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.

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Citadel Mom Cycle Completed – A Blue Star Mom Emerges

The Bravo Company sophomore clerks stand behind the first sergeant, a junior, as a knob checks in on Matriculation Day 2010.

It’s been a month since we were in Charleston for our son’s commissioning service, the Long Gray Line graduation parade, and then graduation. Since that event filled weekend, there have been many new experiences. The most significant for me: passing along my contact lists and notes from the past three years as the coordinator of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group.

The new coordinator is Lynda Goodfellow. Her son, Niles, is a rising sophomore. Lynda will do a terrific job making sure the new families are informed of the new life their child is entering.

Passing along the information is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I know the friendships I have formed the past four years will continue, but I’ll miss the regular contact with the school, the families and regular visits to Charleston to take part in the various big weekends. The role of coordinator and also, for the past 2 years, Area Rep coordinator for the Citadel Family Association felt more like a calling to me.

I have a master of divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. During my time there, I took a number of classes in pastoral care and clinical pastoral education, which is the training you go through to be a chaplain. In many ways, I used what I learned in seminary to be a supportive caring presence to the families I came into contact with the past several years.

Writing for the Off the Base blog has helped me ease into the eventual graduation of my son and his move into his new role as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. By writing down what I’ve learned, I hope to help future classes of Citadel cadets and their parents navigate the fourth class system.

Dorie and Nelson pose in front of Murray Barracks after the Class of 2011 receive their rings. Photo by Stanley Leary.

By the number of hits the most recent entry, A Letter to The Citadel Class of 2015, is receiving, I can tell the preparation for Matriculation Day has begun. The official information for the Class of 2015 has not been posted yet, but that doesn’t keep incoming cadets and their families from searching for all the advance information they can find. The Success Packet from 2014 can be found online, but will be revised for 2015.

All academic institutions have their cycles. For military schools in particular, the cycles are very predictable. Beginning in late April and going through July, families begin the preparation process of sending their student off to become a cadet.

Some parents begin to do their own research. Since my name remained on the Citadel Family Association web site as a contact, I have received emails and phone calls for the parents doing the early research. I’m sure the new contacts in each position are now getting the early inquiries too.

In the next few months the Class of 2015 will be (or SHOULD BE) running, doing push ups and sit ups in preparation for Matriculation Day in August.

The rising 3rd Class cadets, or sophomores, are looking forward to not being a knob. Some are preparing for their new role as part of the cadet command system, attending various military camps, and in general enjoying their summer.

The rising 2nd class cadets have similar outlook, but they know they will have even more privileges and will have more responsibility in the cadet command. The juniors who have set their sights on becoming a Bond Volunteer Aspirant and eventually a member of the Summerall Guard silent drill platoon, are spending their summer working out (or SHOULD BE) to prepare for the tough year ahead. These cadets have a tough road ahead of them.  They will hold rank which is like having a full-time job outside of their class work, and they are treated like knobs by the current Summerall Guards.

The rising 1st Class cadets spend their summers looking forward to the day in the fall when they receive their rings, one of the best days in the life of a cadet. If they are on an Army ROTC scholarship, many will attend the Leader Development Assessment Course (LDAC) held each year at Joint Base Lewis McCord. There are other training courses and events for all the branches of the military. The cadets who are not entering the military begin to see their time as a student is coming to an end and begin to focus their energy and thoughts to what they will do in the “real” world after graduation.

Each step of this process means the cadets and their parents and guardians are learning their new and changing roles. It’s a time of life when our role as parents shift a bit. We are about to watch our children launch from adolescence into full adulthood. Some will make that transition completely for others it will be more gradual.

The Griggs/Leary Family attend the annual “Roswell Remembers Memorial Day” celebration. Dorie, left, with daughter, Chelle. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In the past month, my son attended at least three weddings of his classmates with more on the horizon. Some former classmates are still hunting for jobs. Most are beginning to realize they spent four years looking forward to graduation and now they miss their classmates and the life they complained about for those four years.

My son reported to Ft. Benning May 30, Memorial Day. He is living in an apartment complex in Columbus, Georgia where at least 20 other classmates from The Citadel are also living. Each young man is serving in the Infantry or Armor branch of the Army.

We spent our Memorial Day morning at a large ceremony in our hometown. I met several other Blue Star Mothers that day. When the national anthem was played, we all stood with our hands over our hearts and tears in our eyes. I’ve attended this ceremony before and didn’t feel as connected to it as I do now.

The cycle continues. As the cadets and their parents prepare for the next school year, I’m moving on from my role as a support person to Citadel parents, to a student of how to be a supportive parent to an officer in the U.S. Army. I know this next role will last a lot longer than the previous one.

A Letter to The Citadel Class of 2015

Cadet Nelson Lalli spraying knob, Jason Mag, prior to the parade. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Dear Class of 2015 (your parents and family),

Congratulations on your graduation from high school. In a few months you will begin your journey on the road less traveled by entering your knob year at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

My son just graduated from The Citadel, May 7.  Since I made a study of the cadets, the fourth class system, and the school the past four years, I thought I’d offer you a few tips in the spirit of Mary Schmich’s 1997 column, Advice, Like youth, probably just wasted on the young.

In her column, Schmich begins with two words, “Wear sunscreen.” To The Citadel Class of 2015 (and their parents), I say:

Wear Insect Repellant.

Yes, sunscreen is good too, but for the many hours you will spend on the parade deck near the marshy waters of the Ashley River with gnats or no-see-ums swarming around you, insect repellant will become your best friend.

Exercise.

Many would be cadet recruits (first year students) burn out the first few weeks because they did not do the physical training required before reporting on Matriculation Day. You’ll need to meet the minimum requirement for sit-ups, push-ups and the 2-mile run.  If you are on a military contract, your goal should be to meet or exceed the maximum required.

The knobs doing push-ups during Parents Weekend of my son's first year at the Citadel. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Break in your shoes.

The plain toe black oxfords, boots and your running shoes should be worn daily throughout the summer to break them in and to help avoid the blisters that will come from walking, running and exercising in your shoes. First year cadets, or knobs, do a “Knobbie walk” of 120 paces a minute.  That will take a toll on your feet too.

Be the “Ghost knob.”

Do what you are supposed to do. Don’t raise your profile with the upper-class cadets.

Be a team player.

In addition to doing what you are supposed to do; i.e. keep a neat appearance, keep your room in order, keep up your physical training; make sure you support your fellow knobs.

Keep your grades up.

Yes, you are in college. Some cadets make the critical error of putting all their time into the military aspect of life at The Citadel. Ultimately though, your success in the Corps of Cadets and in life after school will be determined by your grades. To be a cadet officer, you should keep your grades up. The military also factors your grades in when determining your assignment post graduation.

My son's room during knob year. They always received outstanding room during inspections. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Keep your parents informed.

You are the one going through the tough challenge, but your parents are your biggest supporters. When they ask you questions, be polite and answer them. Email, Skype, and call as you can. (Parents Note: their time is not their own, so wait until they contact you.)

Notes to the Parents of Incoming Knobs:

I call The Citadel a No Fly Zone for Helicopter Parents. This is your cadet’s time to take responsibility for himself or herself. Leave it up to them to take care of matters relating to their schooling and education when ever possible

Learn the web site. Most of what you want to know can be found there, including the training modules for hell week and other times during the year.

Take lots of photos. The time will fly by.

Join the Facebook groups for your cadet’s battalion and/or company.

Email or call the Citadel Family Association representative for your cadet’s Company, battalion or the area you live in.  They can be a tremendous resource for advice and support.

Bring a book to campus when you visit knob year. The knobs never know exactly when they can leave the barracks.  Be prepared to wait. Use this time to read or better yet, get to know the other parents waiting. You’ll see them on big weekends all four years.

Book mark this blog entry and refer to the links throughout the year:

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

To read more about my journey through the four years of The Citadel’s Fourth class system, read my previous entries in order, starting with:

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

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

The Citadel Bond Renews Parents’ Long Time Friendships

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

A Sister, a Mom, A Family Prepares for Military Life

Survival Skills to Succeed as a Citadel Mom

A New Blue Star Mom Shows Supports for Fallen Soldier

Celebration, Tradition, Ritual: The Long Gray Line

Citadel Parent Crafts Her Own Graduation Ritual

Graduation Day: No Longer the Mother of a Cadet

And parents, Wear Insect Repellant during your visits too.

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

I really thought I’d be more emotional this past weekend. It was Corps Day Weekend.  The weekend when The Citadel celebrates it’s founding. During this weekend the Summerall Guards change to the new class of cadets and the Citadel Family Association holds its final meeting of the academic year.

The Citadel Family Association area representatives representing: Georgia, Florida, California, Massachusetts and New York. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It normally doesn’t take much for a tear to come to my eye.  Given this weekend of good-byes, I really thought I’d need a whole box of tissues. It didn’t turn out that way. Friday afternoon, I attended the Citadel Family Association meeting. I’ve served as the Cadet Recruitment and Retention Coordinator this past year and this meeting is when I introduced the new coordinators.

Seeing so many parents whom I now call friends out weighed my grief over leaving this chapter of my life. I had a great time seeing; and in some cases meeting face-to-face for the first time, parents I’d worked with via Facebook and email the past year or so. It was so much fun seeing everyone that I didn’t dwell on the fact that I may not see them again.  With Facebook and email, I know I’ll continue to be connected and in touch via cyber space.

Shamus Gillen of The Citadel Admissions office presents Dorie Griggs with a Recognition Award for her volunteer service. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Friday night was also a celebration. We went to dinner with two other families and their cadets.  My son is a 2011 Summerall Guard from Bravo Company.  Their sons were incoming 2012 Summerall Guards, also from Bravo Company. This dinner wasn’t about good-byes but rather celebrating the achievements of our sons.

Saturday morning was the real test.  It was the time I came the closest to shedding a tear. In a very formal ceremony on the parade field the 2011 Summerall Guards passed their rifles to the 2012 Summerall Guards.

Cadet Nelson Lalli (second from left) and the 2011 Summerall Guards prepare to pass their rifles to the 2012 Summerall Guards. Photo by Stanley Leary.

My son would pass his rifle to his good friend.  As the time approached for the exchange I could feel the emotion and the tears begin to well up. Seeing the beaming parents of the 2012 Bond Volunteers as they marched on to the field to become the 2012 Summerall Guards kept me from dwelling on the sadness of an ending.

Good friends, 2011 Summerall Guards, Matt Spysinski, Nelson Lalli, James Harrell before the rifle exchange. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I refocused on the thrill of seeing the 2012 Summerall Guards perform the Citadel series for the very first time in front of an audience. Last year I was so happy for, and proud of our 2011 Summerall Guard I was smiling not crying.  It was a fun day that began with the rifle exchange and continued when we joined the other 2011 families at a luncheon and had the opportunity to purchase our “Summerall Guard Parent” t-shirt.

Saturday evening was time for more celebration, and probably the reason I did not become as emotional as I thought I would over this last Corps Day as the mom of a cadet. We spent the evening with several friends who are parents of graduates of The Citadel. I was the only one there with a cadet still in school. 

The 2011 Citadel Ya Ya’s reunion, plus friends. Photo by Stanley Leary.

These wonderful folks, part of the Citadel Ya Ya’s, traveled great distances so we could all have time to visit and catch up. Through this group, I’ve learned that just because your son or daughter graduates you don’t have to say good-bye to the wonderful friends you’ve made.

In a way, it must be how the cadets feel.  They may be separated by military service, job transfers, etc., but they share the common experience and bond that no one will ever break. Our cadets wear the Ring, and we share in their triumph and dear friends we have made over these last four years and the heartstrings that will always keep us connected.

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

As we get closer to my son’s graduation in May, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I’ve learned about The Citadel and being a supportive parent to a cadet in this leadership school.  I thought I’d share a few of my insights in the hope that a parent just starting their journey will find these insights helpful.

Matriculation Day morning, families wait by their cadets boxes as the cadets check-in.

If you don’t have a Facebook page, get one. Once you are set up, join the group for your cadets battalion. You can find it by searching “Citadel (enter 1st – 5th) Battalion Parents Group.” Also, join the page for “The Citadel External Affairs” for regular campus updates and photos.

The best gift you can give your cadet is to learn as much as you can about the school and the process so you can be an encouraging presence to them. Reading the various sections of the school website is a great start.

Remember, once they are on campus as a first year cadet, or knob, they are not in control of their time.  YOU have to defer to THEIR instructions about when and where to meet and what they want to do.

First year cadets wait to be processed in by Bravo Company.

The best gift you can give your cadet before they report is to help them purchase all the items they will need as listed in the Success Packet and Nice to Have lists. The lists are updated each year around May/June.  Make sure you have the most up-to-date information. Differ to your cadet on what items they want on the “Nice to Have” list. This may be the hardest lesson for the parents. You must begin to allow your child to make their own decisions.

Encourage your cadet to be fully prepared to report by doing physical training daily before Matriculation Day. If they can meet or exceed the physical training requirements prior to Matriculation Day, they will be better off. Each year they post a Physical Fitness Information packet.  Read it thoroughly.

Read the Parent Tips for unofficial advice on preparing to report to Matriculation Day.

Make sure the black leather oxfords, military boots, and athletic shoes are fully broken in prior to Matriculation Day.

Buy thick white socks and black socks. Don’t spend much on the sheets for their bed.

You do not have to mark their clothes/belongings before they arrive. They will learn the system to mark their things after they report.

The initial check-in desk at 1st Battalion.

The best way to learn about the school is read through the website. If you ever have a question about he school and the process, you can always contact the Ombudsperson’s office for a confidential conversation. The Cadet Activities office is very helpful for information about special weekends.

Do not send large boxes of goodies. You can order free boxes from usps.gov – #01096L will fit into their mail box and is the size of a book when they put it in their “Knobbie bag,” a brief case like book bag.

The A-Z search and the Search window on the main website are terrific tools.

Become familiar with ALL the information on the Office of the Commandant website page. The yearly planning calendar, training schedules, regulations, and a flow chart of the promotions process can be found here.

The big weekends for visits during the year are Parents Weekend, Homecoming, Corps Day Weekend and Graduation Weekend.  You can learn about the history of each on the web site. Learn the traditions of the school: Alma Mater, Cadet Prayer, Citadel Code, Knob Knowledge, The Ring.

Do not listen to rumors and hearsay.  If your cadet does not have first hand knowledge of a situation, do not become worried about a story.  If at any time you are concerned about a story, call the Ombudsperson’s office for clarification.

After checking in with their company, first year cadet recruits pick up their new, “Knobbie” clothes, as modeled by the cadet in navy blue.

Learn how to read the training schedule and you won’t need to ask as many scheduling questions.

Have your own copy of The Guidon.  It will help you learn about what your cadet is going through. You can download it from the website or purchase a copy at the campus bookstore.

The book “In the Company of Men” by Nancy Mace gives you a terrific overview of knob year and the terms you’ll hear from your cadet.

Don’t be in a rush when you visit.  The knobs are not in control of their time.  Bring a book and just be happy to see them when they can meet you.

The Citadel Family Association (CFA) volunteers are fellow parents.  Email or call them for support as you learn the system.  They are all parents of cadets who have gone through what you are going through.  They can help you understand the system. Each Company/Battalion and Area of the country has a volunteer you can contact.

The CFA web site is a great resource especially the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section.

See the links below for other entires by Dorie Griggs:

The Making of a Military MomMom Readies for Son’s Military College

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering ParentsHow The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to BeLearning Leadership and Ethics at The CitadelThe Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

The Citadel Bond Renews Parents’ Long Time Friendships

In two months, my son will graduate from the Citadel and also be commissioned as a 2LT in the Army. I find myself filled with a jumble of emotions. While he has been the one to endure the many challenges of the 4th Class System and succeed, I feel like I’ve gone through my own type of training.

Long time friends reunite, L-R Doug Christ, Michelle “Chelle” Leary, named for Michelle “Chelle” Chaudoin, Gwen Lynch Christ, Dorie Griggs.

After a recent conversation with a Brigadier General, I realize my training as an Army mom began when my son was in JROTC in high school. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with the General on the transport train at the Atlanta airport. I made a joke of how I have found ways to learn about the Army training, much to the chagrin of my son. The General laughed and said HIS mother still has her ways to find out things about him.

I know I’m not alone in wanting to learn about the process to better understand and support my son. My years as a volunteer in the Citadel Family Association and with the Atlanta Citadel Club’s parent group has proven that you should never underestimate the abilities of a mother to support their children. I made some wonderful friends the past several years. As I wrote about in a previous post, The Citadel Ya-Ya’s continue to be a source of friendship and support even after many of the group now have graduates of The Citadel.

There are so many neat friendships that I can’t list them all. A couple of people really do stand out though because I’ve been reunited with long time friends through our cadets.

Last year some time in the early fall, I received an email asking if I am the same Dorie Griggs that went to Sparta High School in Sparta, NJ. I am. The note came from a long time friend Gwen Lynch Christ.  It turns out her oldest son was a knob (first year cadet) last year. She saw my name of some Citadel Family Association correspondence and had to reach out.

Friends Gwen, Chelle and Dorie from 1979. Five months later, May 4, 1980, Chelle Chaudoin died in an airplane collision.

The last time I remember seeing Gwen was in December of 1979.  We were at our friend Chelle Chaudoin’s house. I’ve had a photo of us from that night on my desk for almost 30 years. Our friend Chelle died 5 months after the photo was taken in an airplane collision while she was at Arizona State. Chelle’s mother put the photo in a collage for me with a few other photos.

As life happens, I was in school in Virginia and rarely went back to NJ to visit. Gwen stayed in the north to finish school, work, marry, and raise her family. Here we are 30+ years later in regular contact because of our children. Gwen’s son Andrew is also in the Army ROTC at The Citadel, so we are both future Army moms too.

Years ago, I met a great friend when by the luck of the draw she was assigned to my younger son as his occupational therapist. Marie McKenzie Dopson worked with Taylor for a few years. We developed a friendship, but after Taylor no longer needed therapy on a regular basis, we saw each other less often.

Bravo Company Moms, Dorie Griggs and Marie McKenzie Dopson.

Well this past summer, I found out we’d be in touch regularly again when Marie’s son’s name appeared on the list of incoming knobs at The Citadel. Marie attended the orientation I hosted in June for incoming knobs. We marveled how life has a way of bringing friends together, but we had no idea what would happen in just a few months.

Marie’s son was assigned to the same company as my son. On Matriculation Day, the day first year cadets report, I told my son he knew the mother of one of the knobs. (Nelson would attend the therapy sessions with his younger brother years ago.) Apparently my little heads up to Nelson didn’t register. About a month later during a brief phone call, Nelson told me he selected his new knob mentee.  His name is Dopson, he said.  He is Marie’s son! The mentoring relationship solidifies friendships between cadets. Our sons will be friends for life, therefore connecting us as well.

The ties between the cadets at The Citadel are very strong. No one else besides the graduates who wear the ring can truly understand the bond that is formed from that shared experience.

The parents of the cadets may understand that bond better than anyone.

Previous posts by Dorie Griggs:

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

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

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