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story.lead_photo.caption A 20-year-old Patty LeComte is pictured in her uniform while attending advance training at Lowry Air Force Base in early 1976. Photo by Submitted photo

Graduating from Blair Oaks High School in 1973, Patty Henke LeComte, of Taos, laid the groundwork for her career when accepting a job as a civilian personnel clerk at the Missouri National Guard headquarters in Jefferson City. It was during this time frame that an officer with whom she worked provided the initial encouragement for her to enlist, thus becoming the first step in a three-decade military career.

"I joined on the buddy system, and me and a girl that I was friends with went to basic training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, in September 1975," LeComte said. "After eight weeks there, they sent us to Lowry Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, for photography school."

During the 32 weeks of advanced training she received in photography, she learned not only how to operate the "old box-style cameras," but to mix the chemicals used to develop film in the pre-digital age followed by an immersion in all aspects of working in a "dark room."

At a time when the Women's Army Corps was fading from existence and women were integrated into the regular U.S. Army, she returned to Missouri in the summer of 1976 and began drilling with a unit in Jefferson City The following year, she decided to move to Colorado and transfer to the Colorado National Guard. Months later, she was hired full time as a clerk at the headquarters for the Colorado National Guard.

"I did that for a couple of years and then transferred to the 147th Medical Hospital in Aurora (Colorado) to work as a full-time training NCO (non-commissioned officer)," she said. "I had to go to Ft. Sam Houston (Texas) to receive training to become a combat medic."

In the late 1970s, she met Tom LeComte — a Vietnam veteran who was then serving in the Colorado National Guard — and the two were married in 1980. The following year, Tom became a facility commander with the Iowa National Guard, and the couple soon made the move to a new state.

"I transferred to a medical unit with the Iowa National Guard and was there for almost 10 years," LeComte said. "We had our son, Josh, in 1988; and two years later we moved to Taos after Tom retired from the military," she added.

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LeComte soon went to work as a secretary at Blair Oaks Elementary School before being hired on full time as a training NCO with the Missouri National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force in 1992. The program, she explained, is designed to foster a relationship between the National Guard and local law enforcement agencies throughout the state to help reduce the presence of illicit drugs.

"In my full-time capacity, it was my job to manage all of the training for the counterdrug program and supervise several soldiers at the central office in addition to intel analysts in the field," LeComte said. "In a part-time capacity, I drilled on weekends with the 35th DISCOM (Division Support Command) at the Blue Armory in Jefferson City."

She and her husband adopted their daughter, Lena, in 1996. In 2005, she made the decision to retire from the National Guard and mirthfully noted that she "took off" for the next year "because it felt great to do so." She then worked briefly for both the State Emergency Management Agency and the Missouri Highway Patrol.

"From 2007-08, I worked as a contractor with the Missouri National Guard Family Program at the Blue Armory," LeComte said. "Then I continued work as a civilian contractor for the National Guard backfilling a position for a soldier who deployed to Kosovo and later helped track military awards for units that had fallen behind because of their deployments."

She eventually made the decision to permanently retire in 2013 but has remained actively involved in a number of voluntary endeavors. Since 2006, she has assisted her friend, Judy Minard, in operating the Mid-MO Family PX — a food pantry located at the Blue Armory for military members and veterans in need.

"It has been very fulfilling to work with the pantry and to assist those who have fallen on hard times," LeComte said. "We are fortunate to have been assisted in our mission by several wonderful organizations including the Boy Scouts, Calvary Lutheran High School, VFW and Ladies Auxiliary, Heroes Cares, Operation Bugle Boy, and several private donors."

In addition to her and her husband's careers in the armed forces, LeComte comes from a very patriotic family with a proud legacy of military service. Her father served during the Korean War, an uncle was killed in WWII, a brother served in the Army, another of her brothers served in the Navy, and her son spent many years in the National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan.

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Three decades of uniformed experience to her credit, LeComte noted that just as those who have served tend to relate, the relationships she has fostered while in the military are some of the most valued of her reflections.

"I spent half of my married life in uniform and although it was difficult at times because of having to be away from my family, I still miss the people I served with, the structure and all of the good memories that come with it."

She added, "They always say the military is like one big family and it truly is. The friendships last a long time, and I still keep in touch with many of the people I served with here and even those from the Colorado and Iowa National Guard."

Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.