The Citadel Ya-Yas become Military Moms

The Citadel Ya-Yas in March of 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

A year ago Monday, I wrote about the friends I made through the Citadel Family Association, The Citadel Ya Yas. We are a geographically diverse group of moms who met through our volunteer work and our mutual interest in supporting our children while they attended The Citadel. This group of friends continues to be a strong source of friendship, support and comfort. Between us we have children in the private sector, graduate school, and a few branches of the military. We are in touch through Facebook, email, and phone calls when really important events pop up.

The summer my son attended Leader Development & Assessment Course (LDAC), I found a another group of friends. Most of us have never met, or even spoken on the phone.  We are family members of the cadets who went through LDAC the summer of 2010. We met via the LDAC 2010 Facebook group.  We formed our own Facebook group and now support each other as our children become officers and go through the various stages of training and active duty.

ABOLC graduation. Dorie Griggs, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Chelle Leary, Taylor Lalli. Photo by Stanley Leary.

LDAC also maintains an excellent blog, Operation Warrior Forge, where they post photos and stories about the cadets at LDAC. I was able to watch the graduation in real-time via their live stream, WarriorForgeLive. The LDAC 2012 group should be up later this spring.

I am now on the steep learning curve now being the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I’ve learned about Fort Benning, the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC), the Armor Branch traditions, Airborne School, Ranger school, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and am now learning about Fort Stewart and the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. Each one of these groups has a Facebook page or group as well. I wrote blog entries about our experience at the Armor BOLC graduation and included links to the sites where I learned about their traditions. I also wrote about the Airborne School first jump and graduation.

Airborne School graduation, November 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

When my son went to Airborne school, I corresponded with other family members through the  US Army Airborne School, Fort Benning Facebook group. Some of us met at the Fryar Drop Zone or at graduation. We shared photos from the jumps we attended and even checked on each others’ soldiers. A few of us are now Facebook friends. The experience last fall helped me see the bond the families of active duty military members share.

I am finding that as the mother of a single soldier some information is harder to track down. The Family Readiness Groups seem to be geared more toward the married soldiers who have spouses with them on base to attend meetings and events. At least, this is my experience with a soldier who is not deployed. I was visiting the Fort Stewart site recently and saw a post about their redesign. I plan on sending in a few suggestions.

One of the stated goals of their new design from the feedback page: “We are aiming to be a model example for all other military websites to be based upon.” If you are the family member of a single soldier and have ideas to share, scroll to the bottom of this page and send in your suggestion.

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An Army Mom Learns about the Cavalry, “Ironman” Award

Before Graduation in front of the Maneuver Center of Excellence building. L-R: Taylor Lalli, Chelle Leary, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Dorie Griggs, Stanley Leary. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Last Thursday, I entered a base of the U.S. Army for the first time as a military parent. We spent the day at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia.  Our second lieutenant graduated from his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC).

As we approached the entrance of Ft. Benning, the signs pointed visitors to a gate on the left. The guard at the gate asked for the drivers licenses for everyone over 18 in the car. Our 20-year-old son had left his wallet at home. The guard informed us, he is a former drill sergeant and asked our son if he is in the Army. Taylor answered “No sir.” After he  told our son never to leave the house without ID, he let us through. Taylor breathed a little easier as we left the entrance gate.

Second Lieutenant Nelson Lalli receives the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To get to the new Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) building, we drove a few miles passing lots of construction. Ft. Benning is going through a  huge expansion since the Armor branch was moved there from Ft. Knox as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). I knew the base was big, but driving along I realized just how big the base really is. My son told me it is bigger than the state of Rhode Island where his paternal grandmother lives.

We passed a golf course, a school, housing units and a gas station. Our daughter who had never been on a military base was surprised to see it is like it’s own city. We approached the new Maneuver Center of Excellence building and could see training towers in the distance. I was told to look for a “massive tank” by a Staff Sergeant who sent me directions. The tank was right in front of the new building. We saw plenty of second lieutenants in their dress uniforms, complete with Stetson covers, arriving in the parking lot.

2011 graduates of The Citadel, 2LT’s Nelson Lalli and Evan Minshew have some fun after the graduation. Minshew is holding Lalli’s “Ironman” award. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Our officer was waiting for us in front of the building with his father and step-mother who had arrived a little earlier. Wow! Did he look handsome in his new uniform. Of course we all started snapping photos, much to Nelson’s dismay. We told him he just had to deal with it today.

The Facebook group for the 2-16  Cavalry “Saber Squadron”//Armor Basic Officer Leader Course posted a press release the day before graduation stating that Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia would speak at graduation. This is the first ABOLC graduating class at Fort Benning, so the local press also turned out in force to cover the ceremony.

We took our seats in the auditorium.  Nelson told my husband, photographer Stanley Leary, he could move forward to take photos when he walked across the stage. Nelson was given the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” for having the highest physical fitness score in Lightening Troop

As we waited for the graduation to start, I had fun watching the various family members, officers and staff file in. It struck me how many of these young officers were married with very small children.

Chelle and Dorie present the recent ABOLC graduate with his “Iron Man’ gifts. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It was a very nice ceremony.  Governor Deal gave a nice speech and the presentation of awards began. It was such a thrill to see our second lieutenant walk across the stage to shake the hands of the Governor, the Commander and other officers. When the ceremony ended we had to all take turns getting our photo taken with the award winning officer, much to his chagrin. He did clown around a bit with one of his fellow graduates of The Citadel and ABOLC grad, Evan Minshew. You can see the pride on all the faces in those photos.

Before we went in to the restaurant for a late lunch, Chelle and I presented Nelson with our graduation gift, a comic book, “Iron Man Is Born” and the two Iron Man DVD’s. I knew he appreciated the humor.

Our second lieutenant gave up his spot in Ranger School.  He is now waiting to hear where he will go next. As for me, I’m reading up on the history of the Armor branch, and learning why they wear Stetsons and the traditions around who wears the gold or silver spurs. I’ve also read up on Garryowen and learned why we stood up and clapped to the song as it was played at the end of the ceremony.

A Citadel Mom Marks Her Son’s Transition to Army Ranger

Bravo Seniors display their rings Friday afternoon outside the barracks. Photo by Stanley Leary.

One week from today, my son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). In two weeks, parents of cadets at The Citadel will descend on Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  It is also Ring weekend, the time all cadets look forward to their senior year.

This year is the first year, in the past four, that we will not be in Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  We are creating new rituals as the family of a graduate and new second lieutenant. I will miss the rhythm of the college school year.  Fortunately, I’ve made some wonderful friends and know we will go to Charleston for visits but our time won’t be spent following the official schedule of events for cadets.

Bravo Company Cadre lead the first year knobs in a set of push-ups at the promotion ceremony. Parents’ Weekend the knobs are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m already missing the regular information posts of The Citadel.  As the mom of a second lieutenant, I have to rely on calls, emails, or text messages from my son to fill me in on what type of training he is going through.  The Public Affairs Office at Fort Benning does have a lot of information posted, but much of it is geared toward the spouses of soldiers, not family members who are not in the area of the base. To learn the location, time and directions to the graduation next week took a phone call and a few email messages.

The next phase is Ranger School.  My son will report at the end of October. The website for Ranger School is very helpful.  I’ve also read Facebook posts of his classmates who are in the Ranger School class immediately ahead of him. They all know just how challenging this training is.  A few 2011 graduates of The Citadel have mentioned that their schedule in the real Army is tougher than knob (freshman) year.  That is saying a LOT.

Lightening Troop Class 11-005 Recon Mounted STX. Photo courtesy of the class' Facebook page.

In some ways, I feel like the mom of a knob. I get little information from my son.  He is putting in long hours and getting little rest. And he still appreciates care packages of protein based foods.

Unlike knob year, I don’t have the comfort of regular photos being posted to a web site, or parent volunteers to call with questions. In that regard, I am like any other parent of a recent college graduate living away from home and working at a new job . . . until he is deployed.

A Seminary Student, Now an Army Mom Reflects on 9/11

The new second lieutenants, family and friends. L-R: Phil Warner, 2LT Brian Papke, 2LT Nelson Lalli, SFC Keith Polidoro, Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary. photo by Stanley Leary.

10 years ago on September 11, 2001 I was supposed to be serving on jury duty.  As a full-time seminary student my service that day was differed and I attended class instead.  It was a World Missions class.  After class ended I headed to the chapel like many of my fellow students did every morning for the daily chapel service.

When I arrived outside the chapel, I saw a group gathering.  It isn’t unusual to see something different outside the chapel.  I just assumed we were going to process in together.  As I got closer I realized this gathering focused their attention on a TV screen. The first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. My fellow seminarians stood around in shock, a scene that was repeated in various forms around the world that day.

Today, 10 years later, about 11 of my oldest sons classmates report to Ranger School at Ft. Benning.  They have completed their training in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. These young men were in Middle School on September 11, 2001. I imagine some decided that day ten years ago that they would serve their country.

In four weeks my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course then three weeks later report to Ranger School.

10 years ago while standing in front of that television set on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary, I couldn’t have imagined how the following ten years would unfold.  I was about to start a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  My focus was on developing a model of chaplaincy to journalists who cover traumatic events.

I knew through my journalist friends that they, like other first responders, saw and experienced trauma up close.  I also knew then, as I do now, unlike firefighters, police EMS and other first responders journalists do not get the same training or support the others have.  My call to be a supportive presence to journalists who risk their safety to keep us informed was formed leading up to and including the 2001 – 2002 school year.

Dorie Griggs with Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, Mike Walter, John McCusker, Moni Basu at the screening of Mike Walter’s documentary, “Breaking News, Breaking Down.” photo by Stanley Leary.

Since 2001, I have had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by some of the leading researchers in the area of traumatic stress studies. The Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program have afforded me tremendous opportunities to meet and learn from scholars and researchers in the area of traumatic stress. The leadership of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has taught me a great deal about the trials journalists go through.  I’ve had the privilege to also learn from and listen to the struggles of journalists who have covered some of the world’s worst disasters, both natural and man-made.

A few of these journalists were there at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon the morning of 9/11/01. Photojournalist David Handschuh was at the foot of the WTC when it began to collapse.  He was seriously injured that day.  Mike Walter was on his way to the DC TV station, where he served as an anchor, when a plane hit the Pentagon. Both journalists are fellows with the Dart Center and members of the Dart Society.  I am grateful to them for sharing their personal stories.

I am still on the journey to be a supportive presence to journalists. My call has expanded to also teach civilians about traumatic stress and how to be supportive to our returning veterans. I now serve on the board of directors for the nonprofit, Care For The Troops.

10 years ago standing in front of that TV on the seminary campus I could not have predicted the wide variety of journalists I would come to know both in the US and abroad.  I could not imagine that my then 12-year-old son and his friends from The Citadel would be second lieutenants training with the U.S Army Rangers, or that I’d even know what that training entails.

I am grateful to the many people who have seen the importance of this call to be a supportive presence to journalists and also to the members of the military and veterans.

An Army Mom Transitions from The Citadel to Ft. Benning

The Citadel Georgia Class of 2015. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

I’m living in the in-between times of being the mom of a cadet at The Citadel and being the mom of a newly commissioned second lieutenant in Armor branch training at Ft. Benning, GA.

My son graduated in May of this year. With his graduation, I passed off my volunteer parent baton to a new coordinator of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group and the Area Rep coordinator position I held with the Citadel Family Association.  Fortunately, the Atlanta Citadel Club has made it clear just because my son has graduated doesn’t mean I can’t attend their functions as the parent of a graduate. The new coordinator of the Georgia Parents Group has also included me in her parent orientation meeting which helped ease me out of my role as coordinator and into the role of coordinator emeriti.

Dorie Grigg's son, Nelson, is in the top row second from the left. The photo is from the Facebook Page of Lightning Troop 2-16 CAV.

It is fun to know he is there with about 20 other 2011 graduates. I jokingly call Ft. Benning The Citadel west since the guys all live in the same apartment complex in Columbus while they are going through training.

To help me move into the role of support person in Georgia, I attended the Cadet Send off Event, hosted by the Atlanta Citadel Club, one last time. The event held at a local restaurant was well attended.  Like my son’s year, the summer of 2007, the new families were anxious to learn all they could to be prepared for Matriculation Day. I gave the new families a card with links to my blog entries for Off the Base so they could access the helpful links to the Nice to Have List and the Survival tips located under CFA benefits on the CFA home page.

Thanks to the Citadel Alumni Association Facebook page administrator, the entry titled, A Letter to the Class of 2015, has been widely read and circulated. In writing these entries, it is my hope that the new parents will feel a bit more comfortable and prepared with the process of getting a child ready to report to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

Georgia Citadel parents and Knobs gather for dinner at Dorie Grigg's home. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In an effort to ease my transition further, we hosted a potluck dinner recently for the Georgia families. It was a great opportunity to see everyone in a relaxed environment without worrying about the hectic on campus schedule or the anxiety of dropping your cadet off for Matriculation Day. About 35 people came to the house. I invited some incoming cadets, or knobs as they will be known their first year, and their families.  We spent a few hours catching up or meeting friends we’ve only seen on Facebook. The new families learned that when your child attends The Citadel you enter a group of supportive families. Many of the people I’ve come to know the past four years I know will be friends for life.

The Citadel Bravo Moms Marie Dopson sitting, Dorie Griggs (left) standing and Anita Mag (right) standing. All of their sons are, or have been, company clerks for Bravo Company. Nelson was the senior mentor to Marie’s son, Brian.

Now that the two send off events have taken place, I’ve settled back into the wait and watch stage of begin the mom of a second lieutenant in training. Fortunately, the U.S. Army has embraced social media. I’ve found the Facebook groups for my sons training unit and for the Ft. Benning Family Readiness Group. Reading these sites I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve even gotten to see photos of my son and his unit while they train.

Ft. Benning is only a couple of hours from our house, but Nelson doesn’t get home much. When he’s been home, it’s to attend a Braves game or go out with friends. Phone calls have been a bit more frequent, but they are short and matter of fact calls.

Last night I sent a text asking how the weekend training exercise went.  His response was short and to the point. “Good. Blew stuff up.” They are learning to drive and operate the tanks. I found a video from their media day to give me an idea of what he was talking about.

The text was followed by a short phone call. The call I was told to expect. He was in the middle of filling out forms, one of which is for death benefits distribution. He needed some personal information from me about the family. While I didn’t struggle with the call, it struck me then that we are all in the real Army now. We’ve completed the training at The Citadel and this is the real thing.

A Military Mom Meets Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, IV

Bill Maddox greets Lt. Gen Caldwell.

Every once in a while I have the opportunity to meet some interesting and sometimes very important people.  Today  (Tuesday) was one of those days thanks to an Atlanta Press Club luncheon.

The guest speaker was Lt. Gen William Caldwell, Commander, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan/ Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan.  I attended because of my growing interest in all things military.  Now that my son is a second lieutenant, I take any opportunity I can to learn more about our involvement in conflict areas. I arranged to meet some friends there one who used to serve with the General 30 years ago when they were both Captains.

Dorie Griggs with Lt. Gen. Caldwell.

I arrived early to stake out good seats.  Fortunately, it worked and we sat very close to the podium.  While the guests waited for the arrival of Lt. Gen Caldwell, we all began to visit.  I had the pleasure of riding the elevator with retried General Burba who it turns out was the top person at Ft. Benning where my son is now in training in the Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course. At our table, I met John King, who it turns out is not only the Chief of Police for the City of Doraville, GA, but is a Colonel in the U.S. Army having served in Iraq Afghanistan with the Lt. Gen.

North Georgia College and State University helped to sponsor the luncheon and several of the Army ROTC staff members from the school attended. I made sure to say hello to them and tell them of how impressed I was by their cadets when I met them at the funeral for Spc Gary L. Nelson, III a few months ago.

Dorie Griggs holding her Challenge Coin, Police Chief John King (left) and an aid to Lt. Gen Caldwell (right) .

The General and his team arrived and began to mingle with the guests. My friend, Bill Maddox, went to say hello. It had been 30+ years since Bill and Lt. Gen Caldwell served together, but they greeted each other like it was yesterday. I snapped a few photos for Bill, then he returned the favor by introducing me to the general.  I told the general my son is a graduate of The Citadel and is now a second lieutenant.

The general is really big on using social media. I thanked him  for his work in that area then told him how great it has been as the mom of a new 2LT to follow the Armor BOLC training via their Facebook group.  Bill snapped a quick photo of us together before the official luncheon began.

The Challenge Coin given to Dorie by Lt. Gen. Caldwell. Photo courtesy of Stanley Leary.

Lt. General Caldwell educated the gathering about the NATO mission in Afghanistan. The Vision as stated in his PowerPoint presentation is as follows “An Afghan National Security Force that transitions to full security lead in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.” He explained that the training of the police, Army, Air Force, medical staff and other services are key to transition.

Only 1 in 10 Afghan citizens is literate which means they need to educate people in basic reading and counting before they can take on certain tasks like inventory and training and eventually leadership.  So far, the NATO efforts there have brought 100,000 Afghans to some level of literacy –  50 percent of the military and police are now literate.  In answer to a question about whether the people of Afghanistan want them there, he replied, “They want  us there only as long as needed to help them take the lead.”

Flip side of the Challenge Coin. Photo courtesy of Stanley Leary.

After the Q&A period my friend Bill wanted to thank the general.  I stayed to take more photos. As it turned out, the general took photos with both of us.  He thanked me for coming to the luncheon and supporting my son.  I told him about Off the Base and the creator of the blog Bobbie O’Brien and her fellowship with the Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program.  When I told him I am on the board of  the nonprofit, Care For The Troops, and that after getting my master of divinity I found my calling is to educate people about traumatic stress, he told me his wife also has her M. Div. degree.

That is when something really neat happened.  He reached into his pocket and asked me if I knew what a military coin is.  I said yes. He then said, “You tell your son I gave this to you for supporting him.” He handed me a coin that reads:

For Excellence

Presented by

Commander

NATO Training Mission

Afghanistan

Yes, some days I have the opportunity to meet some very interesting and important people.  Today was one of those days.

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