Military Moms Most Memorable Moments in 2011

Chelle and Nelson in Charleston, September 2007.

A Sister, a Mom, a Family Prepares for Military Life” – Dorie Griggs.

It’s hard to believe in just over a month my oldest son will graduate from The Citadel. The time, for me at least, has flown by. Looking through photos from his college career, I’m forced to believe the time really has gone by.

Our daughter, Chelle, is the measuring stick. She was a little girl in 3rd grade when Nelson started his knob year (freshman).  She is now a young lady in 6th grade and about 12 inches taller. The photos tell the story best. During the 2007-08 school year she always brought a treasured stuffed animal on our visits to The Citadel. Now she brings a book.

Dorie Griggs knew little of military life until her son joined ROTC in high school. That’s when her education began and has not stopped since. She’s cheered him through four years and graduation at the Citadel and watched as he made his First Jump at the U.S.  Army Airborne School. Through her writing and photos by her husband Stanley Leary, Dorie has taken us along as she travels the unknown road as a military mom.

Tracie Ciambotti and her son, Joshua Nearhoof, Army Sergeant out of Fort Carson, September 2010.

An Army Mom Connects Military Families and Churches” – Tracie Ciambotti.

My son enlisted in the Army two days after graduating high school in June of 2005—five months later he was in Baghdad in the middle of a war.  He received the best training in the world for his new job as an Army infantryman; I however, did not receive any information or training for my new role as the mother of a soldier.  Families that have a loved one in the Armed Forces sacrifice and serve with their enlisted and they need support. 

I could not find one support group in the community or county where I lived in Pennsylvania at the time.  Most communities in this country have support groups for all kinds of things; alcoholism and drug addictions; cancer and many other diseases; crime victims; and many more. 

When Tracie Ciambotti couldn’t find a support group for military moms and families near her Pennsylvania home, she co-founded Military Families Ministry. She has generously contributed to Off the Base – writing about her experience as an Army Mom detailing the emotions of deployment but also the drive to provide soldiers and their families prayer and support.

Jared Agle's official US Marine Corps photo.

A Marine Mom Lets Go a Week Early” – April Agle.

… the Marines made their presence known in our lives. It became very clear that things were going to be different from now on.  Jared called me at work on Thursday, August 5th.  He had just received a call from his Marine recruiter that his departure date for boot camp had been moved up a week early to Sunday, August 9th.  Jared was asked if he could leave a week early.  As Jared said to me, “ I can’t say no mom.  I need to call him back and tell him okay”.  

I was proud of myself.  I told him to go ahead and call the Recruiter back and tell him that he would be ready to go.  I hung up with Jared. My heart was pounding so fast. I was in a panic.  My eyes teared up. I called Roger at work and told him.  I hung up with Roger and cried a bit.  I knew it was coming – I knew this day was coming.  I thought to myself, “the stupid military is already messing with my plans”. 

I thought I was ready for this and was finding that it was not true.  I knew I had to be strong.  I remember thinking that it is only boot camp, it’s not like he is going to war – At least not yet.

April Agle works in the business office at WUSF Public Broadcasting, where I work. She’s not only a colleague, she’s a friend. Her 17-year-old son, Jared, convinced her to sign the papers for the Marine Corps Delayed Enlistment Program while he was still in high school. I convinced April to write about the experience. I also had the privilege of interviewing Jared before and after boot camp in 2010. He’s now serving in Afghanistan.

Momma B tries out a flight simulator - three of her children are aviators in military service.

A Mom, 4 Kids, 4 Services: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines” – Momma B.

My mom radar was definitely on the blink. As an aviator’s mom (make that triple aviator’s mom ) I scan the news daily for any mention of a mishap that might remotely involve my boys or any of their compadres. And when a news crawl or Google alert pops up I am on the phone, if possible, checking  to make sure my kid is safely on the ground.

Such is the life of a military pilot’s mom. It doesn’t matter if they are deployed or not. Every day, they do battle with physics. My Marine in his F/18 defies gravity and the speed of sound, flying way too close to another airplane to make a mom comfortable. My P/3 NFO is up for hours in OLD airplanes-thankfully soon to be replaced. And my Army ROTC cadet in helicopters-those things fly way too close to the ground, don’t you think?

This Off the Base contributor goes by the nom de plume of Momma B on her blog: 4starmilitarymom. She’s mother to four children – all are in the military.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Nankervis.

Seven Is Too Young to Join the Army” – Lynn Nankervis.

Today I sat in an Army recruiter’s office while a camouflage-wearing, big-muscled, tough-talking soldier insisted my 7-year-old son was ready to serve his country by enlisting in the military.

Not really.

Sam is actually 17 years old, entering his senior year in high school and considering joining the Army under the Delayed Entry Program, essentially meaning he signs the papers now but doesn’t report to boot camp until after high school graduation next June.

But as I sat with my son in that office listening to the recruiter proclaim all the benefits of a military career, my mind flashed back to a front-toothless Sam at 7 asking me to take him to “McDongals” for a “mikswake.”

This is my baby, my first-born son. How is it possible he is old enough to be thinking about the military? He’s supposed to be playing cowboys and Indians, not defending his country. You can read the full blog entry HERE.

Lynn Nankervis originally wrote this for the Bloomingdale Patch. Her writing was so clear and insightful, I contacted Lynn for permission to re-use her column.  She also writes The Brady Bunch Plus One blog.

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Citadel Parent Crafts Her Own Graduation Ritual

Chelle, Nelson and Brian outside the Summerall Chapel before the commissioning practice, May 5. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

We just returned from commencement weekend at The Citadel. We arrived Wednesday night to prepare for several days worth of activities.  One thing about a military college, they have plenty of rituals to help the graduates and their families make the transition.

On Thursday, I began my own graduation ritual.  My daughter, Chelle, and I visited campus early to deliver small candy bowls and notes I had prepared for a number of people on campus who have been very helpful over the past 4 years.  It gave me the opportunity to say good-bye to these folks who answered scores of questions from me.

We ended up with a bonus visit with my son, Nelson, that morning.  I was driving down the Avenue of Remembrance in front of the chapel when 2 cadets were about to cross the road.  I waved them across but one started walking toward our car.  It was my son! After 4 years all cadets still look a like. The Army ROTC cadets were heading to the chapel for their commissioning service practice. They practice everything there before a big event.

Star of the West Finals. This event is the culmination of many hours of practice in rifle drill. The winner will be named the "Best Drilled Cadet" and will have his or her name inscribed on the Star of the West Monument located near the flagpole on Summerall Field. That cadet will also wear the Star of the West Medal. The ship, Star of the West, was fired upon by Citadel cadets in 1861. From Schedule of Events for The Corps of Cadets, http://www.citadel.edu. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

After delivering the candy Chelle and I watched the Star of the West Finals, a competition to find the best-drilled cadet. It’s one of the graduation week events I had never had the opportunity to see. An added bonus was getting to see a first year cadet whom I had spoken to by phone but never met in person. He was wearing the #1 out of over 20 contestants in the competition.

My cadet said he was not attending the awards convocation and the baccalaureate service that afternoon so we visited the gardens of Magnolia Plantation in the afternoon.  I had already been warned by my friend Loretta, the mom of a ’10 graduate, that the cadets try to get in as much time with their friends this last weekend so I knew to make some of our own plans. The evening was spent with the family of a fellow Citadel Ya Ya. We look forward to seeing the Reigerix family each time we are on campus.  My daughter was relieved to find out Rachelle is a rising senior cadet.  In her words, “Great now we have someone to visit next year!”

Nelson Lalli receives his bars from his father Blake Lalli (right) and his uncle, John Lalli, LT Col.(Retired) U.S. Army (left). Photo by Stanley Leary.

Friday morning, we attended the commissioning service for the Army ROTC cadets.  The ceremony started at 8:00 a.m. but we arrived at the chapel at 7:00 a.m. to make sure we had good seats. There were 97 cadets commissioned that morning so the chapel was packed with family and friends. It was a moving ceremony executed with military precision. My ex husband and his brother, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel pinned Nelson’s shoulder boards on during the ceremony. One of the most moving parts of the ceremony came when the cadets receiving their commissions took their oath.  From our seats I watched a sea of right hands in the air all wearing their Citadel ring.

2LT Nelson Lalli receives his first salute from SFC Keith Polidoro. Photo by Stanley Leary.

At the end of the ceremony, the newly commissioned second lieutenants went outside to meet up with their chosen non-commissioned officer to receive their first salute. Some new officers passed a silver dollar to the NCO.  Some NCO’s passed a challenge coin to the new officer. (One mother told me she ended up paying over $40 for the silver dollar for her son.) Of course handshakes, hugs and photos followed the event. A scene repeated throughout the weekend of events.

We had a quick visit with the president of The Citadel and his wife, Lt. Gen John Rosa and Donna, have been gracious hosts to all the parents over the years.  They have also visited Atlanta for the annual “Pre-knob” gathering the Atlanta Citadel Club host.

Dorie and Chelle visit with the president of The Citadel, Lt. Gen John Rosa and his wife, Donna. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Since the forecast called for rain in the afternoon about the time of the Long Gray Line parade I asked Lt. Gen Rosa what would happen in case of rain.  He told me that unless there was lightening, the parade would go on.  His words reassured me later that afternoon.

At noon we attended the reception for the new Lifetime members of the Citadel Alumni Association. We gave our son the membership for his graduation present. It was a wonderful event, not dampened a bit by the rain that started to fall as we arrived.

The 2012 Summerall Guards perform in honor of the Class of 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

At 2:15 we took our spot on Summerall Field to watch the 2012 Summerall Guards perform in honor of the Class of 2011. We made sure to take plenty of photos for our friends who could not be there to see their cadets perform. My son and his fellow 2011 Summerall Guard watched in appreciation. We all watched as the skies began to look ominous again.

As if on cue, the rain began after the Summerall Guard performance.  Scores of people were already in place for the Long Gray Line graduation parade that was scheduled for 3:00. People began to speculate that the parade would be cancelled, but I relayed what the president had told me earlier in the day.  Only lightening would keep the parade from happening. Scores of families kept glued to the radar on their smart phones.

Waiting in the rain for the Long Gray Line ceremony. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

We huddled under umbrellas, under trees and some just stood there and let the rain soak through their clothes. Hundreds of, if not a few thousand, people surrounded the field in what at times was a total downpour. All of us waiting to see the Class of 2011 form one long line and march away from their classmates and toward the reviewing stands and their family and friends.

I can’t think of another event that would keep people outside in such awful conditions. It was a moment worth getting totally soaked to watch. As the command was given, the cadets locked arms and marched forward.

Members of Bravo Company march forward as part of the Long Gray Line. Photo by Marty Viegas.

The rain slowed down to a drizzle and we could see the faces of the cadets beaming as they moved forward. We were told that 1st Battalion was a bit disruptive during their Long Gray Line practice.  They kept doing “the wave” while in line.  On Friday when they reached our side of the field shouts of, “Do the wave.” spread down the line. With the TAC officers monitoring the line, and the threat of not walking at graduation was held over their heads, they did not do the wave. 

The Class of 2011 wave to their companies at the end of the graduation parade. Photo by Marty Viegas.

They did however wave to their company mates across the field. The cadets also didn’t leave their shoes on the filed as I had seen done in 2008.  An assistant commandant told me that was not a sanctioned tradition and anyone seen leaving their shoes would not walk either. Handshakes, hugs, and photos again took place.

Chelle and Dorie congratulate the one of the newest Lifetime members of the Citadel Alumni Association. Photo by Stanley Leary.

We missed the reception at the president’s house so we could go to the hotel to dry off and relax. To my pleasant surprise Nelson came with us and stayed through dinner and to watch a Star Wars movie on TV before he left to attend a graduation party with his buddies.

Our 12 year old was thrilled as well.  She told me, “This is just like old times.” Up next – Part II Graduation day.

The members of Bravo Company Class of 2011.

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

Dedications Recognize Men of Service

Col. Merchant on the right receiving the Bronze Star.

Lake Renamed for “Bo”

The City of Tampa renamed the lake in Gadsden Park today after a Special Operations paratrooper who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea among many overseas assignments.

Known as “Bo,” Col. James L. Merchant III, 46, died in the Gadsden park lake during a training parachute jump in 2009.

A photo of Merchant on the river he loved from an online "legacy" dedicated to his memory.

He was commissioned in the Army through the Citadel ROTC program served more than two decades being awarded many honors including the Bronze Star, a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, a Meritorious Service Medal and the Joint Service Commendation Medal. He was stationed with the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base at the time of the accident.

An online “legacy” page dedicated to the memory of Col. Merchant stated that his favorite place in Tampa was on the river below his house. He is survived by his wife, parents and brother.

 

Veterans Museum to be Named after Rear Admiral

LeRoy Collins, Jr. at a Collins Center Board of Trustees meeting in Tampa, September 2009.

Next week, Hillsborough County’s Veterans Museum Building will be dedicated to the memory of Rear Adm. LeRoy Collins, Jr. who was killed earlier this year while riding his bicycle near downtown Tampa.

The dedication ceremony will recognize Collins’ life and accomplishments and is scheduled Dec. 8th at  2 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum, 3602 Hwy. 301 North, Tampa.

The son of a former governor and Florida native, LeRoy Collins, Jr. received his commission from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1956, and spent the next 10 years on active duty before transferring to the Navy Reserves. He retired from the Navy Reserves as a two-star Rear Admiral in October 1990.

In 2007, Rear Admiral Collins was appointed executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs where he was a fierce advocate on behalf of Florida’s more than 1.6 million veterans and their families.

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