An Army Mom Learns about the Cavalry, “Ironman” Award

Before Graduation in front of the Maneuver Center of Excellence building. L-R: Taylor Lalli, Chelle Leary, 2LT Nelson Lalli, Dorie Griggs, Stanley Leary. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Last Thursday, I entered a base of the U.S. Army for the first time as a military parent. We spent the day at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia.  Our second lieutenant graduated from his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC).

As we approached the entrance of Ft. Benning, the signs pointed visitors to a gate on the left. The guard at the gate asked for the drivers licenses for everyone over 18 in the car. Our 20-year-old son had left his wallet at home. The guard informed us, he is a former drill sergeant and asked our son if he is in the Army. Taylor answered “No sir.” After he  told our son never to leave the house without ID, he let us through. Taylor breathed a little easier as we left the entrance gate.

Second Lieutenant Nelson Lalli receives the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To get to the new Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) building, we drove a few miles passing lots of construction. Ft. Benning is going through a  huge expansion since the Armor branch was moved there from Ft. Knox as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). I knew the base was big, but driving along I realized just how big the base really is. My son told me it is bigger than the state of Rhode Island where his paternal grandmother lives.

We passed a golf course, a school, housing units and a gas station. Our daughter who had never been on a military base was surprised to see it is like it’s own city. We approached the new Maneuver Center of Excellence building and could see training towers in the distance. I was told to look for a “massive tank” by a Staff Sergeant who sent me directions. The tank was right in front of the new building. We saw plenty of second lieutenants in their dress uniforms, complete with Stetson covers, arriving in the parking lot.

2011 graduates of The Citadel, 2LT’s Nelson Lalli and Evan Minshew have some fun after the graduation. Minshew is holding Lalli’s “Ironman” award. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Our officer was waiting for us in front of the building with his father and step-mother who had arrived a little earlier. Wow! Did he look handsome in his new uniform. Of course we all started snapping photos, much to Nelson’s dismay. We told him he just had to deal with it today.

The Facebook group for the 2-16  Cavalry “Saber Squadron”//Armor Basic Officer Leader Course posted a press release the day before graduation stating that Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia would speak at graduation. This is the first ABOLC graduating class at Fort Benning, so the local press also turned out in force to cover the ceremony.

We took our seats in the auditorium.  Nelson told my husband, photographer Stanley Leary, he could move forward to take photos when he walked across the stage. Nelson was given the “Ironman Physical Fitness Award” for having the highest physical fitness score in Lightening Troop

As we waited for the graduation to start, I had fun watching the various family members, officers and staff file in. It struck me how many of these young officers were married with very small children.

Chelle and Dorie present the recent ABOLC graduate with his “Iron Man’ gifts. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It was a very nice ceremony.  Governor Deal gave a nice speech and the presentation of awards began. It was such a thrill to see our second lieutenant walk across the stage to shake the hands of the Governor, the Commander and other officers. When the ceremony ended we had to all take turns getting our photo taken with the award winning officer, much to his chagrin. He did clown around a bit with one of his fellow graduates of The Citadel and ABOLC grad, Evan Minshew. You can see the pride on all the faces in those photos.

Before we went in to the restaurant for a late lunch, Chelle and I presented Nelson with our graduation gift, a comic book, “Iron Man Is Born” and the two Iron Man DVD’s. I knew he appreciated the humor.

Our second lieutenant gave up his spot in Ranger School.  He is now waiting to hear where he will go next. As for me, I’m reading up on the history of the Armor branch, and learning why they wear Stetsons and the traditions around who wears the gold or silver spurs. I’ve also read up on Garryowen and learned why we stood up and clapped to the song as it was played at the end of the ceremony.

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A Seminary Student, Now an Army Mom Reflects on 9/11

The new second lieutenants, family and friends. L-R: Phil Warner, 2LT Brian Papke, 2LT Nelson Lalli, SFC Keith Polidoro, Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary. photo by Stanley Leary.

10 years ago on September 11, 2001 I was supposed to be serving on jury duty.  As a full-time seminary student my service that day was differed and I attended class instead.  It was a World Missions class.  After class ended I headed to the chapel like many of my fellow students did every morning for the daily chapel service.

When I arrived outside the chapel, I saw a group gathering.  It isn’t unusual to see something different outside the chapel.  I just assumed we were going to process in together.  As I got closer I realized this gathering focused their attention on a TV screen. The first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. My fellow seminarians stood around in shock, a scene that was repeated in various forms around the world that day.

Today, 10 years later, about 11 of my oldest sons classmates report to Ranger School at Ft. Benning.  They have completed their training in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. These young men were in Middle School on September 11, 2001. I imagine some decided that day ten years ago that they would serve their country.

In four weeks my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course then three weeks later report to Ranger School.

10 years ago while standing in front of that television set on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary, I couldn’t have imagined how the following ten years would unfold.  I was about to start a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  My focus was on developing a model of chaplaincy to journalists who cover traumatic events.

I knew through my journalist friends that they, like other first responders, saw and experienced trauma up close.  I also knew then, as I do now, unlike firefighters, police EMS and other first responders journalists do not get the same training or support the others have.  My call to be a supportive presence to journalists who risk their safety to keep us informed was formed leading up to and including the 2001 – 2002 school year.

Dorie Griggs with Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, Mike Walter, John McCusker, Moni Basu at the screening of Mike Walter’s documentary, “Breaking News, Breaking Down.” photo by Stanley Leary.

Since 2001, I have had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by some of the leading researchers in the area of traumatic stress studies. The Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program have afforded me tremendous opportunities to meet and learn from scholars and researchers in the area of traumatic stress. The leadership of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has taught me a great deal about the trials journalists go through.  I’ve had the privilege to also learn from and listen to the struggles of journalists who have covered some of the world’s worst disasters, both natural and man-made.

A few of these journalists were there at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon the morning of 9/11/01. Photojournalist David Handschuh was at the foot of the WTC when it began to collapse.  He was seriously injured that day.  Mike Walter was on his way to the DC TV station, where he served as an anchor, when a plane hit the Pentagon. Both journalists are fellows with the Dart Center and members of the Dart Society.  I am grateful to them for sharing their personal stories.

I am still on the journey to be a supportive presence to journalists. My call has expanded to also teach civilians about traumatic stress and how to be supportive to our returning veterans. I now serve on the board of directors for the nonprofit, Care For The Troops.

10 years ago standing in front of that TV on the seminary campus I could not have predicted the wide variety of journalists I would come to know both in the US and abroad.  I could not imagine that my then 12-year-old son and his friends from The Citadel would be second lieutenants training with the U.S Army Rangers, or that I’d even know what that training entails.

I am grateful to the many people who have seen the importance of this call to be a supportive presence to journalists and also to the members of the military and veterans.

An Army Mom Transitions from The Citadel to Ft. Benning

The Citadel Georgia Class of 2015. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

I’m living in the in-between times of being the mom of a cadet at The Citadel and being the mom of a newly commissioned second lieutenant in Armor branch training at Ft. Benning, GA.

My son graduated in May of this year. With his graduation, I passed off my volunteer parent baton to a new coordinator of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group and the Area Rep coordinator position I held with the Citadel Family Association.  Fortunately, the Atlanta Citadel Club has made it clear just because my son has graduated doesn’t mean I can’t attend their functions as the parent of a graduate. The new coordinator of the Georgia Parents Group has also included me in her parent orientation meeting which helped ease me out of my role as coordinator and into the role of coordinator emeriti.

Dorie Grigg's son, Nelson, is in the top row second from the left. The photo is from the Facebook Page of Lightning Troop 2-16 CAV.

It is fun to know he is there with about 20 other 2011 graduates. I jokingly call Ft. Benning The Citadel west since the guys all live in the same apartment complex in Columbus while they are going through training.

To help me move into the role of support person in Georgia, I attended the Cadet Send off Event, hosted by the Atlanta Citadel Club, one last time. The event held at a local restaurant was well attended.  Like my son’s year, the summer of 2007, the new families were anxious to learn all they could to be prepared for Matriculation Day. I gave the new families a card with links to my blog entries for Off the Base so they could access the helpful links to the Nice to Have List and the Survival tips located under CFA benefits on the CFA home page.

Thanks to the Citadel Alumni Association Facebook page administrator, the entry titled, A Letter to the Class of 2015, has been widely read and circulated. In writing these entries, it is my hope that the new parents will feel a bit more comfortable and prepared with the process of getting a child ready to report to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

Georgia Citadel parents and Knobs gather for dinner at Dorie Grigg's home. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In an effort to ease my transition further, we hosted a potluck dinner recently for the Georgia families. It was a great opportunity to see everyone in a relaxed environment without worrying about the hectic on campus schedule or the anxiety of dropping your cadet off for Matriculation Day. About 35 people came to the house. I invited some incoming cadets, or knobs as they will be known their first year, and their families.  We spent a few hours catching up or meeting friends we’ve only seen on Facebook. The new families learned that when your child attends The Citadel you enter a group of supportive families. Many of the people I’ve come to know the past four years I know will be friends for life.

The Citadel Bravo Moms Marie Dopson sitting, Dorie Griggs (left) standing and Anita Mag (right) standing. All of their sons are, or have been, company clerks for Bravo Company. Nelson was the senior mentor to Marie’s son, Brian.

Now that the two send off events have taken place, I’ve settled back into the wait and watch stage of begin the mom of a second lieutenant in training. Fortunately, the U.S. Army has embraced social media. I’ve found the Facebook groups for my sons training unit and for the Ft. Benning Family Readiness Group. Reading these sites I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve even gotten to see photos of my son and his unit while they train.

Ft. Benning is only a couple of hours from our house, but Nelson doesn’t get home much. When he’s been home, it’s to attend a Braves game or go out with friends. Phone calls have been a bit more frequent, but they are short and matter of fact calls.

Last night I sent a text asking how the weekend training exercise went.  His response was short and to the point. “Good. Blew stuff up.” They are learning to drive and operate the tanks. I found a video from their media day to give me an idea of what he was talking about.

The text was followed by a short phone call. The call I was told to expect. He was in the middle of filling out forms, one of which is for death benefits distribution. He needed some personal information from me about the family. While I didn’t struggle with the call, it struck me then that we are all in the real Army now. We’ve completed the training at The Citadel and this is the real thing.

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.

Graduation Day: No Longer the Mother of a Cadet

Dorie Grigg's view of her graduating cadet in McAlister Fieldhouse. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Graduation Day, Saturday morning was foggy but the forecast called for clear skies and warm temperatures. Perfect weather for a parade, but we would spend the morning inside the field house waiting for our cadets name to be called.

Each cadet is given 8 tickets. Some could request an additional 4. The place was packed. The school posts the statistics for the graduating class on their website just after the ceremony.  Close to 500 cadets graduated that morning.  I was told some classmates did not pass the physical training test and would not receive their diplomas until that requirement was met.  Some cadets had additional credits to make up and would receive their diplomas at a later date.

A sea of Citadel graduates makes it difficult for families to find their cadet, prompting Chelle and Dorie's game of Where's Waldo. Photo by Stanley Leary.

We were happy to see our friends the Spysinski’s, from our hometown of Roswell, sitting just 2 rows in front of us.  Our son’s first visited The Citadel together the summer before their senior year in high school.  It seemed a fitting way to close out our 4 years there by sitting near each other. We were in a corner high above the band, but facing the graduating class. Before the Commencement began I read through the program.  Imagine my surprise when I found my son’s name listed under “Distinguished Military Students.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  For the past 4 years I had to read the press releases posted by the school to learn of honors or accomplishments my son achieved. He told me very little.

At one point before the diplomas were given my daughter and I played a modified version of the game “Where’s Waldo.” The cadets were all in their full dress salt and pepper uniforms making it very difficult from a distance to tell who was who. We were helped by the fact that they were seated in alphabetical order, but it was still difficult to find particular cadets. My husband, photographer, Stanley Leary, had the unfair advantage of looking through the long lens of his camera. He found Nelson first.

Cadet Nelson Lalli receives his diploma from Citadel President Rosa. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The speakers were very good, but of course we waited for the name of our cadet to be called. Surprisingly, I did not shed one tear. I just beamed with pride and happiness for his accomplishment.  I did, however, have a lump in my throat at the end of the ceremony, after the president announced, “Class of 2011 Dismissed.” I watched as the cadets threw their hats in the air then began to hug, shake hands, and punch each other in the shoulder, in a good way. These young people are leaving their time as cadets but have joined the 30,000+ alumni members of the Long Gray Line of graduates. They will always be connected to each other.

At the end of the ceremony the scene that played over and over again began again.  Hugs, handshakes and photos.

Stanley, Chelle, Nelson and Dorie pose to commemorate the moment. Photo by Blake Lalli.

This time it lasted a bit longer.  My son had to endure even more photos as members of his father’s family and our family all wanted their time with the graduate. To pass the time my 12-year-old daughter decided to look for her brother’s hat.  She methodically checked each one on both sides of the field house. After Nelson declared “No more photos,” and was walking toward the door he looked down and found his hat.

Chelle and her brother Nelson. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In one quick motion he flung his hat to Chelle ala Frisbee style. She promptly put it on and we begged him for one more photo. He obliged, but I’m convinced it was ONLY because it was his baby sister.

All across the field house floor and outside the field house families and friends repeated the graduation ritual of hugs, handshakes and photos. Everyone was beaming. The afternoon of graduation gatherings were just beginning. I did note as we drove off campus 2 different sets of shoes were left on the side of the road.  One last show of quiet defiance by a rogue cadet or two.

Bravo Company mates: L-R Jordan Jackson, Brian Papke, Caleb Hund, Dan Viegas, Nelson Lalli, John Ogle. Photo by Marty Viegas.

We attended a late luncheon hosted by one of the Bravo Company families. They arranged to have a room at a local seafood restaurant.  It was a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with the families we have come to call friends these past 4 years. They had a cake made for the occasion.  Our sons decided it had to be cut with one of their swords, as they did each year on Parents Weekend to celebrate their classmate’s birthday.

As I write about our weekend I’m smiling. Our cadets took the road less traveled and succeeded. We supported them on their journey and gained some wonderful friends. Approximately one-third of the cadets at The Citadel enter the armed forces. Those of us with children entering the military are joining a long line of military parents that have gone before us.  We’ve set up a Facebook group titled “Military Parents of The Citadel.” to continue the bond that started when our children were cadets.

The transition is now complete.  I am no longer the mother of a cadet.  I am the mother of a second lieutenant in the United States Army. The learning continues.

Bravo Company cuts their graduation cake. Note each has a finger on the sword slicing the cake in half. Photo by Marty Viegas.

Citadel Parent Crafts Her Own Graduation Ritual

Chelle, Nelson and Brian outside the Summerall Chapel before the commissioning practice, May 5. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

We just returned from commencement weekend at The Citadel. We arrived Wednesday night to prepare for several days worth of activities.  One thing about a military college, they have plenty of rituals to help the graduates and their families make the transition.

On Thursday, I began my own graduation ritual.  My daughter, Chelle, and I visited campus early to deliver small candy bowls and notes I had prepared for a number of people on campus who have been very helpful over the past 4 years.  It gave me the opportunity to say good-bye to these folks who answered scores of questions from me.

We ended up with a bonus visit with my son, Nelson, that morning.  I was driving down the Avenue of Remembrance in front of the chapel when 2 cadets were about to cross the road.  I waved them across but one started walking toward our car.  It was my son! After 4 years all cadets still look a like. The Army ROTC cadets were heading to the chapel for their commissioning service practice. They practice everything there before a big event.

Star of the West Finals. This event is the culmination of many hours of practice in rifle drill. The winner will be named the "Best Drilled Cadet" and will have his or her name inscribed on the Star of the West Monument located near the flagpole on Summerall Field. That cadet will also wear the Star of the West Medal. The ship, Star of the West, was fired upon by Citadel cadets in 1861. From Schedule of Events for The Corps of Cadets, http://www.citadel.edu. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

After delivering the candy Chelle and I watched the Star of the West Finals, a competition to find the best-drilled cadet. It’s one of the graduation week events I had never had the opportunity to see. An added bonus was getting to see a first year cadet whom I had spoken to by phone but never met in person. He was wearing the #1 out of over 20 contestants in the competition.

My cadet said he was not attending the awards convocation and the baccalaureate service that afternoon so we visited the gardens of Magnolia Plantation in the afternoon.  I had already been warned by my friend Loretta, the mom of a ’10 graduate, that the cadets try to get in as much time with their friends this last weekend so I knew to make some of our own plans. The evening was spent with the family of a fellow Citadel Ya Ya. We look forward to seeing the Reigerix family each time we are on campus.  My daughter was relieved to find out Rachelle is a rising senior cadet.  In her words, “Great now we have someone to visit next year!”

Nelson Lalli receives his bars from his father Blake Lalli (right) and his uncle, John Lalli, LT Col.(Retired) U.S. Army (left). Photo by Stanley Leary.

Friday morning, we attended the commissioning service for the Army ROTC cadets.  The ceremony started at 8:00 a.m. but we arrived at the chapel at 7:00 a.m. to make sure we had good seats. There were 97 cadets commissioned that morning so the chapel was packed with family and friends. It was a moving ceremony executed with military precision. My ex husband and his brother, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel pinned Nelson’s shoulder boards on during the ceremony. One of the most moving parts of the ceremony came when the cadets receiving their commissions took their oath.  From our seats I watched a sea of right hands in the air all wearing their Citadel ring.

2LT Nelson Lalli receives his first salute from SFC Keith Polidoro. Photo by Stanley Leary.

At the end of the ceremony, the newly commissioned second lieutenants went outside to meet up with their chosen non-commissioned officer to receive their first salute. Some new officers passed a silver dollar to the NCO.  Some NCO’s passed a challenge coin to the new officer. (One mother told me she ended up paying over $40 for the silver dollar for her son.) Of course handshakes, hugs and photos followed the event. A scene repeated throughout the weekend of events.

We had a quick visit with the president of The Citadel and his wife, Lt. Gen John Rosa and Donna, have been gracious hosts to all the parents over the years.  They have also visited Atlanta for the annual “Pre-knob” gathering the Atlanta Citadel Club host.

Dorie and Chelle visit with the president of The Citadel, Lt. Gen John Rosa and his wife, Donna. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Since the forecast called for rain in the afternoon about the time of the Long Gray Line parade I asked Lt. Gen Rosa what would happen in case of rain.  He told me that unless there was lightening, the parade would go on.  His words reassured me later that afternoon.

At noon we attended the reception for the new Lifetime members of the Citadel Alumni Association. We gave our son the membership for his graduation present. It was a wonderful event, not dampened a bit by the rain that started to fall as we arrived.

The 2012 Summerall Guards perform in honor of the Class of 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

At 2:15 we took our spot on Summerall Field to watch the 2012 Summerall Guards perform in honor of the Class of 2011. We made sure to take plenty of photos for our friends who could not be there to see their cadets perform. My son and his fellow 2011 Summerall Guard watched in appreciation. We all watched as the skies began to look ominous again.

As if on cue, the rain began after the Summerall Guard performance.  Scores of people were already in place for the Long Gray Line graduation parade that was scheduled for 3:00. People began to speculate that the parade would be cancelled, but I relayed what the president had told me earlier in the day.  Only lightening would keep the parade from happening. Scores of families kept glued to the radar on their smart phones.

Waiting in the rain for the Long Gray Line ceremony. Photo by Dorie Griggs.

We huddled under umbrellas, under trees and some just stood there and let the rain soak through their clothes. Hundreds of, if not a few thousand, people surrounded the field in what at times was a total downpour. All of us waiting to see the Class of 2011 form one long line and march away from their classmates and toward the reviewing stands and their family and friends.

I can’t think of another event that would keep people outside in such awful conditions. It was a moment worth getting totally soaked to watch. As the command was given, the cadets locked arms and marched forward.

Members of Bravo Company march forward as part of the Long Gray Line. Photo by Marty Viegas.

The rain slowed down to a drizzle and we could see the faces of the cadets beaming as they moved forward. We were told that 1st Battalion was a bit disruptive during their Long Gray Line practice.  They kept doing “the wave” while in line.  On Friday when they reached our side of the field shouts of, “Do the wave.” spread down the line. With the TAC officers monitoring the line, and the threat of not walking at graduation was held over their heads, they did not do the wave. 

The Class of 2011 wave to their companies at the end of the graduation parade. Photo by Marty Viegas.

They did however wave to their company mates across the field. The cadets also didn’t leave their shoes on the filed as I had seen done in 2008.  An assistant commandant told me that was not a sanctioned tradition and anyone seen leaving their shoes would not walk either. Handshakes, hugs, and photos again took place.

Chelle and Dorie congratulate the one of the newest Lifetime members of the Citadel Alumni Association. Photo by Stanley Leary.

We missed the reception at the president’s house so we could go to the hotel to dry off and relax. To my pleasant surprise Nelson came with us and stayed through dinner and to watch a Star Wars movie on TV before he left to attend a graduation party with his buddies.

Our 12 year old was thrilled as well.  She told me, “This is just like old times.” Up next – Part II Graduation day.

The members of Bravo Company Class of 2011.

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