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.



How to Succeed at The Citadel (and in life)

The Citadel

This past weekend Naval Admiral William H. McRaven gave a very moving commencement address for his alma mater, University of Texas-Austin. I encourage you to read or listen to the entire speech. He uses stories from his Navy Seal training to underscore his message. His advice applies to everyone, not just members of the military.

While I am not as articulate as the Admiral, I am going to take his ten points and apply them to life as a cadet at The Citadel as best as I can. If you are a cadet or alum reading this, let me be clear. I did not go through the fourth class system and can never really know what your experience was like.

After six years of volunteering to support parents and their cadets and after listening to alumni, I have accumulated some observations about the cadets who succeed at The Citadel and now wear the ring.

I do encourage you to read or listen to Admiral McRaven’s full speech.

He summed up the ten points he made in his speech as follows:

Start each day with a task completed.

Find someone to help you through life.

Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up

To paraphrase the Admiral and put the challenges in perspective for a knob, I’ve added a few tips below.

If you want to wear the ring:

Start each day with a task completed

Adm. McRaven talked about making their bed each morning for inspection. Knobs at The Citadel tend to make their beds then sleep on top of them since it takes so long to make the bed properly. Try to come up with one task you do each day to help you feel you have accomplished something that day.

Find someone to help you through life

Knob year, like life in general, is much easier if you develop friendships with your peers. All the cliché sayings fit knob year, “No man is an island,” comes to mind. The sooner you begin to work with your fellow knobs, the better.

Respect everyone

Knobs are thrown together with a wide variety of people. For many it is the first time to leave their hometown. Your classmates will be very diverse. You each bring something to the table that will help the class. Look for what gift your fellow knob brings to the table.

Respecting everyone may be hard the first year, still practice respect each day. You will see examples of good leadership and poor leadership. You are in a college. The cadre are college students and learning too. At least respect that they went through knob year and were selected to be your leaders.

Know that life is not fair

This is a tough lesson for many the first year. No matter how shiny your brass is, or how well you shine your shoes, or how great your grades are, or how well you clean your room, you will not receive praise from the upperclass cadets. Find the inner strength to say to yourself, “I know I’ve done the best I can do.” and move forward. Your “Sugar Cookie” moment may come during inspection or after an event. Keep moving forward.

You will fail often

Knob year you cannot do anything right. You will be yelled at, you will miss a few goals either given to you or ones you set for yourself. You will be disappointed and feel discouraged. Keep going. You are stronger than you think you are.

Take some risks

This is a tough one to follow the first year when most knobs want to blend in. Taking risks can be as simple as offering support to a fellow knob, or as bold as volunteering for a duty you are not sure you can handle.

Step up when times are toughest

You will be pushed physically and mentally. These times will make you stronger if you let them. You will feel like quitting, everyone does. Remember why you selected this type of school. Pull on your inner strength to get you through.

Face down the bullies

You will feel like you are dealing with bullies each day. Unlike sharks you shouldn’t punch the in the bully in the snout, but you should find a way to deal with them that maintains your integrity and shows your strength.

Lift up the downtrodden

All knobs feel like the downtrodden at some point. Build each other up. You’ll have enough people yelling at you. One day you’ll be feeling OK but a classmate may not. Soon the roles will reverse. Be there for each other. I don’t recommend breaking out in song in the middle of a difficult task, but who knows, maybe the cadre will laugh.

Never give up

Follow the advice above when you are struggling. Pull on the strength of your classmates, close friends and family. Push through when you feel like quitting.

Put your best effort forward, even after disappointments. Hold your head up high. In four short years you will wear the ring.

I invite graduates of The Citadel to add your lessons in the comments section below.


The Story of My Nontraditional Calling

Accepting the Award
Accepting the 2014 Pioneer in Ministry Award. Photo by Stanley Leary

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a vague idea that my life purpose is to help people. Just how that should play out was not very clear for a very long time.

After college I worked in sports PR and then the hotel business. I was able to do small acts of kindness in those positions. Years later when I started a position at a United Methodist Church retreat center a tug to go to learn more about my faith grew stronger.

I entered Columbia Theological Seminary in 1995. At the time I was divorced with two small boys. I worked full-time and went to school full-time and had to squeeze in work-study hours too. The boys and I lived on campus in an apartment, but they remained in the school they attended 20 miles away.

It was a chaotic time to say the least. It was also a time of great growth and change.

Early on I felt God had led me to Columbia, not to do something different, but to enhance the work I was already doing in a ministry of hospitality.

Some where along the way as I struggled to discern where God was calling me, a thought came to me. My husband, who is a photographer, was a member of a group called Christians in Photojournalism. I began pondering what it would look like to be a caring presence for all journalists.

Early in my sports PR career I learned about the difficulties in being a journalist from a videographer friend. He worked for a local news station in Richmond, VA. He told me back in 1981 that when lists of most dangerous jobs come out, photojournalists/videographers are usually at the top. That thought haunted me for years. I met reporters who covered breaking news who would recount assignments where the area was cleared for them to enter and they stepped on a body part. What do you do with that experience?

In the middle of my long tenure in seminary, it took 7 years to finish what is usually a three-year full-time program, I began to investigate what was out there as far as support for journalists. One summer I spent time researching the topic. I would Google terms like “journalists ministry,” “reporters chaplain.” Not much showed up in these searches back in 2000. Then one day I found a group, not a faith-based organization, that seemed to understand what I knew inside. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma had articles on how to sensitively cover victims of violence, but they also offered tips for journalists to take care of them self after covering a traumatic event like war, natural disasters, and violent crimes. I began corresponding with the executive director and also the founder of the Dart Center.

During the 2001-2002 school year, my final year at Columbia, I was admitted to a clinical pastoral education (CPE) group. My context for ministry was working with journalists in the press room at. Georgia Tech football and basketball games as well as the Men’s Final Four. While the journalists weren’t covering trauma, the access to reporters and photojournalists led to incredible conversations. It was the year of 9/11. It was also the hear the head football coach at GT left for a head position at Notre Dame, his dream job, only to lose the job when discrepancies in his resume came to light.

The year ended with me feeling affirmed that what I knew inside was true, journalist do benefit from having a caring presence in their midst. My CPE supervisor affirmed that call in our final meeting. She also told me that my journey could be very lonely and suggested I build my own support network.

The years after graduation were filled with wonderful opportunities to grow and meet journalists. I worked for a program called Faith And The City that helped clergy in formation (seminarians) learn to be actively involved in civic affairs in their towns. I produced an interfaith dialogue cable television program called Faith And The City Forum: Interfaith Dialogue on Civic Issues. It was an exciting time.

During my first year at Faith And The City I attended my first meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies where the Dart Center also brought their fellows for a time of intense learning. It was wonderful to finally meet the people I had only exchanged emails with up to that point. They welcomed me in and introduced me to their fellows, journalists from around the world who covered war, disasters, and other traumatic stories.

During the lead up to the war in Iraq I began a prayer list for journalists who were covering the conflict. many of whom were embedded with troops. The list grew and eventually my husband helped me put it on my website. Soon the National Press Photographers Association posted a link to the list and emails began coming in thanking me for my efforts. Some asked for their names to be added to the list. After receiving these emails and after developing regular communications with journalists in war zones, I knew this is what God called me to do.

Unfortunately my path with the organized church was not so clear. While I knew I was called to be a caring presence for journalists, finding a way to be ordained to that ministry was not in the cards. It was not the fault of the organized church and the committees. Deep down I knew I did not want to serve in an ordained position. It was only after the conversation with the father of a journalist friend that I had the courage to claim my call and leave the formal ordination process.

He had started a Bible study on the PGA golf tour in the 1960’s. He told me, “You might need to do what I have done. I’ve modeled my ministry on Paul. He was a tentmaker by trade, but he also had a very important ministry.” Since I did not feel called to traditional ministry being able to administer the sacraments was not a motivator for me to be ordained. From that day forward I claimed my call and left the ordination process.

Since that time I’ve had the privilege to be present for scores of journalists as they wrestled with the news stories they have covered. I’ve learned things about their work things like, in a situation where the smell of decaying bodies is overwhelming, using Vick’s vapor rub under your nose while wearing a bandana over your nose is one way to mask the smell. I was in a film called, War and Truth, about journalists in Iraq. During the taping of the film I had the opportunity to meet a reporter I know I had added to the prayer list the year before. It was a powerful moment when we met and I told him he had been in my prayers for over a year.

I was interviewed on the local NBC station about my work. During a Workplace Chaplaincy conference at the Yale Center for Faith and Life I led a break out session on the need to provide pastoral care for journalists. The following year I led a similar break out session for the Association of Professional Chaplains. All these opportunities presented them self to me even though I was not in a tradition ministry position.

I experienced a shift in my focus when my oldest son decided to attend The Citadel on a four-year Army ROTC scholarship. By this time I knew quite a bit about the type of experiences our soldiers are exposed to. It was hard to be excited about his choice of career and school because of my fears for his safety. I eventually learned to respect a process I know I would not have succeeded in. It became evident to me that there are many people, like my son, who are competitive, and driven to do well in intense situations. I learned how to be a supportive parent in a very tough environment.

My participation in the Citadel Family Association led to many conversations and emails from anxious parents. By my son’s junior year I realized that I was using what I had learned in pastoral care classes to help be a listening presence to parents. Not everyone who attends The Citadel will go on to serve in the military, about a third do.

Once my son graduated I posted everything I used to share with the Georgia Citadel Parents Group to this blog site so anyone searching for information on preparing for knob year could find it. I remember thinking at the time that it would help parents be able to help their soon to be knob prepare to report and at the same time help lower the big unknown for the parents. Information has the power to lower anxiety. If the parents are less anxious my theory was that they would not bother their son or daughter with as many questions. It would leave the cadet to focus on surviving that very difficult knob year.

For the most part I believe it has helped. I will say that each family, each parent and each cadet is different. The parents have far more access to information now than in 2007 when my son started. Instead of being at home isolated without much information, except what ever is posted to the school website, parents can now join any number of Facebook groups just for parents. I still believe the best course of action is to learn what you need to in order to be supportive, but let the cadet navigate the system on their own.

I continue to stay in touch with quite a few journalists while I keep up this blog site geared toward Citadel families as well as several Facebook groups for Citadel parents.

I didn’t realize until now just how many people outside of these circles have taken note of my outreach.

This past Tuesday Columbia Theological Seminary hosted the annual Alumni/Alumnae luncheon. During the luncheon I was presented with the 2014 Pioneer In Ministry Award. Two of my former classmates nominated me for the work with journalists, but also for the support I’ve given to parents of cadets at The Citadel. It is a tremendous honor to be recognized in this way. It is particularly meaningful to me because CTS is a very traditional educational environment that prepares students to become pastors of congregations or chaplains. I do serve in a ministry, but I do not work for a church or church organization and I am not ordained. The way we “do church” is shifting to an outward focus. Being given this award at this time is affirmation to me that yes, I am exactly where God wants me. I am helping people but in a non traditional, but very ancient ministry of presence.

As a nice foot note to the event on Tuesday an attendee approached me outside the building after the luncheon to say congratulations. He then told me he was a chaplain on the PGA golf tour in the 1960’s. It turned out he is a very good friend of the father of my friend who encouraged me to view my ministry as a tentmaker, like Paul.

Beginning June 2 I will begin a year-long Clinical Pastoral Education residency at the VA hospital in Decatur, GA. I will have 3 other classmates along with a few interns who will join us during a few semesters. We will learn as we provide pastoral care for the patients of the hospital, mental health department and the long-term care facility. I look forward to this next adventure. I will continue to be present on the Facebook groups, but not throughout the work day.

Pamela Leach presents teh 2014 Pioneer in Ministry Award during the annual Alumni Alumnae Luncheon at Columbia Theological Seminary
Pamela Leach presents the 2014 Pioneer in Ministry Award during the annual Alumni Alumnae Luncheon at Columbia Theological Seminary.  Photo by Stanley Leary
Pam Leach presents Dorie with a stole as part of the Pioneer in Ministry Award.
Pam Leach presents Dorie with a stole as part of the Pioneer in Ministry Award. Photo by Stanley Leary

Dorie addresses the gathering

Several of my long time friends attended the luncheon.
Several of my long time friends attended the luncheon. Photo by Stanley Leary
The 2014 Columbia Theological Seminary Pioneering Ministry Award proclamation.
The 2014 Columbia Theological Seminary Pioneering Ministry Award proclamation.