The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

Cadet Lalli carries the Bravo Company Guidon for the graduation weekend parade, May 2008.

By Dorie Griggs

Before the first year cadets report, parents are told that their sons and daughters cannot call home their first week. The first week is their immersion into the life of a cadet, which means they have no contact with anyone outside The Citadel. For many parents, and I am one of them, it seems like the longest week of your life.

The first email I received came in at 10:35 PM Saturday night the week after we dropped our son off.  I remember being paranoid and thinking, “Oh no, the cadre have his Yahoo account login info.” I hadn’t expected to get a note so soon.

Dorie, Chelle and Nelson get to congratulate Nelson at the end of the Recognition Ceremony.

His note was short but reassuring. It went something like this, “Hell week was hell. I miss you. Don’t let me quit. Thanks for the candy, keep sending me stuff.”  To make sure his mailbox wasn’t empty his first time there I had sent a funny card with some small candy inside the envelope.

I was filled with mixed emotions. Proud of his determination, but I really missed him.

One thing I learned quickly though, a military school is a “No Fly Zone” for “Helicopter parents.”  Once you drop off your son or daughter it is up to them to forge their own path.  If a parent tries to intercede on their child’s behalf, it will only reflect poorly on the cadet.

Since my son had me convinced that I would jeopardize his entire career if I asked too many questions, I learned the school web site inside out and back wards.  I also learned to ask the volunteers with the Citadel Family Association (CFA) questions.  They are parents of upperclass cadets who volunteer their time to help the new parents navigate the system.

The new clerks learn how to carry the company Guidon before their march to Marion Square photo of cadet in square holding flag standard.

The first few months the school photography site would post photos taken throughout the day/week. A group of parents from Georgia would check each day and alert each other if we saw our cadet. You learn quickly that all cadets look alike. Their hair was all gone, and they all wear the same uniform. The first photo of my son was of him in a short line of cadets.  He had spotted the photographer and was looking directly at him.  He had a cocky smirk on his face.  I knew then he was going to be fine.

Only after trying to find out information through web searches did I resort to calling a school department to ask a clarifying question, usually about a term my son used that I couldn’t find the meaning to and then I made sure the call was anonymous, not giving my name or my son’s name.

One case was when my son wrote a short note very excited that he finished his paperwork to get his “Black Badge.”  I had no idea what that meant and couldn’t find a reference to a Black Badge anywhere.  His JROTC teacher didn’t know either.  I finally called the ROTC office to find that the Black Badge is what Army scholarship cadets receive when their paperwork is in order.  The Knobs that year had a competition among themselves to see who would get their paperwork in first.  Apparently my son was one of the first to complete it that fall. The competitive nature of the cadets became clear to me early in that first year.

The Bravo Company Class of 2011 cadets retake their Cadet Oath after marching to Marion Square.

By the end of Knob year, with the help of the parent volunteers with The Citadel Family Association (CFA); the book, “In the Company of Men” by the first female graduate of The Citadel, Nancy Mace; and several other books and conversations, I began to understand the language of The Military College of South Carolina.

Some of the terms I learned: First year cadets are called Knobs because their heads are shaved and they look like door knobs; SMI means Saturday Morning Inspection; gawdy Knob means someone is a bit cocky; roaching means you are trying out for a position in the cadet chain of command.

I did a “brain dump” of all the new terms and information I had learned the first year with the hope of helping other new parents as they entered this new world. The CFA posted a modified version of my list to their web site last year under “CFA Benefits” and titled it “One Mother’s Experience” – “Survival Tips.”

The biggest day in the life of a Knob at The Citadel is Recognition Day.  That is the day the Knobs are recognized as full members of the Corps of Cadets and called by their first names for the first time by the upperclass cadets.  The morning of challenging physical activity culminates in the announcement in each of the barracks, “The Fourth Class System is no longer in Effect.”

The Knobs of Bravo Company in their dress whites, Corps Day Weekend, 2008.

My daughter and I drove to Charleston that weekend.  Not with the intent on spending time with our cadet, but to see the former Knobs march into Marion Square to retake their cadet oath. We arrived on campus early that Saturday and stopped by the barracks to peek through the sally port gates.  We had the added bonus of seeing our cadet as he practiced for his new role of carrying the Guidon for Bravo Company as one of their new clerks.

As my son finished his first year at the Citadel, it was apparent how much he had grown and learned from this uncommon college experience. I too had grown and learned so much and was heading toward fluency in cadet speak and had gained a deep respect for The Citadel and the Fourth Class System.

Dorie Griggs has contributed previous blog entries about her journey as the mother of a Citadel cadet. You can read her previous submissions:

The Making of a Military Mom

Mom Readies for Son’s Military College

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