Brigadier General N. Mike Bissell — founding commandant of cadets for Mary Baldwin University’s Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) — has announced his retirement for the end of June.
Since VWIL’s founding in 1995, Bissell, 74, has seen the organization grow from its beginning as an audacious idea into a premiere leadership program for women, fostering military and civilian lives of global citizenship and purpose.
“We honor and thank General Bissell for being an enduring exemplar of leadership and service,” said Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox in a message to the campus community. “We are grateful that he is recovering from a stroke, enabling him to continue at Mary Baldwin on a temporary basis. General Bissell has determined that he will begin his transition toward retirement.”
He brought to the program extensive military leadership experience. Bissell graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and was commissioned into the U.S. Army as an infantryman, and later served as an aviator. He retired from the U.S. Army to become the program manager for the new Army stealth helicopter, the Comanche, for the Boeing and Sikorsky Aircraft Team. After the team won the $30 billion competition, he returned to VMI in 1990 to become its first full-time commandant of cadets.
Bissell later became the deputy superintendent, responsible for the assimilation of women into the VMI Corps of Cadets. At the same time, he was performing the duties of VWIL commandant, helping to develop and design the structure of its corps. In 1999 — four years after the first cadets matriculated — he became the first full-time commandant of cadets at VWIL.
He received a bachelor of arts from VMI and a master of arts from the University of Missouri. Bissell was selected by the chief of staff of the U.S. Army to be the senior army fellow at Harvard University in 1985. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College.
Bissell served two combat tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. While in Vietnam, he was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor and received the Distinguished Service Cross. Included among his other awards are the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with V Device, the Air Medal with V Device and 26 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart. In 2002, he was awarded the Gold Order of Saint Michael by the Army Aviation Association of America and, most recently, he was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame for his career contributions to army aviation.
He earned the Parachutist Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Ranger Tab, and Master
Aviation Wings. Bissell was awarded the Republic of Korea Master Army Aviation Wings while commander of the Combined Aviation Corps.
Bissell’s command assignments include the Commander of the 17th Aviation Group and Commander of the Joint U.S. Army and Republic of Korea Army Aviation Corps in Korea. He was the director for army aviation flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. In addition, he was deputy chief of staff and acting chief of staff for the 101st Air Assault Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He was executive officer for the two directors for operations in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His last assignment was as executive officer for the Assistant Secretary of the Army.
Bissell and his wife, Jan, have seven children, 16 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
The college has begun the search process for the next commandant of cadets. Bissell will continue in his role as commandant, working with Deputy Commandant Melissa Patrick as the search is conducted and other positions are filled within the VWIL staff.
Upon the naming of his successor, Bissell will become founding commandant emeritus. He plans to continue supporting the work and growth of VWIL while serving as liaison with Staunton Military Academy alumni, the newly formed VWIL Board of Visitors, and as other critical external constituencies.