Survival Skills to Succeed as a Citadel Mom

Recognition Day for the Class of 2014 at The Citadel is this Saturday, April 16. As I wrote earlier, this is the best day in the life of a first year cadet, or knob as they are called.

Readying for the cadets to arrive in Marion Square, the original site of The Citadel in Charleston. Reenactors are dressed in the uniform of the original cadets. The building in the background is the original site of the school.Now, it is an Embassy Suites Hotel.

It is the day that marks the end of the 4th Class System and the knobs become full members of the Corps of Cadets.  It is a day that begins with several hours of physical challenges, followed by a period of being “recognized” –  called by their first name for the first time. In the afternoon the first year cadets march to Marion Square, the site of the original Citadel, to retake their cadet oath.

Over the past five years or so an increasing number of parents and family members head to Charleston to watch the proceedings of the day from a distance. Alumni from the school tell me that wasn’t done when they were cadets. Like most things in life, traditions change.

The first year cadets arrive on Marion Square and prepare to re-take their cadet oath.

The number of emails I’m receiving from first year parents indicates that quite a few parents will attend the events this year too. The big question I’ve been asked is, “What is the schedule for the day.”

I learned very early in my son’s tenure at The Citadel that you can find the answer to most questions by searching the web site.  Scheduling questions are usually answered on the “Office of the Commandant” page under “Operations and Training.” Recognition Day 2011 is no different. The full schedule for the day is available there in PowerPoint format.

Members of Bravo Company Class of 2011 re-take their cadet oath.

Parents who really want to learn about the training their cadet receives can check out the “Training” section of the Office of the Commandant page.

You may wonder how I learned about all this. The answer is I’m curious plus I have a son who doesn’t tell me much.  If I want to learn about the school and his training, I have to find out on my own. The good news is, after talking with other parents, I found I wasn’t alone!  Many of my Citadel Ya Ya friends helped fill in the blanks when I didn’t know about certain traditions or events.

I’m beginning to learn about resources for Army parents like the web site Go Army Parents and Blue Star Mothers for mothers of active duty military members.

Our children may be the ones at the leadership school and going into the military, but their parents helped give them the skills necessary to succeed;-)

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The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Bravo Company cadets retake the Cadet Oath on Marion Square the historic site of The Citadel.

Cadets at The Citadel don’t show much emotion. There are two times in the last four years that I’ve seen my son and his classmates show shear joy, Recognition Day and Ring Weekend.

Recognition Day is the biggest day in the life of a first year cadet, or Knob as they are called. This day is the official end of the Fourth Class System. They cease being Knobs and are full members of the Corps of Cadets. The freshmen are recognized by the upperclassmen, being called by their first names for the first time since they arrived at The Citadel.  They no longer have to address the upperclassmen as Mr. or Ms. (although this can take some getting used to.)

Cadet Nelson Lalli After being Recognized with his mother, Dorie Griggs and sister, Chelle.

On the designated morning, the first year cadets and the upperclassmen get up early and do a series of tough physical training exercises.  The morning ends with each company in the barracks. The Knobs do a series of push ups then crawl to the company Guidon and repeat the cadet prayer together. They then stand together and hear the announcement over the loud speakers that ends with “The Fourth Class System is no longer in effect.” 

I’m told the emotions run very high and many cadets have tears of joy, relief and pride streaming down their faces. After a BBQ lunch in the barracks, they get ready for their march to Marion Square, the site of the original building of The Citadel to repeat the Cadet Oath.

My son’s Knob year my daughter and I went to Charleston to watch the march into Marion Square. We arrived on campus just in time to peer through the sally port, the gateway entrance in to the barracks, to hear the announcement. Some parents and family members had been there all morning watching from a distance. As we got ready to leave for Marion Square, we caught a glimpse of Nelson and other Bravo Company cadets practicing with the Guidon. As one of the new company clerks he would carry the Guidon in front of the company during parades.

Senior Cadet Nelson Lalli receives his ring. Photo by Stanley Leary.

He actually had a minute to run out and take photos with us, which we were extremely surprised (and happy) about since we were told that the cadets would have little if any time with their family this day. A huge grin across his face.

Three years later I saw that joy in his face again as he and the other senior cadets received their rings. Unlike other colleges, cadets at The Citadel earn the right to wear the ring. They must meet the strict guidelines for grades, discipline, etc. before they can get their ring. To understand the significance of the ring you really need to spend time with the cadets. You can get a glimpse of the significance of the Band of Gold to the graduates by reading Pat Conroy’s commencement address from 2001. I can’t read this speech without tearing up.

Bravo Company seniors show off their new rings. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Just a few months ago, we prepared to travel to Charleston to watch as our cadet and his classmates received their rings on a Friday afternoon. Since my husband, Stanley, is a photographer, Nelson asked if he’d  take photos as the cadets ran back into the barracks with their rings to toast each other in front of the company letter. Stanley was given permission to be in the Battalion from the 1St Battalion TAC officer, the staff person who oversees the each company and the barracks. My daughter and I watched from the side gates.

Cadet Nelson Lalli escorts his mother, Dorie Griggs and his date, Leslie Manzano. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Up until a few years ago, the cadets received their rings in the Summerall Chapel. The shear number of people attending led the ceremony to be moved to the McAlister Field House.  Once the cadets get their rings and are dismissed, they run out of the field house, across the parade field to the Chapel, then back to their Battalion to toast each other. They then emerge from the Battalion grinning ear to ear with their right hand held to display their new class ring. It is the first time I’d really seen so many cadets exude shear joy.  That joy lasted throughout the weekend.

One last tradition around Parents/Ring Weekend is the Ring Ceremony that takes place Friday evening. The cadets escort their mother and a date or other family member through a giant replica of the Ring and through the Junior Sword Arch as the name of the cadet and the people being escort are announced. As a Mom, it was one of those moments where I was grinning ear to ear, very proud of my son and his accomplishments.

Dorie Griggs and her father, L.M. Griggs in 1980 at her Junior Ring Dance.

That evening I was brought back memories for me of an evening thirty years before at my Junior Ring Dance. I was escorted by my father down the grand staircase of the Jefferson Hotel as the Class of 1981 of Westhampton College of the University of Richmond was presented.  My mother died when I was pregnant with Nelson and my father died a few years later.  They would have been so proud of their grandson.  In a very real way, I felt that I represented our whole family that evening last fall.

It’s so fun to look through the photos from that weekend.  The shear joy of the cadets, their families and friends come shining through. One photo struck me as I reviewed the scores Stanley had taken.  After they toasted each other and threw the glasses at the company letter and then took a photo in front of the Bravo Company letter, the seniors of Bravo Company gathered in a tight circle with their right hands in front of them, bowed their heads and repeated the cadet prayer, like they had done three years before on Recognition Day.

Bravo Company seniors gather together to recite the Cadet Prayer. Photo by Stanley Leary

video: The Citadel, Golf Company Recognition Day 2009

Previous entries by Dorie Griggs:

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: 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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