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.

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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.

Celebration, Tradition, Ritual: The Long Gray Line

The Citadel Class of 2008 forms The Long Gray Line.

I’ve just lived the quickest 4 years of my life so far. I’m not sure that is how my son would put it however. As the mom of a cadet at The Citadel we’ve measured the past 4 years by how many Parents Weekends and Corps Day weekends have passed.  For the cadets going through the rigors of the 4th Class System and navigating the ins and outs of the cadet chain of command, I’m sure it has felt like every bit of 4 years.

Wednesday of this week marked the beginning of final exams for the cadets.  I sent a text to my son Tuesday to congratulate him on finishing his last class of his undergraduate career. I also asked if it felt strange.  His reply? “Yeah, weird.”

I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my lifetime. To help me cope with these transitions I’ve developed a few rituals. The changes we go through are a natural course of life, but for so many they signify a finality that is hard to bear. In my view, transitions, like graduation, are the happy changes of life and should be celebrated. It doesn’t mean that I won’t tear up next Friday at my son’s commissioning ceremony and the graduation parade which includes the Long Gray Line.

Toward the end of the final parade of the year, the graduating seniors are called out of their companies.  They line up shoulder to shoulder down the length of the parade field.  On command they march forward away from their companies and toward the review stands and their family and friends.  They leave their friends and move toward their new life as graduates. I watched this parade once my son’s knob (freshman) year. I’m sure I’ll have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as they move forward.  They will be tears of joy.

It took me 7 years to complete the course work for my master of divinity degree. My final semester at Columbia Theological Seminary I finally allowed myself to think about graduation.  Up to that point I was never sure if life circumstances (and finances) would allow me to complete the work and obtain my degree. Back then I had small little rituals to help me live into my graduation. I visited the web site of the church I was baptized in as an infant.  I sent notes to people who had helped me along the way.

The Class of 2008 as they cross the parade field.

To help get ready for my son’s graduation from The Citadel, I’ve developed other rituals.  One ritual is this blog. Writing these blog entries has helped me to document some of the lessons I’ve learned in the hope my experiences and insights may help other Citadel parents down the road. Another is a new group I posted to Facebook for parents of cadets on military contracts and parents of graduates with children in a branch of the military. With the advent of Facebook many parents of Citadel cadets have joined groups for parents of cadets.  The groups help us connect with each other, share photos and advice. This new group should serve in a similar capacity. Unlike the “regular” liberal arts university I attended, I’ve learned parents of cadets at military schools get to know each other.  If your child goes on to a military career, these friendships between parents continue. For that I am grateful.

I grew up in a family who celebrated milestones and achievements big and small.  I’ve continued that tradition with my children.  We have a celebration for goals achieved and special occasions.  For years, the end of the school year was celebrated with a sparkling cider toast and a small present.

Some graduating senior cadets kick off their shoes and leave them behind when they reach the end of their march across the field.

Next week will be the first college graduation I’ve been through with one of my children. To celebrate the achievement, I looked for just the right gift. A fellow Citadel parent named Paul T. who is also a proud graduate of The Citadel suggested a Lifetime Membership in the Citadel Alumni Association. Paul is also a veteran of the Army and had served in the Armor Branch after his graduation. He has been a tremendous resource for me, and scores of parents, the past several years. I’ve learned to take Paul’s advice.  After all, he was right when he suggested I give my son the movie “Patton” when he found out he would be in the Armor Branch.

I sent a text to Nelson last week to let him know about our graduation gift to him. He had already called on Easter Sunday but called again to say thank you. Two phones calls in one week from him is a record!

Looking ahead to next week, I’m excited more than sad. Yes, it is an ending to what has been a wonderful 4 years. It also marks the beginning of the next chapter in my son’s life. He’ll have a month before he reports to Ft. Benning to begin his training in the Armor Branch.

I will be spending time between now and next week’s ceremonies making some small tokens to present to the various people on campus who have been particularly helpful to me the past 4 years. Several people on campus have served as my “sources” and helped me learn what terms meant, or explained various traditions when I only got the short answers from my cadet.  It wasn’t me spying on him as much as me trying to learn in general about the process he was going through.

My son is being commissioned into the U.S. Army next Friday and graduating next Saturday. He’ll split his time between the friends he has made over the past 4 years and his family. I’ll split my time between seeing my son and the many friends I’ve made over the past 4 years. We are all richer for the experience.

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

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