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

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Gearing Up for the New School Year: Information for Citadel and LDAC Cadet Families

Cars begin to line up at the alumni center in the early morning hours of Matriculation Day.

Cars begin to line up at the alumni center in the early morning hours of Matriculation Day.

As the excitement and fun of the 4th of July holiday is winding down, I have observed an increase in search terms relating to Matriculation Day for the Class of 2018, Parents Weekend for the Class of 2015 and oddly enough LDAC information. The first two categories I expect each year at this time. What I have realized is the US Army moved their Leader Development and Assessment Course to Ft. Knox from Joint Base Lewis McChord and the way they are now delivering information to family and friends is not as easy to find or complete as in years past.

For the family and friends of cadets at LDAC I will include a few links I have found for current information. Be sure to click the links provided within these pages for more information:

On Facebook: U.S. Army ROTC Cadet Summer Training 

Leader Development and Assessment Course blog site

ROTC CST YouTube channel

LDAC photos

U.S.Army Cadet Command news

For the Class of 2018 and their parents: The school has now updated the Matriculation Day information on their website. Be sure to check out each and every link and entry on the list. Some, like the assessments link, include links to items you MUST act on by a particular date.

I’ve noted a few changes from years past. In the Success Packet they now ask that incoming knobs label their clothes. Bedding will be labeled by the laundry service. In years past this was part of the first week experience. See page 7 of the Success Packet for the complete instructions. Tips for the items on the Success Packet required list and the Citadel Family Associations “Nice to Have List” can be found on this previous blog post, Welcome to the Class of 2018.

A knob checks in at the table in the sallyport (entrance) of the barracks.

A knob checks in at the table in the sallyport (entrance) of the barracks.

Another large change is the school will not be mailing a copy of the Guidon, the book that knobs MUST learn and memorize parts of this year. It is available online. They suggest incoming knobs begin to memorize the knob knowledge prior to Matriculation Day. The  List of Knob Knowledge and where to find the information is on page 55 of the Guidon available online.

A few helpful links for the Class of 2018 follow. I suggest taking time and reading through the previous posts about knob year too:

The Admission’s office Matriculation Day Headquarters page

The Office of the Commandant‘s Matriculation Information page

For an over view of Parents Weekend see the entries at the end of the post.

The Facebook group for parents, The Citadel: Parents of the Class of 2018
( please request to join and also send me a note on Facebook or an email, found in the About Dorie section of this blog, to verify you are the parent of a cadet. Extended family members and friends are not allowed in the group)

Entering knobs place their belongings on the side walk outside the barracks and go to check in. Family members wait by the belongings.

Entering knobs place their belongings on the side walk outside the barracks and go to check in. Family members wait by the belongings.

 

After the gates close the knobs line up in their company to prepare to march to lunch.

After the gates close the knobs line up in their company to prepare to march to lunch.

For the parents of the Class of 2015:

Congratulations!! You are about to enter one of the most fun years at The Citadel. Ring Weekend will be here before you know it, October 10 – 12, 2014. If you haven’t done so already be sure to book your accommodations for the weekend. Be ready to see your cadet smile like you haven’t seen them smile on campus before.

The activities begin Friday with the ring presentation around noon. If you can get there early enough to watch them march into the field house as the knobs cheer them on. It is open seating for this event and there are no limits to the number of people who can attend. You will see all types of dress on the people attending. It is an important event. The cadets will be in there most formal uniform. Families should dress comfortably but appropriately for the occasion.

The Class of 2011 runs to the chapel after receiving their rings.

The Class of 2011 runs to the chapel after receiving their rings.

Bravo '11 members run through the sword arch.

Bravo ’11 members run through the sword arch.

Bravo '11 members show off their rings.

Bravo ’11 members show off their rings.

After they receive their rings the seniors RUN out of the field house and knock their rings on the chapel, a nod to the days they received them in the chapel in a ceremony just for cadets. They then Run back into their barracks for a toast at the company letter. Station yourself at a sallyport with a view of the company letter and have a zoom lens for great photos. Our son’s senior year his TAC allowed my husband and a few others into the battalion to take photos. You should not assume permission will be granted. Check with the TAC Friday morning to see the current policy.

The afternoon, from about 2:00 until it is your cadet’s company designated time to go through the ring, is free time. The Cadet Activities office posts the Ring Ceremony information sometime in September. Check their website.

Each company is assigned a time to go through the ring by the Cadet Activities office. It is really just a photo opportunity for the cadet and their family. Whomever will walk through the ring with their senior cadet needs to arrive 15 minutes before their designated time. The wait can take up to an hour, so be sure you have on comfortable shoes for standing. You will be instructed on where to look as you walk through the ring and the sword arch. If you have a high-end camera your family member or friend may be able to get a good photo without a flash. Anyone not going through the ring can watch from the stands. There is no dress code to sit and watch. Anyone walking through the ring should dress appropriately for this formal occasion. It is tradition for women to wear a formal gown, but in recent years many have worn cocktail length dresses, or a dressy skirt and blouse. Like most everything else on campus, you will see a little of everything.

Dinner reservations should be made around the time the company’s designated time to go through the ring. Our year Bravo Company went through after 8:00, so a group of us met for an early dinner. Our cadets then went out together, without parents afterward.

The Junior Sword Arch opens the presentation around 6:00, see the official schedule this fall for exact times. Anyone can attend and see this performance.

After the Friday festivities the rest of the weekend is like every other Parents Weekend, open barracks Saturday, a concert on the parade field, parade lunch on your own and the football game.

A few members of Bravo Company and their dates pose by the company letter before they walk through the ring.

A few members of Bravo Company and their dates pose by the company letter before they walk through the ring.

You can see photos of dresses worn in previous years on the blog entries listed here:

The Citadel Parents/Ring Weekend 2012 + Hotel Info

The Citadel Parents Weekend Ring Weekend Tips

The Citadel: Parent Weekend Tips for the Class of 2014 and 2017

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

 

Supporting the Troops With Care Packages

Care packages ready to be shipped to deployed cadets and graduates of The Citadel.

The Citadel Heroes Project. Care packages ready to be shipped to deployed cadets and graduates of The Citadel.

We are approaching Thanksgiving time, and the time to send care packages to troops for the holidays.

At The Citadel a great volunteer effort was started several years ago to send boxes to deployed cadets and graduates, The Citadel Heroes Project.

I’ve written about this effort before. The time to send donations for their holiday mailing is now. Susie Maghakian of the Krause Leadership Center on campus is the staff coordinator for the project. Theresa Chamberlain is the parent of a graduate and is the current volunteer coordinator of the program.

For a list of suggested items you can visit the Citadel Family Association page for the project, just note that the contact information is out of date for Susie.

Please send your donations of items for the boxes, or a check for the postage made out to The Citadel Heroes Project, to:

Susie Maghakian, Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, 171 Moultrie Street, The Citadel Station, Charleston, SC  29409

or if you are sending items via UPS or other carrier use the physical address on campus:

Susie Maghakian, Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, 201 Richardson Ave, 171 Moultrie Street, Charleston, SC 29409

susie.maghakian@citadel.edu

Phone: 843-953-5815

People always ask what should be included in care packages. A general rule is not to send items that have a short shelf life. Mail can be delayed and items like home-baked good soften arrived spoiled.

If you Google “what to send a deployed soldier” quite a few sites with suggestions will pop up. Give 2 the Troops is one of many sites you will find that offer a list of items. I’ll include a few suggestions here, but please note this list is not exhaustive. If you know the person you are sending items to, ask them what they would like and would appreciate. Some units have ready access to day to day items, others do not.

Saran Wrap: I have recently learned that including a roll of saran wrap in a care package could help save a soldier’s life. In a recent email from a Citadel grad who is working as a contractor in Afghanistan he wrote: “Its use would be as an emergency field medical expedient dressing to wrap hastily around the chest of a torso-wounded teammate to prevent death by ‘sucking chest wound.’  Some SF medics I work with have recommended this technique.  I’m sure it would have other practical uses as well.”

Snacks: Individual packets of trail mix and nuts, granola bars, protein bars, breakfast bars, fruit leather, jerky, hard candy, chewing gum, small packets of cookies, individual serving containers of noodles. If they have access to a microwave the individual meals are great.

Beverage powder: Individual drink packets to be added to water – all flavors; hot chocolate packets; instant coffee; powdered creamer

Sauces: Dipping sauces from your local fast food store; hot sauces

Non food items: soft toilet paper, baby wipes, Q-Tips, in the winter month hand warmers, disposable razors, feminine hygiene products-if you know there are women in the unit

Personal care items (do not include in the same box as food): shampoo, shaving cream in squeeze tubes, liquid body soap, deodorant, sun screen

Homemade goodies: Cake in a Jar. You can find several recipes for this online. See this link for one recipe.

Other items: School supplies, like pencils, paper, crayons. These items are given to the local school children; wrapped candies

Socks, Underwear, T-Shirts : If you know the soldier and their sizes these items are appreciated. Covert Threads is a great resource for good socks for soldiers. THey have a buy 10 get three free policy which makes the socks even more affordable. It is a great option for groups sending items out.

Packing tips:

Take items and individual packets out of the box they came in and put them in a zip lock bag. You can fit more in a care package this way and the ziplock bag can be used for other things once the solder has the box. Plus, they have to burn their trash.

Do not mix scented items with food items.

If you try to send home-baked goods vacuum pack them.

Add some fun items like a deck of cards, photos of friends and family, letters and drawings from children, fun toys from the dollar store to blow off steam

I'm inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. Note the packets of oatmeal and breakfast bars (on the left side of hte photo) are repacked into ziplock bags. THe cardboard wrapping on the socks was removed before shipping them to Afghanistan. The clothing items were packed in vacuum bags so help get more into the boxes. photo by Stanley Leary

I’m inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. Note the packets of oatmeal and breakfast bars (on the left side of the photo) are repacked into ziplock bags. The cardboard wrapping on the socks was removed before shipping them to Afghanistan. The clothing items were packed in vacuum bags so help get more into the boxes.
photo by Stanley Leary

The United States Postal Service has a great webpage with instructions on how to ship to APO/FPO/DPO addresses.

See this list from the USPS of items not to send.

Several organizations support the troops year round. I will list a few here that I have contacted myself:

Military Families Ministries

Operation Gratitude

Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes

USO

SkinnyScoop Nomination for Top 25 Military Mom Blogs!

I don’t find myself speechless very often, but an email I received today left me with no words.

The email follows.

Please take a minute to vote.

Thank you.

Hi,

I’m Joanne, and I handle community outreach at SkinnyScoop.com in San Francisco.  I’m writing to let you know that your blog has been nominated to our ‘Top 25 Military Mom Blogs’ contest!  It’s been great learning more about your blog and I wanted to be sure that you knew you were in the running.
If you’d like to share your nomination with your readers, you can find the contest here –http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/SkinnyScoop_Staff/top-25-military-mom-blogs-of-2013.  There are more than 40 blogs nominated so you may need to scroll down to find your nomination(s).

To vote, your readers just have to go to the contest page, find your nomination, and click “Like”.  The Top 25 blogs will be decided by the highest number of votes (“likes”), and announced during the last week of September.

You can also post the attached badge on your sidebar or in a blog post and link to http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/SkinnyScoop_Staff/top-25-military-mom-blogs-of-2013.  Alternatively you can use our sharing functionality to post the contest to Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter.

 

You can see the joy and relief on all our faces. Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

You can see the joy and relief on all our faces.
Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

The Yellow Ribbon Comes Down

The fluffy new ribbon was posted in November of 2012

The fluffy new ribbon was posted in November of 2012

Monday night we hosted a Welcome Home party for Nelson. He arrived to the States from Afghanistan July 17, but he just arrived to our hometown this past Friday. Monday night is an odd day to host a gathering, but it was the only day he had free.

It was a fun evening. We picked up barbecue from our favorite restaurant, and had an assortment of other goodies out.

The guests came from all different parts of our life. Former and current neighbors, a favorite elementary school teacher of our son’s, church friends, family friends, work friends, most of whom had never even met Nelson. All came to welcome him home. We were happy to thank them for their support over the past nine months.

Nelson cut down the ribbon Monday night. Photo by Stanley Leary

Nelson cut down the tired ribbon Monday night.
Photo by Stanley Leary

The highlight of the evening for me came when we went out side so my son could cut the yellow ribbon down from the oak tree out front. When I first put the ribbon up the bow was big fluffy and cheerful. By last night it was dirty, droopy, and sad-looking. I wrote about the ribbon while he was still deployed. The ribbon became a symbol for how I felt inside after 9 months of worry and concern.

Nelson took out a pocket knife and cut the ribbon down at the end of the party Monday night. You can see the relief on my face in the photo my husband took once it was down.

A simple act that took seconds, but reminded us how fortunate we are to have him home.

The ribbon is down. He is home safe. photo by Stanley Leary

The ribbon is down. He is home safe.
photo by Stanley Leary

He’s Home!

Dorie and Chelle hold the Welcome Home banner before entering the gym.

Dorie and Chelle hold the Welcome Home banner before entering the gym.
photo by Stanley Leary

Wednesday, July 17 was a big day for our family. My oldest son returned from a nine month deployment to Afghanistan. It was a tough nine months. Due to the nature of his mission we knew very little of what he was doing or where he was most of the time. Unlike other battalions, his battalion could not post updates and photos to their Facebook page. Before the 17th the last time I heard my son’s voice or saw my son’s face was around Christmas time when we had a quick Skype call. To say we were excited for his homecoming is a major understatement.

Our daughter was attending her church youth group camp this past week. We had to stop by the camp to pick her up on our way to Fort Stewart. On our way tot he car from her cabin I saw something shining on the ground. It was a small coin like piece of metal with the likeness of a Spartan warrior on it. It made me choke up. My son was part of the Spartan platoon during this deployment. I took this as a very good sign.

We checked into our hotel in Savannah for our daughter to change out of her grubby camping clothes then it was off to Fort Stewart. The entire trip I kept checking the Fort Stewart Flight Checker web site to make sure there were no changes. Half way to the base I received a call that the location of the homecoming was changed from Cottrell Field to the gymnasium due to threatening weather. At least the time didn’t change.

Family and friends ready to welcome him home.

Family and friends ready to welcome him home.
photo by Stanley Leary

We arrived almost two hours early, but we weren’t the only ones. Plenty of other families anxious for the arrival of their loved one were filing into the gym too. Veterans from previous conflicts welcomed us into the gym and handed us a small American Flag. I had seen photos of previous homecomings in the gym and decided that a seat near the floor would be the best plan. When you are close to the floor you can get to the soldiers quickly when they are released. Our family sat in the second row, center, saving places for other family and friends to join us. It was fun to meet other families as we waited.

James and Sarah Harrell wait with Chelle.

James and Sarah Harrell wait with Chelle.

Slowly the rest of our group arrived. My ex husband and his wife, with two of my sons good friends sat behind us. Another Citadel classmate and his wife arrived. Then my dear friend and fellow Citadel Mom, Jerri arrived with her daughter Jada.

Jerri helped me tremendously to get ready for this first deployment. Her husband is a master sergeant in the Army and they live close to Fort Stewart. They’ve been through a few deployments. I tried to learn from Jerri what to expect.

L-R Chelle, Jada, Jerri and Dorie wait for the soldiers to arrive.

L-R Chelle, Jada, Jerri and Dorie wait for the soldiers to arrive.

Slowly the stands filled up. The Army band members began to arrive. At some point about an hour before their anticipated arrival a gentleman announced that the soldiers had landed at Hunter Air Field and were loading the buses.

I started posting short updates to Facebook. So many of my friends have prayed for us this year. I wanted them to be a part of this exciting evening. My notifications began lighting up with notes from friends who were following my posts and photo updates.

Soon the announcement was made that they were one mile away. My stomach began to do flip-flops in anticipation.

A General then announced that they were lining up outside. he reviewed how the next few minutes would unfold. It was obvious he understood that after the obligatory uncasing of the colors, a prayer, the National Anthem and the singing of a couple of Army songs, the families really didn’t care what he had to say.

The Genreal gave us instructions. photo by Stanley Leary

The General gave us instructions.
photo by Stanley Leary

Our group along with everyone else in the stands began to comb the faces of the uniformed soldiers in front of us. Our daughter was the first to spot our guy. Once he saw us he gave a slight nod of his head as if to say “sup.”

I honestly can’t tell you what the General said. My heart was racing and my emotions were jumbled between totally excited to teary because the anxious waiting was over. I alternated between wanting to laugh in relief to tears of joy. Stanley moved to the floor to capture of photo of Nelson while he was in formation. Chelle and I made our way to the floor as the General finished his comments.

Taylor, Dorie Nelson and Chelle reunited for the first time. photo by Stanley Leary

Taylor, Dorie Nelson and Chelle reunited for the first time.
photo by Stanley Leary

We ran to our soldier along with a room full of family and friends doing the same thing.

I found Nelson he had a huge grin on his face. That first hug was amazing. He hugged me, then me and Chelle, then my other son, Taylor, arrived and the four of us had a big group hug. Within seconds the rest of our group arrived for their hugs. Everyone was beaming. The photos began to be snapped.

You can see the joy and relief on all our faces. Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

You can see the joy and relief on all our faces.
Photo by Sarah Kohut Harrell

The local CBS affiliate asked Nelson to make a few comments. His comments didn’t make it on air that night, but Stanley stood there with the camera man and got the interview on tape. We were all a little surprised that our health conscious soldier’s first wish was to go to McDonald’s for a Big Mac!

He gathered his bags as the rest of us waited outside the gym and took more photos. One of the final photos before we headed to his hotel room to continue visiting was of Nelson lifting his baby sister. It is a tradition that started when she was just a toddler. It was a sign that our guy was really home with his family.

My oldest and my youngest reunited. photo by Stanley Leary

My oldest and my youngest reunited.
photo by Stanley Leary

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