By Dorie Griggs
I’m the very proud Mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel, The military College of South Carolina. If you had told me in 2003 that I would write the previous line in 2010, I would have laughed. My son was going to study sharks, at least that was his plan. His plans all changed his sophomore year in high school when he enrolled in his high school’s Junior ROTC program.
The military had always interested him. He had a dynamic teacher, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, who modeled leadership in a way that appealed to his “Type A,” first-child way of thinking.
His change in career path is not one I was on board with – at first. I graduated from seminary in 2002 earning a master of divinity degree. My area of interest at the time was doing chaplaincy type work with journalists who cover traumatic events, much the same as chaplains serve the police force or firefighters. I learned about the effects of traumatic events on the person experiencing them. The thought of having a child of mine go to war was not a thought I wanted to entertain.
As my son became more involved with the JROTC program, it became obvious he had a gift and the talents to be successful. It also became apparent, if I wanted to continue to have a relationship with my son, I needed to get on board. I had to find the best way to support him and his interest in the military.
I read books and became friends with his instructor. She was a tremendous help. I attended the events hosted by the JROTC department. In a way, I was one of the “team Moms” for the group.
By his junior year, my son decided to look into the academies and applying for ROTC scholarships. The military was going to be his career of choice. His decision meant a whole new area for me to research.
We attended our congressman’s academy day at a local base. We spoke to ROTC officers at a local college. We looked into military colleges. Then the campus visits started.
There was something about The Citadel that appealed to my son from the beginning. I went with him for his campus visit to Charleston. We went along with another student and his father for the long trip from Atlanta to Charleston. During the campus tour the guide took us into the stark barracks and explained that all cadets are given a list of what to bring, then told how to fold and put everything away. I remember thinking to myself, “who would chose to go to a school like this?” When I looked at my son and his friend, the two of them were saying, “This isn’t as bad as I thought.”
From that visit forward, he compared all other schools to The Citadel, and they didn’t measure up in his eyes. He received a full ride offer from the Army ROTC department at a school in Georgia, our home state, but he held out to see if the ARMY ROTC scholarship would come through to enable him to attend The Citadel. In June of his senior year the letter arrived. I’ll never forget the afternoon call from him, “I’m going Army! They gave me the 4-year scholarship!”
His journey to become an Army officer was beginning as was my very steep learning curve on being the mom of a cadet and soon to be military officer.
I first met Dorie Griggs in January at the Carter Center’s symposium on how to better cover returning war veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. She has been teaching me ever since.