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Servicemembers, vets celebrate with Virginia Gov.-elect McAuliffe at ball

NORFOLK, Va. — They didn't all vote for him, but the hundreds of service men and women who came to Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe's inaugural ball all appreciated the invite.

They came in their very best: dress blue bell bottoms and "dixie cup" hats for the younger sailors, gold hashmarks up to the elbows for the Navy chiefs and petty officers, gold epaulets and braid for the soldiers, with bright red lapels for the Logistics Corps solders who came down from Fort Lee and a scarlet collar setting off the Marine Corps globe and anchor and silver oak leaves on retired Lt. Col. Denice Williams' uniform.

"I'm ecstatic to be here," the Suffolk, Va., resident said.

"I'm really excited by things I've heard from the governor-elect," she said. "I think he really wants to do good things for veterans."

Marine veteran David Hord, of Virginia Beach, admitted that McAuliffe was not his choice in November but said he was honored by the invitation the governor-elect extended to military personnel, their families and veterans.

"I'm here to show the colors," said Hord, who sported a bright red jacket and red-and-gold forage cap of the Marine Corps League.

Maj. Armando Kuppinger Velasquez said he's still officially a Missouri resident, and so didn't vote in November, but he's planning to by next Election Day. He's going to stay in Hampton Roads, planning to open a yogurt shop in Suffolk.

He actually got two invitations, the general one extended to all in the military and one for him and his colleagues at The Mission Continues, a program in which veterans pitch in on community projects. He said he's glad to know Virginians generally, and their next governor, share his concern for veterans.

"I grew up in Virginia, and I never thought I'd get to go to an inaugural ball for a governor," said Bradley Hopkins, who grew up in the tiny Blue Ridge town of Woolwine and now serves as a second class petty officer.

"I've never been to anything like this," he added, promising to take his wife, Heather, for a spin the dance floor shortly.

Jason Weeden, a Coast Guard second class petty officer, said he particularly appreciated that the invitation went to military families, too. "It is great to be here," said Weeden's new spouse, Rick Dollar, a retired civilian Navy employee.

"This is wonderful. My candidate won, all my candidates won," said Mary Christian, a former member of the House of Delegates who represented Hampton from 1986 to 2003.

McAuliffe told the crowd Hampton Roads' needs would be a central concern of his administration, drawing cheers when he promised to address the region's traffic jams.

"I want to thank every man and woman in uniform who took that oath to defend this country, and I want to thank every veteran, and make sure they have a good job to come home to," he said.

McAuliffe will be inaugurated as Virginia's 72nd governor on Saturday, beginning a four-year term. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are slated to attend.

The ball's theme was "a salute to Virginia's veterans and military families." Active-duty military personnel, their families and veterans were invited to attend free of charge.

It was one of two regional balls, held in addition to the traditional Richmond event on inauguration day. The inauguration committee scheduled more than 80 events, such as Saturday's get together to build rain-catching barrels and oyster cages to reduce pollution in the Lynnhaven River.

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