourmet club and would share recipes,” says Browne. “We’ve expanded. We’re doing barista and mixology now.”

The club raises about $40,000 a year, which is used to support both the West Point and off-campus communities. In addition to Viva Las Vegas, club members are compiling a new cookbook of army recipes to sell. But most of their funds are generated by the gift shop the club runs on campus every Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 2  p.m. Here (or on-line at www.shopthepoint.com) the West Point fan can stock up on a wide range of memorabilia, from jewelry and sweatshirts to crochet patterns and Christmas ornaments.

Each May, the club doles out their scholarships. Recent grantees include the Women’s Club of Highland Falls; the Moral, Welfare and Recreation Fund (for soldiers and their families); and the Sacred Heart School. “The club has a great relationship with Highland Falls,” says Browne.

The club also sponsors other social events. Members go caroling in December (“the cadettes hang out the windows of the barracks with their lighters and make requests,” says Browne),  put on plays for each other, host bingo nights, go out for dinner and a movie, and plan on having an American Idol night this spring.

It is this camaraderie that the women find truly priceless. “It’s kind of like being in a sorority. The friendships, the laughs, the good times,” says Noreen O’Neil, the chair of Viva Las Vegas who has been at West Point with her husband Dennis and their four children for three years. “They understand where you’ve been and where you’re going. They really do become your extended family. They’re the ones who are there when you go into labor at 2 a.m. and your husband has been sent to Korea for two weeks.”

 

 

Most club members also treasure the strong military traditions associated with the academy. “It’s an honor to be chosen to be stationed at West Point,” says Browne. “It’s an assignment that everybody really loves. This place is steeped in history.”

“This is a fabulous group of women,” says O’Neil of her fellow club members. “West Point is a special place, and these women just add to that.”

 

 

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