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Cottage Grove veteran had front row seat at National Memorial Day observance

Army veteran Terri Winter of Cottage Grove was one of 11 members of the Memorial Rifle Squad who were invited to the National Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery. Winter, 51, is the first female commander of the squad in its 35-year history. (Submitted photo)

Sitting alongside her fellow military veterans in the stifling Virginia humidity, Terri Winter of Cottage Grove tried not to cry.

But how could she not?

Winter, an Army veteran who commands the Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in St. Paul, had a front row seat at the Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. She and 10 other members of the squad were guests at the May 26 event, where President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“I’m actually still feeling it,” said Winter, 51. “I was just overwhelmed by it. It was just phenomenal. I don’t think there are enough adjectives in the world to be able to describe it.”

Winter is the first female commander of the 127-member squad, which includes veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.

They were invited to Arlington in recognition of their 35th anniversary and of their service honoring the memory of veterans. Founded in 1979, the all-volunteer honor guard provides free military ceremonial burial services to families of honorably discharged veterans. They have presided over the funerals of more than 62,720 military men and women at Fort Snelling. They are privately funded, paying for their own uniforms, rifles, and transportation.

On their flight to Washington, D.C., the airline gave them a free upgrade to first class, Winter said.

As part of the opening ceremony at Arlington, squad members Greg Munson and Jim Anderson carried the U.S. flag and squad flag, respectively. 

Winter is pursuing her master’s degree in computer forensics at Metropolitan State University, where she earned her bachelor of arts. She said she hopes to use her skills to help senior citizens learn about new technology. She said she wants to bridge the gap between grandparents and their grandchildren.

Winter joined the Army when she was 17. She said she was inspired by her father, the late Robert Nytes, who was a member of the Army Air Corps.

“I was a young kid,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life.”