The Citadel: BVA’s and Summerall Guards

2012 BVA’s on a training run. (Photo by OttoFocus Photography)

I admit it; I didn’t understand why my son, or anyone else for that matter, would want to go to a military college.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Citadel Year One A No Fly Zone for Hovering parents, I’ve learned a lot about the students who choose this type of experience. Although I couldn’t quite understand his motivation, I accepted his decision and learned how to support him.  He is in a leadership school and learning to set goals and attain them is part of that process.

2011 BVA’s in 1st Battalion.

After a few years of reading books about The Citadel and other military schools I concluded that there is a personality type that needs to challenge him/herself in this way: A conclusion that was affirmed by a renowned expert in resiliency in the military Special Forces, Dr. Steven Southwick of  the Yale School of Medicine.  I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Southwick at a conference at the Carter Center called When Veterans Come Home. When I shared my observation with Dr. Southwick he said, “You are exactly right.  The soldiers in the Special Forces are very competitive, but they are competitive with themselves.”

This conversation with Dr. Southwick took place in January of 2010.  January and February historically are the toughest months of the year for first year cadets at The Citadel and juniors who are trying out for the elite precision drill platoon called the Summerall Guards.

The 2011 Summerall Guards perform at halftime Parents Weekend, October 2010 (Cadet Nelson Lalli to the far right). Photo by Stanley Leary.

It took me almost three years to understand why my son wanted to go to The Citadel. It took me even longer to understand why he wanted to try out for the Summerall Guards.

The Summerall Guards are revered at the school and, I’m told by residents, also in South Carolina. According to The Citadel web site the Summerall Guards are, “first-class (senior) cadets who go through a rigorous physical training and initiation process and are chosen for their physical stamina and drill proficiency.”

The 3rd class (junior) cadets who set their sights on becoming Summerall Guards are called Bond Volunteer Aspirants (BVA’s). I had to read up on all of this history to really learn what it was all about.  During campus visits the first couple of years I heard stories of how rigorous and difficult it is to train to be a Summerall Guard. The cadets don’t talk about the process which leads to an air of mystery  about the whole thing. Just like heading into the unknown of Matriculation Day that first year, I was a bit hesitant and scared about the whole process.

2011 BVA’s (in hoodies) train with the 2010 Summerall Guards.

Even though I read the school web site and one maintained by former members of the Summerall Guards, I didn’t feel I learned enough about the process.  Heading into my son’s junior year the best help I received came from a member of the 2005 Summerall Guards, Andy Frey.  I met Andy through the Atlanta Citadel Club.  At the annual “Hell Night Happy Hour” in Atlanta he tolerated quite a few questions from me about the process. I am very grateful for his patience with this very anxious Mom.

His advice helped me through that year. He told me not to expect to hear much from my cadet. In addition to his course load and his duties as the 1st SGT for his company my son had to do the extra duties and physical training that goes along with being a BVA.  In addition the BVA’s have to keep their hair in a very short “high and tight” style. When they are with the current Summerall Guards the BVA’s are treated like knobs with no status. It is a demanding process but once the BVA’s go through it they are revered by their peers.

The Proud Family, Dorie Griggs, Cadet Nelson Lalli, Chelle Leary, and Stanley Leary.

Throughout that year when I’d get a quick email from my son that said “I’m really busy.” I’d hear Andy’s voice.  In explaining why a cadet would try out for this platoon Andy said he explained it to his mother and girlfriend this way, “It’s like being part of the only fraternity on campus.”

In January of 2010 I began to see photos on Facebook of the 2011 BVA’s in training.  I found some videos on YouTube. Take Your Rifles, by Chris Florio followed the 2009 BVA’s through their process and The Summerall Guards 2010 by Polk Studios follows the 2010 BVA’s. I found myself nervous again watching these videos.

Georgia Cadets James Harrell, Nelson Lalli and Matt Spysinski after becoming 2011 Summerall Guards. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The training culminates in a series of trials ending in “Cuts Day.” Our family waited anxiously to hear if our cadet made it. I tried calling him but he didn’t pick up his phone. I saw congratulatory notes to other cadets posted to status updates, but still no word from our cadet. Finally after 9:00 PM we got the call, he made the Summerall Guards!

The 2011 BVA’s became 2011 Summerall Guards at a ceremony on Corps Day weekend, which celebrates the founding of the Corps of cadets. Nelson and his high school friend, Matt, became members of the 2011 Summerall Guards!

These two friends who looked around the barracks during their pre-knob visit in 2006 and said to each other, “This isn’t as bad as I thought.” are now in their final few months of their Citadel career. They proved to themselves and everyone else they deserved to wear the band of gold that distinguishes them as graduates of The Citadel.  In May they will graduate and be commissioned as a 2nd LT in the Army.

The 2011 BVA’s become the 2011 Summerall Guards, March 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

At the beginning of this whole process I couldn’t understand why he wanted to go there. I know I couldn’t have done it, but I see now this is exactly the school my son needed to attend.  I could not be more proud of him.

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

 Learning Leadership and Ethics at the Citadel

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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

 

 

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