Transitions and Letting Go

On Matriculation Day the "Blue Shirt" volunteers are parents of cadets who volunteer to help the new cadets get settled in. Here you can see a group carrying items into 1st Battalion.

On Matriculation Day the “Blue Shirt” volunteers are parents of cadets who volunteer to help the new cadets get settled in. Here you can see a group carrying items into 1st Battalion.

I am just days away from a major shift in the way I’ve been living for the past ten years. On Monday, June 2, I begin a year-long stint as a resident in the chaplain’s office at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. I haven’t commuted daily to a job since 2004.

For the past ten years I have had contract positions where most of the work was done by computer and phone with occasional face to face meetings. I will now work 7:30 – 4:30 each day with on call duty one weekend a month.

For the past four years I’ve also contributed to this blog and maintain several Facebook groups for parents of cadets and graduates of The Citadel. How this activity will change is not clear right now. I assume I’ll still check in on the group sat the end of the day and contribute to the blog as I find the time. If you are a new Citadel parent, remember to use the search window on this blog and also on the school website. Just about every thing you need to know as a parent can be found on the school website or in previous posts to this blog or the Off the Base blog.

In previous years I’ve been on Facebook throughout the day to help answer questions in the parent groups. Fortunately I am not the only one in the groups a GREAT group of parents of graduates help answer questions in the groups. A few parents in the groups have multiple children at the school and they help answer questions too. Once I start working full-time I’m sure I’ll be able to check the group pages most evenings and on the weekend.

The Facebook group search window will appear when you click on the magnifying glass icon.

The Facebook group search window will appear when you click on the magnifying glass icon.

A tip to new parents: Join the The Citadel: Parents of  the Class of 2018 (email me to let me know your student will be a knob my address is in the About section of this blog). Being part of the group means you’ll learn about the 4th Class system together. You will find you are not alone in your questions. A BIG reason I started this group is to help parents learn about the system and learn to empower their knob/cadet to take control of their process. When you are missing your knob the first week, visit the group page.

Letting go of the control you’ve had as a parent is the toughest part of sending a child to The Citadel. It is a leadership school. That means your cadet will learn to take control of their future. For that to happen the cadet has to take the lead in advocating for them self.

Between cell phones, email and Skype families are more connected than ever. Technology can be a good thing, but it also means that for many parents of knobs, this first year can be very traumatic as you adjust to not being able to talk to your child whenever you would like to talk to them. Use the next few months as a transition period to prepare for scant communication.

Knobs do not have control over their time. They WILL NOT be able to reply to an email or text right away, much less a phone call. This is particularly tough on parents who are used to talking to their child throughout the day. It is really tough on the girlfriends or boyfriends of cadets. They too need to understand that knobs do not have control of much of anything other than their reactions this first year.

One way to cope with the separation with your knob is to learn to use the school website. Reading about the school and the training the cadets go through can help you feel connected when you can’t see or hear from them. I suggest this each year, NOT for you to tell your son or daughter what to do, but to help you understand the system at The Citadel. If you know the terminology and a little about the campus it means you can spend the little time you do have on the phone visiting and not asking for explanations of terms. A good book to read to help you understand knob year is, “In the Company of Men,” by Nancy Mace.

The Guidon is online and has a section with photos of the various uniforms and terminology. It also tells you a bit about the history. Your cadet will get a copy in the mail before Matriculation Day and will need to memorize and internalize much of this book. For parents it is just a helpful reference book to have on hand.

Caitlyn Lees, 2012 grad, sits at he sign in table with a cadet on Matriculation Day.

Caitlyn Lees, 2012 grad, sits at he sign in table with a cadet on Matriculation Day.

Once school gets started you can get an idea of what their day is like by reading the weekly training schedules that are online. Visit the Office of the Commandant page, then select Operations and Training, then select Training Schedules. If you want to read through what they will learn click on Training to see the various training modules.

Remember just a few short years ago when the rising seniors were knobs their parents did not have the benefit of Facebook groups or blog posts to help them through. The groups for classes started with the Class of 2016. The tips I am passing along I learned during my sons knob year. I hardly heard from him that year and used the time to read through the web site as well as reading books like In the Company of Men, The Boo, In Glory’s Shadow, Sword Drill and yes, Lords of Discipline. The volunteers of the Citadel Family Association are a great resource too. Once school starts you can also reach out to the company and battalion parent representatives.

Two blog entries you’ll want to visit in August:

Matriculation Day: The Hardest Part for Parents is Letting Go

Hell Week and Knob Year Survival Tips for Parents 

I am heading into my first week as a chaplain resident at the VA. I’m feeling a bit like getting ready for the first day of school. I’m not sure how often I will be contributing here in the months to come. My hope is that I’ve written enough about the school and the process that parents visiting this site will be able to use the search window above right on the page and find the information they need.

 

 

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The Citadel and the Fellowship of THE Ring

The Ring
photo by Stanley Leary

When I was 13 years old my brother gave me The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Years later my oldest son became interested in the tales of J.R.R. Tolkien. The books involve a tale of the One Ring that controls the others.

Years later I was struck at the similarities and differences between the One Ring and The Ring the senior cadets at The Citadel receive their senior year. The One Ring is one of power over people. The Citadel ring that a graduate wears is also one of power. The Citadel ring’s strength is in the power of friendship forged through the tough training the cadets endure over their four years. The power of The Citadel ring goes beyond the graduates and in many cases influences the families of the one who wears the ring.

One of the most moving accounts of the bond forged by the graduates who wear the ring is told by Pat Conroy. He told this story in his book, My Losing Season, and he also told the story in his commencement address in 2001. I can’t read the story without tears welling up in my eyes. Talk to many graduates and their families and they can tell you their own story of the Ring. In her book In the Company of Men, Nancy Mace details her father’s story of recovering his lost ring in the swampy fields of Vietnam.

Two weeks from now the Class of 2013 will receive their rings. It is a huge weekend for seniors and their families. My son used to say that the ring, and what it symbolizes, is more important to him than his diploma. Everyone who graduates from a college or university gets a diploma. Not everyone can earn the right to wear The Citadel Ring.

Over the past five years I have had the privilege to see what the power of this ring can do. As the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group for a few years I had the honor of witnessing the kindness of the members of the Atlanta Citadel Club when they heard a cadet was in need. One had trouble meeting the out-of-state tuition and was helped by a graduate. Another family had a crisis and weren’t sure they could get their cadet home, the alumni offered to pay for a flight. If a knob needed a ride back to campus from Georgia I just posted the need and within minutes offers to help would pour in.

This giving nature also applies to the families of the cadets. A family suffered the death of a grandparent. Their cadet couldn’t afford to travel to the funeral. A ticket arrived in the mail paid for by another family who heard of their need. When a cadet or graduate is deployed the moral support for the family of the soldier pours in.

Each year cadets and graduates are sent overseas to war. When one Citadel Mom learned that current cadets were going to war she founded The Citadel Heroes Project. Volunteers donate items and cards that are sent to the deployed cadets and graduates a few times a year. It is a huge effort that means so much to the recipients.

A young graduate died just months after graduation and before he reported to his first duty station. The roommate of the deceased was left behind to tie up the loose ends. A few of us attended the memorial service in Summerall Chapel. I was asked to read a poem during the service on behalf of the Citadel Family Association. A few of us moms learned it was difficult for the surviving roommate to go to the mail box each day and see mail to his deceased classmate/roommate/good friend. The Citadel Moms each took a week and sent baked goods gift cards for coffee shops and food. For eight weeks the surviving roommate went to his mailbox to find these gifts of love and support from his Citadel Moms.

Recently it was brought to the attention of a group of alumni that a few seniors, due to a number of circumstances, couldn’t afford to pay off the balance on their rings. Within a matter of hours alumni of all types, young and old, male and female, came together to donate the money needed to pay off the rings for these deserving seniors. When parents of current cadets and graduates heard of this effort, they too wanted to help. It was an amazing show of support by the members of The Citadel family. On October 12 the qualified cadets will receive their rings with the rest of their class.

Wearing the ring is something I will never experience. It was my son and his classmates that proved they were worthy of the honor of joining the Long Gray Line of graduates. They are family, not just classmates. I can tell you being a family member of the person who wears the ring makes you part of their extended Citadel family.

Pat Conroy used the sentence “I wear the ring.” in The Lords of Discipline to summarize the importance of his time at The Citadel and the bond he shares with others who wear the ring. The cadets who went through the rigors of the 4th Class System understand that sentence differently than any one else who reads it.

The parents and family members of the cadets and graduates can only get glimpses of what it means.

Bravo ’11 wear the ring. Photo by Stanley Leary

A group of friends who met through their cadets time at The Citadel.
photo by Stanley Leary

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