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An ROTC group from Doherty High School does a flag folding demonstration for a program that they gave at Liberty Heights on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. Many in the crowd were veterans or wives of veterans. They were doing the program in honor of Veterans Day, which is on Thursday. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Doherty High School's Naval Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps celebrated Veterans Day, in part, by holding a ceremony at a retirement community in northeast Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

Seven of the corps’ 125 cadets performed in the event at Liberty Heights, a senior living community located a few miles northeast of the Air Force Academy. The event was nearly canceled after one of the cadets tested positive for COVID-19 that morning.

“The last thing we wanted to do was put these folks at risks for infection,” said retired Navy Capt. Greg Thomas, who leads the corps of cadets. “So I initially called it off.”

But Liberty Heights has rapid testing capability on site, and staff members told Thomas the group could still perform if no one else tested positive.

“We didn’t want to cancel unless we absolutely had to,” said employee Natalie Schaefer. “This is pretty special to (the residents).”

The rest of the team tested negative, but with scant preparation time they needed to replace the sick cadet and reconfigure a routine they had practiced together for weeks. Thomas stepped back and allowed the cadets to figure things out for themselves.

“If they’re going to be military leaders one day, they have to learn to think on their feet, to adapt and overcome,” said Thomas, who spent 25 years in the Navy. “This is good training for them.”

Dozens of residents, many of them veterans or military spouses, showed up for the event, which included a color guard, a rifle drill demonstration, and a ceremonial flag folding. The cadets also handed out personalized certificates of appreciation to the veterans in attendance and gave flowers to the spouses.

After the ceremony, the future military leaders mingled and traded stories with the residents,  men and women with hundreds of years’ worth of combined military experience.

“There’s something very special about these young men and women,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Douglas Murray, a Liberty Heights resident who wore his service dress uniform to the event. “They have recognized what this nation is about at a very early age, and made a commitment to serve.”

The Liberty Heights performance was the Doherty corps' second event of the day and one of several planned for the week. Thomas said the cadets would hold two events on Thursday, and two more on Friday.

“Veterans Day week is a busy time for us,” Thomas said. “But we love it, because we understand what the day means to so many people.”

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