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

How The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to Be

Visiting with the cadets from 1st Battalion on Matriculation Day. Dorie Griggs second from the left.

By Dorie Griggs

Parents of cadets at The Citadel are a special group of people. They help each other through the uncertainties of knob year and become friends for life.

The Atlanta Citadel Club had a “Mom’s Club” for years. The Mom’s Club was started by the wife of an alumnus who was also the mom of a cadet. The group acts like a support network for Georgia families. At the end of my son’s knob year, an email went out asking for volunteers to help since the current coordinator had a graduating senior. I volunteered assuming I would help an upperclassmen’s parent. As it turned out, two of us volunteered and we both had rising sophomore cadets.

With one year of experience as Citadel parents under our belt, we headed up the group. Our first official decision was to call ourselves the Georgia Citadel Parents Group to make sure the dad’s felt included.

Citadel Family Association volunteers help the arriving cadets and their families unload the cars.

Each spring, we set up two parent orientation days in June and attend the pre-knob dinner hosted by the Atlanta Citadel Club for the incoming first year cadets. At the orientation meetings, we review The Citadel’s list of items the cadets are required to bring.  We also go over the “Nice to Have List” the Citadel Family Association (CFA) has on its web site.  The new parents have a chance to ask questions and the parents of upper class cadets have the opportunity to share their tips on surviving the first year.

There are so many things to learn that having a group of parents who have been through it really helps the new parents. In addition to what items to pack, there are new terms to learn, traditions to understand and some cadets are on military contracts, which adds a whole different perspective to the regular college experience.

CFA volunteers visiting with parents as they wait for their cadets.

Getting a cadet ready to report is really a team effort, but as a leadership school, once the cadets arrive at the school the parent involvement really drops off. The cadets begin to take charge of their own experience and are responsible for letting their parents know what they may need. Generally speaking this involves support, reassurance, reminders of why they are there and some money in their Bulldog account every now and then. 

In addition to volunteering with the Georgia parents, I also became active in The Citadel Family Association.  The CFA volunteers are a big part of Matriculation Day, the day when first year cadets report.  The CFA volunteers wear blue shirts that day.  They are there to help the new parents navigate the stressful morning when you drop off your son or daughter.  As the new families arrive, the CFA volunteers help unload vehicles and support the parents as they wait for their cadet to go into the barracks to report for the first time. 

The families and volunteers carry everything into the barracks.

Many volunteers can be seen giving hugs and offering a tissue or two.  Dropping a child off for college is difficult, leaving them at a military college is a notch or two above difficult. The training I received in seminary in chaplaincy work came in handy when listening to stressed parents.

The morning ends with the president addresses the new parents followed by a barbecue lunch for the parents and CFA volunteers.
The best thing about my son’s sophomore year was the friendships I formed with other parent volunteers. We had a particularly close group of friends who met and worked together that year. We are spread across the country. Our cadets often times didn’t know each other, but that doesn’t matter. We became very close out of our shared love for our cadets.

We call ourselves The Citadel Ya-Yas. (I’m sure I’ll write more about this group of friends later.) We met while supporting each other through the leadership training our sons and daughters went through at The Citadel.  We now support each other as our children graduate, are commissioned and go on to jobs or training in the U.S. Military.  A few of the graduates are now deployed.

A few of The Citadel “Ya Ya’s” (plus a son of a Ya Ya) gather for a reunion and to show off our new shirts thanks to Kaye (Not pictured) March 2010.

Our children decided to take the road less traveled and attend The Citadel.  We supported our children and each other along the way and found lifelong friends in the process.

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



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

Cadet Lalli carries the Bravo Company Guidon for the graduation weekend parade, May 2008.

By Dorie Griggs

Before the first year cadets report, parents are told that their sons and daughters cannot call home their first week. The first week is their immersion into the life of a cadet, which means they have no contact with anyone outside The Citadel. For many parents, and I am one of them, it seems like the longest week of your life.

The first email I received came in at 10:35 PM Saturday night the week after we dropped our son off.  I remember being paranoid and thinking, “Oh no, the cadre have his Yahoo account login info.” I hadn’t expected to get a note so soon.

Dorie, Chelle and Nelson get to congratulate Nelson at the end of the Recognition Ceremony.

His note was short but reassuring. It went something like this, “Hell week was hell. I miss you. Don’t let me quit. Thanks for the candy, keep sending me stuff.”  To make sure his mailbox wasn’t empty his first time there I had sent a funny card with some small candy inside the envelope.

I was filled with mixed emotions. Proud of his determination, but I really missed him.

One thing I learned quickly though, a military school is a “No Fly Zone” for “Helicopter parents.”  Once you drop off your son or daughter it is up to them to forge their own path.  If a parent tries to intercede on their child’s behalf, it will only reflect poorly on the cadet.

Since my son had me convinced that I would jeopardize his entire career if I asked too many questions, I learned the school web site inside out and back wards.  I also learned to ask the volunteers with the Citadel Family Association (CFA) questions.  They are parents of upperclass cadets who volunteer their time to help the new parents navigate the system.

The new clerks learn how to carry the company Guidon before their march to Marion Square photo of cadet in square holding flag standard.

The first few months the school photography site would post photos taken throughout the day/week. A group of parents from Georgia would check each day and alert each other if we saw our cadet. You learn quickly that all cadets look alike. Their hair was all gone, and they all wear the same uniform. The first photo of my son was of him in a short line of cadets.  He had spotted the photographer and was looking directly at him.  He had a cocky smirk on his face.  I knew then he was going to be fine.

Only after trying to find out information through web searches did I resort to calling a school department to ask a clarifying question, usually about a term my son used that I couldn’t find the meaning to and then I made sure the call was anonymous, not giving my name or my son’s name.

One case was when my son wrote a short note very excited that he finished his paperwork to get his “Black Badge.”  I had no idea what that meant and couldn’t find a reference to a Black Badge anywhere.  His JROTC teacher didn’t know either.  I finally called the ROTC office to find that the Black Badge is what Army scholarship cadets receive when their paperwork is in order.  The Knobs that year had a competition among themselves to see who would get their paperwork in first.  Apparently my son was one of the first to complete it that fall. The competitive nature of the cadets became clear to me early in that first year.

The Bravo Company Class of 2011 cadets retake their Cadet Oath after marching to Marion Square.

By the end of Knob year, with the help of the parent volunteers with The Citadel Family Association (CFA); the book, “In the Company of Men” by the first female graduate of The Citadel, Nancy Mace; and several other books and conversations, I began to understand the language of The Military College of South Carolina.

Some of the terms I learned: First year cadets are called Knobs because their heads are shaved and they look like door knobs; SMI means Saturday Morning Inspection; gawdy Knob means someone is a bit cocky; roaching means you are trying out for a position in the cadet chain of command.

I did a “brain dump” of all the new terms and information I had learned the first year with the hope of helping other new parents as they entered this new world. The CFA posted a modified version of my list to their web site last year under “CFA Benefits” and titled it “One Mother’s Experience” – “Survival Tips.”

The biggest day in the life of a Knob at The Citadel is Recognition Day.  That is the day the Knobs are recognized as full members of the Corps of Cadets and called by their first names for the first time by the upperclass cadets.  The morning of challenging physical activity culminates in the announcement in each of the barracks, “The Fourth Class System is no longer in Effect.”

The Knobs of Bravo Company in their dress whites, Corps Day Weekend, 2008.

My daughter and I drove to Charleston that weekend.  Not with the intent on spending time with our cadet, but to see the former Knobs march into Marion Square to retake their cadet oath. We arrived on campus early that Saturday and stopped by the barracks to peek through the sally port gates.  We had the added bonus of seeing our cadet as he practiced for his new role of carrying the Guidon for Bravo Company as one of their new clerks.

As my son finished his first year at the Citadel, it was apparent how much he had grown and learned from this uncommon college experience. I too had grown and learned so much and was heading toward fluency in cadet speak and had gained a deep respect for The Citadel and the Fourth Class System.

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

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