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.

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Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The cadet leaders of The Citadel at a the Corps Day parade.

The Citadel is a “Leadership College.” I wasn’t sure what that meant until well into my son’s first year.  I went to a liberal arts university and the whole military college experience was foreign to me.  As I mentioned in my first entry, The Making of a Military Mom, when I don’t understand something I read about it and learn as much as I can to help take away the mystery so it ideally becomes less scary.

Senior Cadet Nelson Lalli leads the Bravo Company cadre into the barracks to meet the new cadet recruits.

During his first year, if I dared to question why something was done a certain way my son would reply, “Everything has a reason,” then he’d rattle off a list of things they do and the reason behind it.  Many of the tasks are designed to help them with skills they will need later in their careers. Memorizing certain facts and being able to report them at a moments notice in a military situation can be very important.

Between reading and talking with the parent volunteers with the Citadel Family Association, I started to gain insights into the leadership training model used at The Military College of South Carolina.

Another helpful experience was attending the Ethics Seminar my son attended Sunday mornings instead of chapel.  All first year cadets, or knobs as they are called, attended a religious service of their choice or they could attend the Ethics Seminar.  Our family belongs to a Presbyterian Church, and I am a seminary graduate. My son decided that first year at The Citadel that the Ethics Seminar was his choice.

On Parent’s Weekend that first year, when everyone was attending chapel or religious services with their son/daughter, I attended the Ethics Seminar with my son.  A retired Marine officer led the discussion that morning.  They discussed events of the past week. The cadets were asked to give examples of a situation with an upper class cadet officer and why they thought it was a good or poor example of leadership.  I was impressed with the level of thoughtful discussion and engagement the cadets had in the discussion.

Bravo Company cadre and the new cadet recruits march to their first meal in the Mess Hall.

When second semester started I began to learn about the cadet leadership model and how they go about becoming cadet officers.  The book “Sword Drill” by David Epps was very helpful for me understanding the thought process a cadet goes through when challenging themselves to reach for a position in the chain of command.

A real understanding hit me at the end of that first year.  My daughter and I went for a weekend visit.  We took my son and a friend out for brunch.  Toward the end of the meal my son and his friend began to discuss their week ahead.  They talked about the rank board meeting, the meeting where they are asked why they want to be a certain rank, their schedules, and how they had to proceed.  As I listened to their conversation it hit me.  These two college freshman were discussing their schedules like two young business men.  They weren’t talking about parties, or what class they would skip, but rather when the review board was rumored to be and what they had to do to prepare.

In the years after that first year, I’ve observed each new class go through the process of growing up and taking responsibility for their path at The Citadel. Not everyone wants to rise through the ranks. Some are senior privates.

The cadet leadership of Bravo Company signing up a new cadet on Matriculation Day.

Most cadets, even the ones who do not have rank, take on some type of leadership role during their time as cadets. They may be athletes,  involved with an academic or professional society, participate in an ROTC activity or other campus activites.

The graduates of The Citadel leave the school prepared to take on life’s challenges. As stated on the Leadership & Ethics section of their web site, “Graduates of The Citadel succeed because they know what it takes to meet a challenge in any field: “patience and persistence, discipline and determination, teamwork and hard work.”

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

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