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A Citadel Related “God Wink” for Memorial Day

Wittman Cannon graves Arlington

Melanie Cannon, wife of SMSGT Robert S. Cannon, sent this photo from Arlington national Cemetery. To the left is the grave marker for Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, a graduate of The Citadel. photo by Melanie Cannon used with permission

Each Memorial Day since my son was deployed I remember the families of the fallen soldiers from his unit. Today as I was posting a photo of Sgt. Aaron Wittman’s tree from the Warrior’s Walk at Ft Stewart a private message showed up in my Facebook inbox.

For several years now I’ve administered Facebook groups for new parents of cadets at The Citadel. I am Facebook friends with many of the parents. The note I received today was from a mom of a rising senior. We are Facebook friends, but I don’t know that we have met in person. The last private note we exchanged was her son’s knob year.

The note I received this morning follows. It serves as a reminder that we are all connected in ways we may not fully understand. I do believe that God gives us these encounters as a way to remind us we are not alone. I do not believe this was sheer chance. There are too many connections that brought strangers together for it to be sheer luck.

Military families, especially on this weekend, share a special bond. I asked Melanie for her permission to share her touching story here and she agreed. I post this story today to honor these families and others who are grieving, especially this weekend.


From Melanie Cannon, Citadel mom and Gold Star wife of SMSGT. Robert Cannon:

“I’m in DC this week for Memorial Day and while we were at Arlington Cemetery noticed the marker beside my husbands is for Aaron Wittman. That blew me away since there are over 400,000 markers there and the Citadel grad that you share info about/scholarship, etc. is buried next to my husband. What are the chances of knowing or knowing about another person buried right beside your loved one at Arlington? I think they call those type of things God winks? Just thought I would share. It was the first time we had visited Arlington since my husbands marker was erected. There was a young man from Virginia that came up, while we were there, and laid a coin on Aaron’s grave and we spoke to him about it.”

A little about Robert Cannon:

“My husband was a flight engineer, Senior Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard- from Charlotte NC. He was killed in an aviation accident. They were conducting a MAFFS mission in South Dakota July 1,2012.”

This Memorial Day by all means enjoy time with your family and friends, but I do hope in the midst of your time together you would take at least a few minutes to remember the people who gave everything so that we may freely gather.

My thoughts and prayers are with all the Gold Star families who are missing their loved one this weekend.

Wittman grave Arlington

photo by Melanie Cannon used with permission

Previous blog posts about Sgt. Aaron Wittman:

RIP SGT Aaron Wittman

In Memory of Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, an American Hero

Welcoming the New Cadets and Honoring our Fallen


Payback is Hell

My sophomore year the team played in more tournaments than any other college team. We went to the University of Utah. On a day off we went to the top of a ski mountain outside of Salt Lake City. That is me to the far right in the photo.

My junior year the team played in more tournaments than any other college team. We went to the University of Utah for one of them. On a day off we went to the top of a ski mountain outside of Salt Lake City. That is me to the far right in the photo. I am still in touch with a number of the players and managers.

There are times when I am positive my parents are watching me from heaven just laughing away, now especially. My oldest is out of the house on his own, my middle son is beginning a career in the hospitality industry and my youngest is in high school.

My parents have been gone for a while now. Mom died when I was pregnant with my oldest so she never had the chance to hold my children and see them grow. Dad died five years later after a battle with Alzheimer’s and cancer. He met the oldest two, but didn’t really know who they were.

During a photo op on top of the mountain. That is Coach Michael Perry, now with East Carolina University. JD Harrison behind us is now a chaplain in a hospital.

During a photo op on top of the mountain. That is Coach Michael Perry, now with East Carolina University, next to me. JD Harrison, behind us, is now a chaplain in a hospital.

I’m at that interesting time in life when we aren’t quite empty nesters, but I can see it on the horizon. When my oldest left to study at The Citadel I knew he was where he wanted to be. It was the best experience for him. As he spread his wings and began to spend less and less time at home I began channelling my mother.

“We’d love to see you.” “Are you sure you can’t make it home over spring break?” “Oh, you won’t be home for the holidays?”

After Utah we played in a tournament in Florida over the Christmas break. 1978-79 school year.

After Utah we played in a tournament in Florida over the Christmas break. 1978-79 school year.

You see, when I was in college I worked in the athletic department at the University of Richmond. First I was a manager of the men’s basketball team. We had abbreviated Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. In the summers I worked in the sports information office and with the marketing office. I made it home for short little vacations here and there. When I left home in New Jersey for college at 17, I never returned to live there again.

When I find myself lamenting at the lack of time with my oldest son, I look back remember how I felt as a young adult. I loved my parents, but I was making my way in the world as an adult. I did call pretty often and wrote once in a while, but we really didn’t have time together. To me I was doing what they raised me to do, be on my own.

So today, as I find myself wondering where the time has gone and how much I miss talking with my oldest, I know my parents are smiling and saying to me, “See? Now you know how it feels!”

By my senior year I was a student assistant in the Sports Information office at the University of Richmond. This photo with long time freind, Tom Allen, was taken in the football press box. 1980

By my senior year I was a student assistant in the sports information office at the University of Richmond. This photo with long time friend, Tom Allen, was taken in the football press box. 1980

End of Year Tips for Citadel Parents

Seniors in the Class of 2008 march in the Long Gray Line.

Seniors in the Class of 2008 march in the Long Gray Line.

The 2013-2014 school year is drawing to a close. The knobs are no more and exams are right around the corner. The Class of 2014 can tell you the days and probably the minutes until graduation. The Class of 2018 are just beginning their early preparations for CSI and Matriculation Day. I’ve decided to list the advice by class.

To the parents of the Class of 2018.

I know right now you are preparing for high school graduation. It is an overwhelmingly wonderful time. Your soon-to-be knob is probably not thinking too far ahead. Trust me when I tell you the best gift you can give your soon to be knob, is their plain toe black oxford shoes. The best thing the soon-to-be knob can do for them self is to wear the shoes over the next few month to really get them broken in. Foot troubles that first month cause many knobs to miss out on activities.

Join the parent group on Facebook for the Class of 2018 parents. You will meet other new parents and a few parents of graduates are in the group to help answer your questions. Be careful what you post to other Facebook groups and pages. Gushing about your soon-to-be-knob on a public Facebook page is not a good idea. Let your family and friends know that advice too. Set the privacy settings on your Facebook page to Friends. When school starts and you see your knob in a photo don’t tag the photo. You can download it and post it to your personal page. Learn to use the search window on this blog and also on the school web site. The Citadel has a great website and includes just about all the information you’ll need to know over the four years.

See the blog entry here called Welcome to the Class of 2018 for tips on the Success packet list (page 6) and the CFA “Nice to Have” list.

To the parents of the Class of 2017

Your cadets just finished the toughest year they have probably gone through in their young lives. Many cadets are so excited to no longer be part of the 4th Class system that they begin to get lax with their studies. Remind them it is a college they are attending.

Sophomore year is also referred to as knobmore year. They are no longer knobs but they are on the low wrung of the upperclass ladder. Even if they have rank, they are the lowest officers. Know that at some point sophomore your cadet they may again question if it is all worth it. They don’t question in the same way they did knob year, but it can happen.

Help them stayed focus on their school work. This year they have a little more freedom and will slowly become more like other college kids. Don’t be surprised if they do not spend their open weekends coming home.

To the Parents of the Class of 2016.

Junior year is a year of pretty major changes. The cadet officers have much more responsibility. They are used to the system and really are very similar to other college kids by now. Junior year at The Citadel has a few unique opportunities.

Some cadets decide to be Bond Volunteer Aspirants, or BVA’s, the group that tries out to become Summerall Guards. This means they are volunteering to go through some of the toughest months of their life. They may have rank, but are treated like knobs when they are with the current Summerall Guards. If your cadet decides to be a BVA know that they will have little to no time to them self. Let them be the ones to contact you. Remind them to keep their studies up.

The second half of their junior year they will receive blazer privileges. They will also have a ring sizing and an opportunity to try on their ring. See the Citadel Alumni Association page for more information on the requirements to received the ring.

Senior year is right around the corner. If you haven’t started a fund for the ring purchase start one now. The ring price depends on the price of gold. The past few years that means just over $1,000. Moms, if you want a ring, you better let your cadet know now. They run around $600.

The the Class of 2014 parents.

Congratulations. I am sure you are experiencing a mixture of emotions. Enjoy graduation week. The school has posted all the information for the week on the Commencement 2014 webpage.

If you can arrive in town early to see the various activities on campus. An award ceremony takes place on Thursday.  This year the luncheon/reception for the new Lifetime members will be held on Thursday at lunch time. The baccalaureate service is Thursday afternoon.

Be sure your camera batteries are charged up for all the events. It goes by in a flash. The photos will help you relive this exciting weekend.

For parents of cadets who will commission into a branch of the military, arrive to the chapel early for the ceremony. After the ceremony the newly commissioned officers will leave the chapel and go outside to render their first salute. You will become a Blue Star family that day. Blue Star Mothers have chapters across the country.

This photo taken at graduation shows the time honored tradition of tossing your cover in the air once the president dismisses the class. This photo could be taken in any year, but it is from May 2011.

This photo taken at graduation shows the time honored tradition of tossing your cover in the air once the president dismisses the class. This photo could be taken in any year, but it is from May 2011.

NOTE: Use the search window of this blog to find previous entries on a variety of cadet related topics.

Prayer Squares for Military Members

Prayer Square

This past Sunday the members of  Prayers and Squares and the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church joined together in an outreach project. Joyce Pettit a member of Prayers and Squares used her time during the recent ice storm to sew 67 prayers squares for military members. She then called me as the chair of the military ministry to discuss how we would get members and guest of our church together to pray over the squares and to tie knots in them. THe project was well received by the congregation.

Prayer and Squares is a nationwide interfaith organization that promotes prayer through the use of quilts. You can read more about their outreach through this link.

The Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church is made up of military members, veterans and anyone who is interested in supporting the military. We meet ever other month on the evening of the second Tuesday of the month. We are a member congregation of Care For The Troops.


The Citadel: Tips for Commencement Week 2014

2013 Long Gray Line

2013 Long Gray Line

It may only be January, but it is time to plan for graduation in May. It may even be a little late to start if you plan on renting a home for the week. Links to hotel information and other places to stay are in this previous post. It is always a good idea to call the area hotels directly and ask if they offer a special rate for Citadel families.

The schedule for the week is available on the school website under Commencement 2014. Many families come into town Wednesday or earlier and make a week of it. The seniors are out of the barracks before the other cadets so count on them staying with you. Graduates who are commissioning and/or who are Legacies should see this link for their special schedule.

As every other cadet event, the cadets have practice during the days for all the events from the commissioning ceremonies for military contract graduates, to the long grey line, legacies, and commencement. Their evenings are free.

A friend gave me a heads up about graduation week. While we all want to spend time with our soon to be graduate, it hits the seniors sometime leading up to graduation that they will no longer be able to see their buddies by walking out of their room in the barracks. They try to get as much time with their friends as possible before they spread across the globe in their various new roles.

Some families get together with others and host parties for companies. Others have small family gatherings. It is totally up to the individual families. I wrote about the little things i did graduation week to say thank you to various people on campus that I came to call friends.

If you are just getting started on your plans, a place to stay should be at the top of your list. Meal planning is next, especially if you will have a large group dining out. For help in finding facilities the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau is a great resource. The area hotels have restaurants and meeting facilities, but they can also offer suggestions.

The attire for the baccalaureate ceremony, commissioning ceremony, the parade and garden party is listed as casual, but many families dress a little nicer than just casual. Of course you need to dress for the weather too. In 2011 it rained for the Friday afternoon long grey line parade. We ended up so soaked we skipped the reception at the President’s home.  In all the photos I’ve seen from other years the ladies wear light sun dresses, nice slacks and similar outfits. For the commissioning ceremony many wear jacket and tie as would match the attire the new officers will be wearing. Most people don’t have the time to change between events so they wear something comfortable, but nice for all the events.

You will want to plan on dinner Friday, and a late lunch Saturday after graduation. Dinner Saturday night is another opportunity to plan a gathering. The recent graduates may also have various parties they will want to visit. Like everything else over the four years, the events outside of the planned school functions, will vary with each graduate. A good resource, in addition to the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, for restaurants is Zagat’s.

Gifts ideas for graduates are infinite. Some families give gifts to their cadet’s friends. Some knobs families give senior mentors gifts. It is totally up to the individual as to what you give or if you give a gift. A nice card is always appropriate. The Citadel Alumni Association also has some nice gifts available through their site.

The Citadel Bookstore sells diploma frames. Blazer buttons, and various jewelry items are also a nice gift.

The Citadel Alumni Association offers a steep discount on their Lifetime Memberships for junior and senior cadets. It makes a terrific graduation present. They host a special luncheon/presentation gathering Thursday afternoon. The new Lifetime members are presented with their plaque during the event.

A nice gift for a graduate to give their mother is the special miniature Citadel ring or pendant. It is pricey so they may need help from dad to purchase it for their mom.

I’ll include a few links below to previous posts that include other gift ideas and links.

The cadets spend four years waiting to graduate, then spend the rest of their lives trying to get back. Enjoy the week of events and take lots of photos!

If you would like to get together with other families in your cadets family and hire a photographer, I happen to be married to a very good one, Stanley Leary.  You can see some of his Citadel photos here. Of course there are others in the area too.

Other posts about graduation:

The Citadel: Tips from One Parent for Graduation Weekend

The Citadel Recognition Day and Graduation Gift Ideas

Finding Gifts for Your Citadel Cadet

Celebration, Tradition, Ritual: The Long Grey Line

Citadel Parent Crafts Her Own Graduation Ritual

Graduation Day: No Longer the Mother of a Cadet

Updated Hotel Information

The Citadel: Plan Ahead for the End of the School Year

McAlister Fieldhouse fills up quickly on graduation day. photo by Stanley Leary

McAlister Fieldhouse fills up quickly on graduation day. photo by Stanley Leary

Thanksgiving furlough at The Citadel is still a week away, so it may seem a bit early to post about the last week of the school year. As parents of upperclassmen know, the hotel rooms and rental homes book up quickly that week. Graduation is May 10, 2014. The College of Charleston also has their graduation the same week.

Make your hotel reservations early.

For parents of the Class of 2017 you need to pay attention to this advice too since freshman – junior cadets stay on campus until graduation day.

The undergraduate cadets who do not have prior approval to leave early, stay in the barracks until 7:00 AM at the latest the day of graduation. Some cadets have duties graduation day and have to stay longer. Your cadet will have to let you know if they have a duty, but they won’t know until closer to May. Cadets with parents who arrive Friday can load some of their belongings Friday.

If you arrive by 2:00 in the afternoon you will be able to see the 2015 Summerall Guards perform and then watch the Long Gray Line parade.

I am mentioning this now because last year quite a few parents were surprised about this schedule.

The Class of 2008 joins the Long Gray Line of graduates.

The Class of 2008 joins the Long Gray Line of graduates.

For parents of graduating seniors:

The seniors move out of the barracks before Friday so they need a place to stay Wednesday – Friday nights.

The events for graduation begin the Thursday before graduation. The school has posted a planning sheet and a schedule of events for graduation. The more extended information page for 2014 is not posted yet. You can read through the page still available from May 2013 to get an idea of what to expect. In our case my son did not participate it eh THursday Award ceremony and did not want to attend the baccalaureate service.

Friday: Friday is the day the military commissioning services take place. TheArmy commissioning service is usually the largest group and they go first. You’ll need to get to the chapel early Friday morning to find a seat. Two people can pin the bars onto the shoulder of the newly commissioned officer. They sit with the graduating senior. All others sit behind the seniors.

A note about commissioning: It is customary for the new officer to receive their first salute to an NCO or enlisted soldier. In turn the new officer gives a silver dollar to the the person who rendered the salute. Finding a silver dollar can be tricky for some.

The Citadel Alumni Association hosts a nice gathering at lunchtime Friday for the graduates who are new Lifetime members of the CAA. The Lifetime membership makes a great graduation gift. Up to 4 people, including the graduate can attend this luncheon.

There are special events for legacy graduates and their families.

The 2015 Summerall Guards will perform in the afternoon.

The Long Gray Line graduation parade takes place Friday afternoon.

Saturday: For the last few years each cadet is given 8 tickets. In 2013 the seating was not assigned. Arrive early for the best seats.

If you need more than 8 tickets, ask your cadet to network with his classmates.

Graduation for the Corps of Cadets begins about 9:00 AM each year and is over around 12 noon. If young children will be with you, bring a “distraction bag” with quiet activities.

Previous posts on graduation week may be of help in your planning:

Senior Parent Notes

Celebration, Tradition, Ritual: The Long Gray Line

Citadel Parent Crafts Her Own Graduation Ritual


Graduation Day: No Longer the Mother of a Cadet

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Graduation Gift Ideas

The Citadel: Tips From One Parent for Graduation Weekend

Gift Ideas for Citadel Cadets and Graduates


An Army Mom’s Reflections on Veterans Day 2013

Our soldier is in the second row.

Our soldier is in the second row.
photo by Stanley Leary.

We passed an anniversary last week. It was one of great emotional significance to our family. On this Veterans Day I thought I’d share these reflections from my Army mom perspective.

Last week marked the anniversary of my oldest son’s first deployment to Afghanistan. He is home, safe, and awaiting his orders for the next stage in his Army career.

Even though he is stateside, and I know he is just fine, I wrestle with the emotions of the past year. When I hear the National Anthem played or watch a patriotic video I relive the emotions I felt during my son’s deployment. Especially today as images of our veterans are flashed on television, and written about in the newspapers and social media, my emotions are right at the surface.

Being the family member of a combat veteran brings with it a unique set of emotions. We are proud of our soldier, but anxious for their safety. A huge part of me hopes he will never be deployed again. But my wishes are secondary to my son’s desire to do what he has trained years to do, defend our country.

I watched a beautifully done piece by Brian Storm. It is about Starbucks effort to hire veterans. It isn’t really a piece that would bring other non-military people to tears. This morning, sitting at my kitchen table watching that 13 minute piece, I had a lump in my throat.

At one point in the video was a clip of a returning group of soldiers. I was immediate brought back to a day this passed July when our family and a few friends waited anxiously for our soldier and the rest of his battalion to return from their nine month deployment.

The General addresses the assembled crowd of family and friends. photo by Stanley Leary

The General addresses the assembled crowd of family and friends.
photo by Stanley Leary

I had never experienced such a mixture of emotions before that day in July. I wanted to laugh, but my throat was too tight. Tears formed as they marched in, but then we had to wait for a series of addresses, songs and rituals.

My stomach did somersaults as the General spoke a few words before the crowd was unleashed to rush toward their soldier. Then, then came the moment when my daughter and I sprinted to our soldier for the BEST HUG EVER.

The mind is a funny thing. In the simple act of remembering that moment I am brought to tears.

So today, Veterans Day, 2013, I will honor our veterans, but in my own quiet way. This year, and probably for the next several years, my emotions are too close to the surface to attend public events.

I don’t mind people seeing me tear up in public. I know my tears honor the brave  men and women who serve. I also know my emotions are not necessarily the same as another military mom.

But for today, I need to take care of myself and not dwell in that dark scary place family members dwell in when their loved one is in harm’s way.

A video by my husband, photographer, Stanley Leary, of the Homecoming, July 2013.

Our family is together again. photo by Stanley Leary

Our family is together again.
photo by Stanley Leary

Our family welcomed Nelson home from his first deployment in July 2013. Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

Our family welcomed Nelson home from his first deployment in July 2013.
Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell


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