The Citadel: BVA’s and Summerall Guards

2012 BVA’s on a training run. (Photo by OttoFocus Photography)

I admit it; I didn’t understand why my son, or anyone else for that matter, would want to go to a military college.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Citadel Year One A No Fly Zone for Hovering parents, I’ve learned a lot about the students who choose this type of experience. Although I couldn’t quite understand his motivation, I accepted his decision and learned how to support him.  He is in a leadership school and learning to set goals and attain them is part of that process.

2011 BVA’s in 1st Battalion.

After a few years of reading books about The Citadel and other military schools I concluded that there is a personality type that needs to challenge him/herself in this way: A conclusion that was affirmed by a renowned expert in resiliency in the military Special Forces, Dr. Steven Southwick of  the Yale School of Medicine.  I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Southwick at a conference at the Carter Center called When Veterans Come Home. When I shared my observation with Dr. Southwick he said, “You are exactly right.  The soldiers in the Special Forces are very competitive, but they are competitive with themselves.”

This conversation with Dr. Southwick took place in January of 2010.  January and February historically are the toughest months of the year for first year cadets at The Citadel and juniors who are trying out for the elite precision drill platoon called the Summerall Guards.

The 2011 Summerall Guards perform at halftime Parents Weekend, October 2010 (Cadet Nelson Lalli to the far right). Photo by Stanley Leary.

It took me almost three years to understand why my son wanted to go to The Citadel. It took me even longer to understand why he wanted to try out for the Summerall Guards.

The Summerall Guards are revered at the school and, I’m told by residents, also in South Carolina. According to The Citadel web site the Summerall Guards are, “first-class (senior) cadets who go through a rigorous physical training and initiation process and are chosen for their physical stamina and drill proficiency.”

The 3rd class (junior) cadets who set their sights on becoming Summerall Guards are called Bond Volunteer Aspirants (BVA’s). I had to read up on all of this history to really learn what it was all about.  During campus visits the first couple of years I heard stories of how rigorous and difficult it is to train to be a Summerall Guard. The cadets don’t talk about the process which leads to an air of mystery  about the whole thing. Just like heading into the unknown of Matriculation Day that first year, I was a bit hesitant and scared about the whole process.

2011 BVA’s (in hoodies) train with the 2010 Summerall Guards.

Even though I read the school web site and one maintained by former members of the Summerall Guards, I didn’t feel I learned enough about the process.  Heading into my son’s junior year the best help I received came from a member of the 2005 Summerall Guards, Andy Frey.  I met Andy through the Atlanta Citadel Club.  At the annual “Hell Night Happy Hour” in Atlanta he tolerated quite a few questions from me about the process. I am very grateful for his patience with this very anxious Mom.

His advice helped me through that year. He told me not to expect to hear much from my cadet. In addition to his course load and his duties as the 1st SGT for his company my son had to do the extra duties and physical training that goes along with being a BVA.  In addition the BVA’s have to keep their hair in a very short “high and tight” style. When they are with the current Summerall Guards the BVA’s are treated like knobs with no status. It is a demanding process but once the BVA’s go through it they are revered by their peers.

The Proud Family, Dorie Griggs, Cadet Nelson Lalli, Chelle Leary, and Stanley Leary.

Throughout that year when I’d get a quick email from my son that said “I’m really busy.” I’d hear Andy’s voice.  In explaining why a cadet would try out for this platoon Andy said he explained it to his mother and girlfriend this way, “It’s like being part of the only fraternity on campus.”

In January of 2010 I began to see photos on Facebook of the 2011 BVA’s in training.  I found some videos on YouTube. Take Your Rifles, by Chris Florio followed the 2009 BVA’s through their process and The Summerall Guards 2010 by Polk Studios follows the 2010 BVA’s. I found myself nervous again watching these videos.

Georgia Cadets James Harrell, Nelson Lalli and Matt Spysinski after becoming 2011 Summerall Guards. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The training culminates in a series of trials ending in “Cuts Day.” Our family waited anxiously to hear if our cadet made it. I tried calling him but he didn’t pick up his phone. I saw congratulatory notes to other cadets posted to status updates, but still no word from our cadet. Finally after 9:00 PM we got the call, he made the Summerall Guards!

The 2011 BVA’s became 2011 Summerall Guards at a ceremony on Corps Day weekend, which celebrates the founding of the Corps of cadets. Nelson and his high school friend, Matt, became members of the 2011 Summerall Guards!

These two friends who looked around the barracks during their pre-knob visit in 2006 and said to each other, “This isn’t as bad as I thought.” are now in their final few months of their Citadel career. They proved to themselves and everyone else they deserved to wear the band of gold that distinguishes them as graduates of The Citadel.  In May they will graduate and be commissioned as a 2nd LT in the Army.

The 2011 BVA’s become the 2011 Summerall Guards, March 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

At the beginning of this whole process I couldn’t understand why he wanted to go there. I know I couldn’t have done it, but I see now this is exactly the school my son needed to attend.  I could not be more proud of him.

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

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

 How the Citadel Ya-Yas Came to be

 Learning Leadership and Ethics at the Citadel

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16 Responses

  1. […] Posts Bittersweet Goodbyes: "You Know How to Do This"The Citadel: BVA's and Summerall GuardsCol. Schenecker: "Be Kind to Others, Live with Purpose"Capt. Honors "Held to a Higher Standard"An […]

  2. You should be very proud of your son. He is one of the good guys.

  3. Thank you. Yes, we are very proud of him.

  4. […] Camp Lejeune's Water?The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring WeekendIn Training to Become a Marine MomThe Citadel: BVA's and Summerall GuardsCol. Schenecker: "Our Journey to Healing""Will You Ever be a Normal Family?"How The Citadel "Ya-Yas" […]

  5. […] Posts Capt. Honors "Held to a Higher Standard"A Salute to Black Veterans, SaturdayThe Citadel: BVA's and Summerall GuardsDistance Makes the Heart Grow FonderDid Your Family Drink Camp Lejeune's Water?"My Daddy Come […]

  6. […] The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards […]

  7. […] The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards […]

  8. […] The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards […]

  9. […] The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards […]

  10. […] The Citadel: BVA's and Summerall Guards В« Off The Base Feb 13, 2011 … The 2011 BVA's become the 2011 Summerall Guards, March 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary. … […]

  11. […] mentioned in an earlier entry how anxiety producing this junior year is for parents. It is widely known on campus that the BVA […]

  12. […] interested in how I handled this my son’s BVA year, you can read by previous blog post for Off the Base and this blog too. The best advice is to let your son contact you. They are too busy and exhausted […]

  13. […] written about our journey before but this time of year the memories come flooding back. I’ll include a few tips here […]

  14. I’ve heard from some parents that Cuts Day for the 2013 BVA’s has been rescheduled to Feb 14. If you have any other information post it here.

  15. […] field to secure a good spot to watch the Summerall Guards exchange rifles. My son, a member of the 2011 Summerall Guards, passed his rifle to a fellow cadet in Bravo Company. This year that senior cadet passed the same […]

  16. […] The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards […]

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