The Citadel: Being Supportive From the Outside

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Parents and family members look through the sallyport gates as the cadre walk by on Matriculation Day, 2015.

I did not attend The Citadel, my son did. Over the years I’ve learned a good bit about the process, but I am still not an insider and never will be.

However, I have learned how to be a supportive parent of a cadet. A parent of a cadet should follow the strict definition of supportive, “Providing encouragement or emotional help.” That is important for new parents to keep in mind this first year, especially if over the past several years you are the type of parent who reminded your student of deadlines and due dates or if you did their scheduling.

At The Citadel the cadets learn to take ownership of their actions. Time management is a huge part of that process. The beginning of the year the first year cadets, or knobs as they are called, learn how to polish and shine brass and their shoes. They learn where everything goes and how to get ready for an inspection. THey learn the rules of the school and what is expected of them. This all takes place before the classes start. Once the classes start they have to juggle the military aspect of polishing and cleaning, with the academic rigors. Parents can be a huge support during that transition.

When a knob begins to feel overwhelmed they will often vent to family and friends not at the school because these trusted contacts are the only ones they feel safe with at the beginning. It can be hard to hear the complaints but it is now when they need your encouraging support. Remind them they are strong. As time goes on the knobs will slowly learn to trust and lean on their classmates. In fact their friends knob year will become like family to them for the rest of their life.

The knobs are put in situations where they must make snap decisions and judgements. It seems arbitrary to an outsider. I’ve gain insights into the reason the system works the way it does by reading books and talking to graduates and cadets.

One book I read, Through Their Eyes by George Steffner was very helpful. The following paragraph is from page 41 and it explains how the training that takes place in the mess hall works:

“The process was designed to create a pressure cooker environment in which young officers in training were pulled at from every direction, for every imaginable reason, to do things that were next to impossible. But the cadre were not there simply to make our lives miserable. Hot situations gave the upperclassmen excellent indicators of who was and was not suitable for command, both at the school and later in life, whether in a military capacity or otherwise. The idea was simple: to be so overcome with stress and responsibilities, so completely surrounded with impossible demands on their time that they would have to choose in triage fashion the most important tasks to complete while keeping a cool head in the process. It was a proven method, not without flaws but generally successful in creating leaders who could make important decisions under pressure. Someday these men might lead a platoon or company through knee-deep mud. Someday these men might find themselves taking fire and incoming mortar rounds from all sides with little hope of escape, What would be needed then wouldn’t be a leader who fell apart and  got is entire command wiped-out but rather one who could think clearly and rally his men to hunker down, counter attack and if possible survive to fight another day. The only way to weed out those who couldn’t take life’s pressures was to do so in an early crucible and this was part of that crucible.”

The memorization of the Knob Knowledge in the Guidon (the updated Guidon should be posted this summer) and other facts they must remember have a similar purpose. One day in their post college position they may be called on to remember details and information in a pressured situation. Developing the ability to memorize and to integrate that information into your memory is a crucial skill in high pressure situations.

One of the biggest differences I’ve observed between cadets and their non-military school counter parts is the ability to manage their time. With all the required activities, including mandatory class attendance and meal attendance, time becomes a precious commodity. Taking time away from cadets is a form of punishment whether it is walking tours or sitting confinements.

Confinements and Tours as defined in the Blue Book:

6.8.3 Confinements

6.8.3.1 A confinement is a 50‑minute period during which confined cadets, in duty uniform with white waist belt, are required to remain in their assigned confinement classroom (or when approved by the ACD their own room which will be in MRI order) studying.

6.8.4 Tours

6.8.4.1 A tour is a 50‑minute period of time during which a cadet marches on the quadrangle at 120 steps a minute with a rifle at right or left‑ shoulder arms.

It is a strict system with checks and balances in place to encourage good decision-making. That is not to say that cadets are above trying to stretch the rules a bit.

 

As I mentioned in an early blog post, Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel, the cadets, especially the ones interested in holding rank, must learn to use their time wisely. It is a job skill that other college students may not learn until they are in their first job.

For the families of incoming knobs this is all a bit overwhelming right now. In the months ahead you will learn to let go of the daily control over your son or daughter’s time and actions and adjust to supporting them in their activities. If they call and complain about their process, know that you are the only one they can complain to right now. They usually vent then move on leaving you to worry as they go on to the next task. You need to remember they are only getting small bits of information at a time and cannot see the big picture. Your role is to be supportive by helping see the big picture and keep their long terms goals in mind.

A few tips for how to be supportive when you hear from a knob:

  • Remind them they are stronger than they feel at that moment.
  • Tell them they will get through this one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time.
  • Encourage them to build relationships with their fellow knobs. They will learn they are not alone.
  • Remind them they are at college, grades are more important than shining shoes. Fit the shining in around their studies not the other way around. (their shoes will never be shiny enough)
  • Help them set small manageable goals. i.e. make it to Friday of each week, then to Parents Weekend, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.
  • Frequent care packages of their favorite protein bars and treats is always welcomed.

If you are the parent of an incoming knob, join the Facebook group for 2020 parents.  Extended family or friends are not permitted into the group.  This is a volunteer effort that is very time consuming with just the parents. If you are a 2020 parent, go to the group page and request to join then send me a Facebook message or email (address in the About section) to confirm you are a parent.

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Knobs in the Class of 2019 line up after getting their hair cut the Monday after Matriculation Day. Part of the 4th Class system is becoming uniform with everyone in your class.

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Knobs from the Class of 2019 study their Guidons after gettting their hair cut.

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3 Responses

  1. Your amazing still makes my stomach hurt hearing matriculation now he’s going Prague fall

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  2. […] have to understand it. As parents we are just supposed to be supportive. As I mentioned in a previous post being supportive in this context is helping them with the things they need to report, then […]

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  3. […] have to understand it. As parents we are just supposed to be supportive. As I mentioned in a previous post being supportive in this context is helping them with the things they need to report, then […]

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