Military cadets walk up the aisle in the Catholic chapel at Virginia Tech Matthew. Cavanaugh / EPA
Military cadets at Virginia Tech experienced a sad role reversal late Monday when they began taking condolence calls from alumnae serving in Iraq.
The calls started coming in as word spread that Matthew La Port, a sophomore Air Force cadet from Dumont, N.J., was among those killed in the shooting at Norris Hall, said David Wheeler, 22, a senior in the Corps of Cadets who was La Port’s platoon leader last year.
“We were getting calls from alumnae in Iraq all last night,” he said.
Virginia Tech is one of just a handful of colleges that have full-fledged cadet programs that send graduates directly into military service.
In addition to grieving for their fallen comrade, the cadets were standing as an honor guard at Tuesday’s convocation on campus and standing guard 24 hours a day as a ceremonial guard at the campus chapel, where a memorial wreath was hung.
Andrew Ton, a 19-year-old freshman cadet from Hawaii, said La Port wasn’t the first cadet to die this year, saying a car wreck and medical problems have claimed several other lives. He said such tragedy is an unfortunate part of training for a military career.
“I don’t mean to be cold about it, but we have to get used to this,” he said. “We’re going to be commissioned, we’re going to be in the service and we have to get used to it.”
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As officials, students and families struggle to come to terms with the tragedy at Virginia Tech, a team of MSNBC.com reporters and editors and NBC News producers and correspondents is on the scene.