The Citadel Ya-Yas become Military Moms

The Citadel Ya-Yas in March of 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

A year ago Monday, I wrote about the friends I made through the Citadel Family Association, The Citadel Ya Yas. We are a geographically diverse group of moms who met through our volunteer work and our mutual interest in supporting our children while they attended The Citadel. This group of friends continues to be a strong source of friendship, support and comfort. Between us we have children in the private sector, graduate school, and a few branches of the military. We are in touch through Facebook, email, and phone calls when really important events pop up.

The summer my son attended Leader Development & Assessment Course (LDAC), I found a another group of friends. Most of us have never met, or even spoken on the phone.  We are family members of the cadets who went through LDAC the summer of 2010. We met via the LDAC 2010 Facebook group.  We formed our own Facebook group and now support each other as our children become officers and go through the various stages of training and active duty.

ABOLC graduation. Dorie Griggs, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Chelle Leary, Taylor Lalli. Photo by Stanley Leary.

LDAC also maintains an excellent blog, Operation Warrior Forge, where they post photos and stories about the cadets at LDAC. I was able to watch the graduation in real-time via their live stream, WarriorForgeLive. The LDAC 2012 group should be up later this spring.

I am now on the steep learning curve now being the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I’ve learned about Fort Benning, the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC), the Armor Branch traditions, Airborne School, Ranger school, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and am now learning about Fort Stewart and the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. Each one of these groups has a Facebook page or group as well. I wrote blog entries about our experience at the Armor BOLC graduation and included links to the sites where I learned about their traditions. I also wrote about the Airborne School first jump and graduation.

Airborne School graduation, November 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

When my son went to Airborne school, I corresponded with other family members through the  US Army Airborne School, Fort Benning Facebook group. Some of us met at the Fryar Drop Zone or at graduation. We shared photos from the jumps we attended and even checked on each others’ soldiers. A few of us are now Facebook friends. The experience last fall helped me see the bond the families of active duty military members share.

I am finding that as the mother of a single soldier some information is harder to track down. The Family Readiness Groups seem to be geared more toward the married soldiers who have spouses with them on base to attend meetings and events. At least, this is my experience with a soldier who is not deployed. I was visiting the Fort Stewart site recently and saw a post about their redesign. I plan on sending in a few suggestions.

One of the stated goals of their new design from the feedback page: “We are aiming to be a model example for all other military websites to be based upon.” If you are the family member of a single soldier and have ideas to share, scroll to the bottom of this page and send in your suggestion.

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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.

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

Dorie's son, Nelson (center), poses with other ROTC cadets from his Regiment during the summer LDAC.

The cadets at The Citadel form a tight bond. And as I mentioned in the earlier blog How The Citadel Ya-Ya’s Came to Be, I found a group of good friends as well. Now that I’m making the mental transition from being the mom of a cadet to being the mom of an Army 2LT in less than five months, I’ve learned the network of mom’s only increases.

This past summer my son attended the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. About 6,400 Army ROTC cadets from around the country passed through LDAC last summer. LDAC is a 29 day leadership test. The ROTC cadets are graded on a series of challenges. That grade is added to the grade they receive from the ROTC program at their school.

Ultimately these scores and their grade point average and a few other factors will determine where they will be assigned within the Army after graduation.

The Public Affairs Office (PAO) there kept up a blog and a Facebook page to keep the parents, wives, husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends informed. They’d post updates on the schedule, information on how to send mail, photos from the various challenges and also provided live streaming of the graduation ceremony. This was my first introduction to the wider dimensions of being an Army family.

Cadets from 5th Regiment at their graduation ceremony. Photo by Jesse Beals.

I combed the blog and Facebook site daily looking for a photo of our cadet. For 29 days I had no sign of him. Then the day after graduation, they posted a photo of  the cadets marching to graduation. There he was on the far right in front carrying the Platoon Guidon!

I was introduced to parents across the country through the Facebook site. We had our own discussion group on the Facebook page for parents of cadets.  There were also discussion groups for spouses and girlfriends. It did appear the wives, moms and girlfriends were the most active on the discussion boards. An occasional dad would chime in. I also learned the Army is active in social media and several discussion boards are available.

The experience helped me see that the training my son received at The Citadel prepared him for the challenge of LDAC.  What I also realized is that The Citadel experience prepared me well to send him off to this challenge. It never occurred to me to be concerned whether he passed the PT test, as so many other parents on the boards were. The Citadel has a very rigorous program and physical training is one of my son’s real strengths.

The group photo is of 5th Regiment Platoon A posted by the PAO of LDAC at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

Many of the posts were of family members upset that they couldn’t talk to their cadet for most of the 29 day experience. The cadets’ phones are locked up the first few days and returned later. I had already gone through that communication shut down during the first week of my son’s first year and then again the year my son tried out for the Summerall Guards.

I don’t for one second equate what I went through as a parent supporting my son at The Citadel with the challenges of an Army ROTC cadet. And it is absolutely not in the same category as that of the parent of a deployed soldier.  However, I do see that being the parent of a Citadel cadet is great training for the tougher challenges of being the mom of a young Army officer.

Boy, did I need that training.  I had no idea at that time how useful all of those experiences would be later on for understanding, accepting and supporting a young Army officer. I am now very grateful to have been a distant companion to our son on the road less traveled.

Helpful links:

Leader Development and Assessment Course

Operation WarriorForge

Army Social Media Handbook 2011

Army Social Networks

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