Matriculation Day: The Hardest Part for Parents is Letting Go

Matriculation Day check inWe are approaching the annual rite of passage at The Citadel known as Matriculation Day, the day the first year cadets, or knobs as they are called, report for their Challenge Week, formerly called Hell Week.

To help families prepare for this day the alumni groups in several area host send off events. In Georgia there is a parent orientation meeting. I started a group for new parents only on Facebook called The Citadel: Parents of the Class of 2017 to help parents prepare their knob to report while also helping them learn to let go of the day-to-day aspects of their child’s experiences.

The hardest part of the experience for parents is letting go. The knobs have a tough time, but they are busy learning the system and going to classes. It is tough and they manage it well. The parents, on the other hand, tend to have a very tough time the first few months. They worry about their child, mainly because the system is so foreign to them and therefore, it is scary.

The Facebook group for new parents is there to assure parents that they, and their child, will get through this. Each year over 700 knobs report to the school. 2,000+ members of the Corps of Cadets are on campus each year. The parents of graduates in the Facebook group act as coaches for the new parents. We try to give them the tools they will need to support their cadet’s process instead of intervening.

The cadre march the Class of 2016 to their first lunch in the mess hall.
The cadre march the Class of 2016 to their first lunch in the mess hall.

Parents, you are sending your child to a military COLLEGE, not to war. I know the difference now since my son just returned from Afghanistan. My early worries seem silly now. Allowing your knob to take control of their experience and work out their problems is the best gift you can give them.

I do understand the anxiety though. I was in your shoes in 2007. At that time there were no Facebook groups. The Atlanta Citadel Club does have a send off event and the parent orientation was very helpful. I resourced with a local mom of a cadet and also the Citadel Family Association chair couple at the time. In 2007 knobs were not allowed to have cell phones first semester, so we didn’t get a call at the end of the first week. If we were lucky we received a quick email.

In 2011 I was asked to contribute to a blog called Off the Base ,┬ámy son’s senior year. The blog is the project of Bobbie O’Brien of WUSF in Tampa, Florida. She thought my voice as the mom of an Army ROTC cadet soon to be officer would be helpful to her readers. I hesitated to write about The Citadel because I really couldn’t speak to the cadet experience. My son was the one who attended, not me. In the end I agreed. The entries trace my experience from a mom who couldn’t understand why in the world my son would want this type of experience, to a mom who knows it is not the experience I could have gone through, but The Citadel was exactly where my son needed to be.

Because of my blog contributions to Off the Base, and my own blog, some parents get the impression I never had doubts about the process. To these parents I suggest reading the first few entries from Off the Base. I assure you I was extremely anxious about the whole experience. The first entry, The Making of a Military Mom and the second, Mom Readies for Son’s Military College trace my early journey. The following entries, The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents and Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel, describe in part the transformation I went through as I saw the changes in my son from a young high school student to a responsible adult.

The Cadre lead the Class of 2016 from the mess hall to their first meeting. The first week this process is repeated over and again.
The Cadre lead the Class of 2016 from the mess hall to their first meeting. The first week this process is repeated over and again.

The best gift a parent can give their knob is helping them prepare for Matriculation Day, then let go. Let your knob be the one to reach out to you. They have no control over their time so if you call and they don’t answer the phone, know that is completely normal. Send them encouraging cards and messages. When they do call, be supportive. Remind them of the strength they have within them to tackle their challenges. If they have a problem with a classmate don’t try to fix it for them, but remind them there is a chain of command and a protocol to go through to address concerns.

You can use the time to learn more about the school and the 4th Class system when your knob cannot call or email you. The Citadel external affairs office does a great job of posting photos and updates to the web site and also to their Facebook page for new parents to try to get a glimpse of their knob. Read through the Office of the Commandant page and all the links to learn about the school and the process your cadet is going through. This knowledge is not to intervene, but to see how they are trained.

As a parent it is tough to resist the urge to fix things for our children. Come April and Recognition Day, the knobs, and their parents, will see they have made it through to be full members of the Corps of Cadets and you will each feel a sense of accomplishment and pride of what you have come through.

The Class of 2016 lines up to enter the chapel the Sunday morning of Matriculation Day weekend, 2012.
The Class of 2016 lines up to enter the chapel the Sunday morning of Matriculation Day weekend, 2012.

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

What I've Learned During My Son's First Deployment

I'm inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping. photo by Stanley Leary
I’m inventorying the supplies before packing them for shipping.
photo by Stanley Leary

My son’s battalion will return home soon. I’ve looked through my photos and notes about the year. During that time I have mailed over 443 pounds of needed items to both my son, his platoon, and the battalion. That number includes a Christmas mailing providing gift bags for each member of the platoon, a large shipment of items to the battalion headquarters of underwear and socks, as well as Easter, birthday and regular care packages. Putting these mailings together was a community effort. It helped me pass the time by providing helpful items to our soldiers. Many of my friends sent their own boxes. I know my son and his soldiers appreciated their gifts.

In addition to reviewing the notes and photos of mailings, I’ve been reflecting on all that I have learned this year.

I’ll list these in no particular order:

While many people in our community are clueless about what it is like to have a love one deploy, so many others are extremely supportive.

The unexpected ring of the door bell can make your thoughts race and your heart pound.

Missing a Skype call really stinks.

Corresponding via cell phone to a deployed soldier in Afghanistan is amazing.

My friends and many others who read my blog are some of the most supportive and generous people ever!

The battalion commander of my son’s battalion is a very caring person.

The Family Readiness Groups are very supportive. Be sure your soldier lists you as an approved contact so you can get the updates.

There is no way to fully prepare for a child’s deployment.

The pain you feel for a fallen soldiers family is real, but can’t come close to the pain they must feel.

Helping to support deployed soldiers by sending packages and notes of support is a great way to deal with my own anxiety about deployment.

The various Facebook groups for parents/family of deployed soldiers are a good resource, but some have too much drama.

Be careful who you friend on Facebook.

Do not post any information to Facebook that could endanger our deployed soldiers. Cyber stalking does happen.

The extended Army family is amazing.

Some of our deployed troops do not get mail from home. Send extra so your soldier can share. Don’t judge the families. It is expensive to mail boxes, not everyone can afford to send things.

Never under-estimate the joy a roll of soft toilet paper can bring to a deployed soldier.

The single soldiers return to the US without a lot of support. Support the rear detachment office with your donations for welcome home items for the barracks.

The company, Covert Threads, offers great socks at a good price.

Take items out of their original box and put them into zip lock bags. The soldiers have to burn their trash and the bags can be used to keep dust off of other items.

Quite a few companies offer free shipping to APO addresses. Just Google “free shipping to APO” for a list of companies/organizations.

Cigars are appreciated. Island Smoke Shop is a great resource. A Combat Humidor makes a great gift too.

When people ask what they can do to support you and your soldier, keep a list of needed/wanted items handy. Ask people to help supply them.

The people at the local Post Office like to hear how my son is doing.

Many of our soldiers can’t send mail or communicate their thanks, but they are very grateful for our support.

A call, Facebook message, or a photo can make your whole week.

Clean underwear and socks are always appreciated.

Blue Star Mothers, Blue Star Families can be a great support network to plug into.

Memories in Stitches will make a Gold Star banner for a fallen soldier’s family. She also makes Blue Star quilts.

You can find Blue Star pins and flags at a reasonable price online.

As hard as it may be, read up on the potential effects of war on the soldiers and the ones who love them.

An overview of some of the mailings of the past nine months. . . .

Prayyer Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
Squares made by the Prayers and Squares ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.
The three goody bags went into a zip lock bag with a note from the children and a card from us.
The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.
The goodies were sorted and put into gift bags. Each soldier will get three bags of goodies.
Christmas Stockings for soldiers form the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
Christmas Stockings for soldiers from the Military Ministry of Roswell Presbyterian Church.
Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.
Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.
A variety of silly items from the Dollar Store made for a fun birthday box.
A variety of silly items from the Dollar Store made for a fun birthday box.
We sent some fun items for Easter too.
We sent some fun items for Easter too.

The Citadel: Parents Weekend Notes For Parents of the Class of 2014 and 2017

The Class of 2011 wait to receive their rings. photo by Stanley Leary
The Class of 2011 wait to receive their rings.
photo by Stanley Leary

This is the time of the summer when I begin to get private messages from parents with cadets at The Citadel. The new parents have questions about getting ready for Matriculation Day, the day the new cadets report. The parents of rising seniors are preparing for Parents Weekend, which is also referred to as Ring Weekend, the day the qualified seniors receive their class ring.

Looking back on the four years my son was a cadet I can understand why there are so many questions about these two events. The school does a great job of posting helpful information, but there are times when a mother just wants to get the opinion of someone who has gone through the experience. Right now the Facebook group for 2017 parents is growing daily with new parents. It is a great place to ask questions of parents of graduates and to meet other new parents.

My mantra with all parents is to remember there is no one right way to do things at The Citadel. Each cadet will have their own goals and possess their own gifts and talents. A general rule of thumb is to talk to your cadet about their preferences before you resource with others. That is especially true about preparing for knob year.

If you wonder whether to purchase a certain item, ask your cadet if they want it first. A recent thread on a Facebook group grew to over 30 comments when a parent asked about bringing printers. Ultimately it is a personal preference. If you ask five different people their opinion, you will hear five different answers.

My son invited a good friend to join us as we went through the ring. photo by Stanley Leary
My son invited a good friend to join us as we went through the ring.
photo by Stanley Leary

Most of the questions from parents of seniors this summer deal with what a mom should wear to the Ring Ceremony Friday night. Some traditional rules about attire for Ring Weekend are now more flexible in practice. Traditionally in any social context you dress for the occasion based on the uniform of the day. For seniors this means their full dress grey uniform, their most formal. They wear this uniform to receive their rings and to walk through the Ring during the ceremony Friday night. SO to follow the traditional rules of etiquette, the mom and or date should wear a formal outfit.

That said you will see all types of outfits on the attendees at both events. Our family opted to wear nice “Sunday” attire Friday afternoon. For the Friday night Ring Ceremony I wore a formal gown. My 11-year-old daughter wore a nice dress and my husband was in a suit and tie. Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see a variety of dresses we saw in 2010.

The Cadet Activities office handles the schedule for the weekend, including the schedule of when each company goes through the Ring. Be sure to check their website and the school website for the schedule. When your cadet’s company goes through the ring will dictate when you plan to have dinner that night. Many companies, or groups of friends, get together for a group dinner that evening. Not everyone does, however. Another example of when you need to coordinate with your cadet. Moms, as you are selecting shoes to wear be aware that you may have to wait in a long line to walk through the ring. It is really an opportunity to have your photo taken as you walk through the giant replica of the ring. After you walk through the ring you can go to the Ring Hop, or take a carriage ride through the campus.

Bravo Company Class of 2014 prepare to receive their company letter. October 4 this year they will wear the ring. photo by Stanley Leary
Bravo Company Class of 2014 prepare to receive their company letter. October 4 this year they will wear the ring.
photo by Stanley Leary

For the first year knobs, Friday afternoon and evening is a time to relax with their family and friends. Knobs and their families do not attend the Ring Hop Friday night. I was told by a TAC officer in 1st battalion that they prefer the knobs to get out of the barracks and off campus while the seniors are receiving their rings. The school will publish a schedule which will include an academic open house Friday afternoon and usually an update from the president. Knobs will have to have their rooms in order for the early morning open barracks, so they try to get back to the barracks before the Midnight curfew.

Saturday morning the barracks will be open to guests. They usually have coffee and donuts in Mark Clark Hall along with an opportunity to purchase photos and other items from various vendors. At about 10:00 each company conducts their promotion ceremony for knobs. They are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates at the ceremony. The parade follows the ceremony and is before lunchtime. After the parade families get together for lunch with their cadets either in the mess hall or they bring a picnic or purchase a boxed lunch through the school.

The cadets have to march to the football game together. They also have to sit together in the stands. It is fun to go to the game, then see the Summerall Guards perform at half-time. Many families enjoy tailgate parties outside the stadium before, during, and after the game.

I’ll include links here to previous posts about the weekend.

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Special Weekends: Parents Weekend, Homecoming, Corps Day, Recognition Day

The Citadel: Parents Weekend and Ring Weekend Tips

Senior Parent notes

The Citadel: Parents/Ring Weekend 2012 + Hotel Info

A few photos from Friday night and Saturday follow:

Bravo Company Cadre and knobs do a set of push ups at the end of the ceremony. photo by Stanley Leary
Bravo Company Cadre and knobs do a set of push ups at the end of the ceremony.
photo by Stanley Leary
Bravo cadet officers lead the push ups for the CLass of 2014 promotion ceremony. photo by Stanley Leary
Bravo cadet officers lead the push ups for the CLass of 2014 promotion ceremony.
photo by Stanley Leary

 

You will see all types of outfits on the moms during the Ring Ceremony. These are a few examples. photo by Stanley Leary
You will see all types of outfits on the moms during the Ring Ceremony. These are a few examples.
photo by Stanley Leary
You will also see other family members in addition to Moms going through with their cadet. photo by Stanley Leary
You will also see other family members in addition to Moms going through with their cadet.
photo by Stanley Leary
photo by Stanley Leary
photo by Stanley Leary

 

photo by Stanley Leary
photo by Stanley Leary
photo by Stanley Leary
photo by Stanley Leary

 

Our family outside 1st Battalion after the ring presentation.
Our family outside 1st Battalion after the ring presentation.