A Caring Community

The Boat Center at The Citadel.
The picnic tables by the boat house. My favorite place on campus.

When my oldest son went off to college I never expected to end up with life long friends as a result, but that is what happened at The Citadel.

By the end of my son’s knob year I volunteered to help lead the Georgia Citadel Parents Group. That position meant I was part of the Citadel Family Association. many of the parents I met through this organization back in 2008 are some of my close friends now. We called ourselves the YaYa’s then and now.

Thanks to the development of parent Facebook groups, that are not officially part of The Citadel Family Association, many more parents are meeting virtually before they finally meet on campus.

The Citadel Alumni network are known for supporting fellow members of the Long Gray line of graduates. The parents of cadets at The Citadel are proving to be a very close group too.

As an official volunteer while my son was a cadet, I had the privilege of being a caring presence for a few families who experienced some of life’s most challenging situations, including serious illness and death of a close family members.

I’ve seen the alumni network jump to the aid of a cadet with sudden financial needs. Parents of cadets have too over the years. The alumni have a very organized structure, but for the parents there really isn’t a structure in a formal sense. They are members of various Facebook groups. As a need arises someone will post a note, then  the offers of help and prayers begin to pour in. This grass-roots support happened after hurricane Sandy when a Long Island mom, who is also a teacher posted a need. Each year leading up to ring weekend calls for support for cadets who cannot afford their ring are posted and the challenge is met.

Volunteer support is also given in family emergencies. Offers of prayers, visits to hospitals and campus are all carried out quietly by individuals and groups who hear of a need a step up to meet the need. I don’t know of another college or university that has this type of camaraderie among the parents of their students.

Parents do need to be careful though. The cadets are students at a military college. The 4th Class System is designed to train the students to become leaders, which means learning to solve problems on their own.

A recent article in Forbes addresses the problems that can arise when parents get too involved and don’t allow their children to learn through their mistakes, the title is 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. It is harder for parents of cadets to get involved with their day to day life, but quite a few parents do stay a bit too connected to the day to day decisions than is healthy for their cadet’s leadership development.

The Citadel website lists several options for families that find them self in an emergency situation. All parents should have the HELP web page bookmarked just in case it is ever needed. Only you know your student. If at any time you are concerned about your cadet or what has been reported to happen on campus always call the appropriate department. If you are not sure what the right department would be contact the Ombudsperson’s office they can help you and keep our conversation confidential if you would like.

We call ourselves The Citadel Ya Ya's. We had a little reunion at Vendue Rooftop in 2010.
We call ourselves The Citadel Ya Ya’s. We had a little reunion at Vendue Rooftop in 2010.



Navigating The Citadel Website

A beautiful Fall day at The Citadel
A beautiful Fall day at The Citadel

This blog began in the Fall of 2011. My oldest son graduated from The Citadel in May of 2011. After chairing the Georgia Citadel Parents Group for three years as well as serving as the Area Rep coordinator for the Citadel Family Association for a couple of years, I accumulated quite a bit of helpful information for parents. A blog seemed like a great place to post this information so any searching for Citadel related topics could find the information. The initial information was taken form the document I used to share with Georgia parents which is also on the CFA website under CFA Benefits titled “Survival Tips.”

After I posted the initial information I did not visit the blog site for about six months. When I did check on the stats for the site, it turned out some days the blog had over 300 hits. Then emails began coming in from parents of incoming cadets. That is when I posted a Facebook group for Parents of the Class of 2016. There is now a group for Parents of the Class of 2017.

The intent of these groups is to help families prepare for knob year and teach them how to find information on the school website. Ideally, after knob year, each parent will learn the ins and outs of the cadet year. After knob year the groups for parents become a place for the parents to post photos, and share stories.

As with many sites that post information, some readers would rather request the answers from a fellow parent instead of learning how to find the answers. The groups are manned by parents of graduates. It is important to note these parents volunteer their time. All of the parents of graduates had to learn about the 4th class system on their own. There were no Facebook groups in 2007 and most of 2008. The goal of these groups is to teach new parents how to find information on their own so they will no longer need help from the volunteers.

The first tip for new parents is this, The Citadel is a military college. The cadets are to learn to handle their own affairs. Parents are needed for support, but should not try to “fix” any problems.

Parents should encourage the cadet to seek solutions on their own. If a problem arises a knob should use their chain of command to find answers. If it is an academic problem, speaking to their professor, then the academic support office is what they should be encouraged to do.

If it is a matter a cadet does not want to share with their chain of command several resources on campus exist and can be found on the H.E.L.P. web page.

The second big tip for new parents is to use the search window on the citadel.edu web site. Just about everything you need to know as a parent can be found in this way. I will list the top web pages parents should read below.

Remember, the links may change from year to year. If you enter the name of what you are looking for into the search window on the main web site you should find the current link.

You can also go to the webpage the school put together called simply, Parents.

A-Z Sitemap – Use this link to see an alphabetical listing of various departments on campus.

Annual Events page – includes information for the big weekends including Matriculation Day

Cadet Activities – This office handles the details for the knob’s trip tot he beach, Ring Ceremony schedule, Cookies for knobs program, Host families.

Citadel Family Association – A volunteer group of parents that help with Matriuclaiton Day. They also have company and area reps as well as the Nice to Have List for knobs

Information Technology – this page includes computer recommendations and IT support information

New Cadet Information – Part of the Academic Affairs page – lists helpful informaitn for new cadets and includes links for Parents

Office of the Commandant – a great page to book mark.

Parade schedule is listed under the Visitor tab on the home page

People Search – Enter the name of your cadet, faculty or staff member to see their contact information, including their campus mailing address.

Success Packet – Includes the items each incoming knob must ring with them on Matriculation Day.

You can also use the search window on this blog to find information I’ve posted on a variety of subjects, including what moms should wear for the Ring Ceremony.

Cadets during an October parade at The Citadel
Cadets during an October parade at The Citadel


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 , my 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.

Reflecting on the Long Gray Line


The Long Gray Line, 2011 photo by Stanley Leary

Time flies by. Two years ago I was gearing up for graduation weekend at The Citadel. My graduate is now a first lieutenant in the US Army and on his first deployment.

Two years ago I had no idea I would still be in regular contact with parents of current cadets. Once I posted the information for Citadel Parents to this blog I thought that would be it. Parents could find the information and I would move on to other activities. I was wrong.

What I didn’t expect were the emails and phone calls from Citadel parents. By the spring of 2012 I found it was easier to answer the questions of new parents by posting a Facebook group for parents of the class of 2016. A few friends who are now parents of graduates joined the page too. The group grew. It now boosts over 300 members. A group for the class of 2017 parents is now up and running.

Once your cadet gets through the first year at The Citadel you can volunteer with the Citadel Family Association. It is a great way to help other new families learn the ins and outs of having a cadet at The Military College of South Carolina. It is also a terrific way to make friends. This blog is just one way to learn about The Citadel experience. Any number of parents of current cadets can help answer questions as well. The Citadel Family Association is a great place to find supportive parents.

Next week I will travel to Charleston to be with a few of my Citadel Ya Ya sisters, and visit with a number of families with graduating cadets. In a way I feel like a distant aunt to some of these cadets. Little did I know in 2007 when my son matriculated I would become good friends with the parents of his fellow cadets. And I never would have guessed that I would reunite with an old high school friend from New Jersey.

One day four years ago I received an email asking if I was the same Dorie Griggs who went to Sparta High school. The note was from Gwen, a friend with whom I spent many a weekend with in high school. Who would have guessed that thirty years after leaving high school in New Jersey we would be reunited in South Carolina at The Citadel. Her oldest son is now a graduating senior and will begin his training in the US Army and Gwen will be a Blue Star mother.

Next week I will enjoy being a spectator at the annual rite of passage from cadet to graduate during the Long Gray Line parade. I’ll spend time catching up with good friends and meeting some of the parents I only know through Facebook.

The cycle begins again in June as the Atlanta Citadel Club hosts the annual cadet send off dinner for the incoming Class of 2017.

Citadel Information Tips from "Dorie-pedia"

Padgett-Thomas Barracks at The Citadel photo by Stanley Leary
Padgett-Thomas Barracks at The Citadel
photo by Stanley Leary

Recently on one of the Citadel parent Facebook groups I was referred to as Dorie-pedia because I help Citadel parents find information. I have never really had a nickname. (at least none that people called me to my face!) My given name is usually a nickname.

It really is a compliment that parents think I can help provide answers, but the truth is, I just know my way around search windows. Some of the parent questions I can answer from first hand experience, but a lot of my answers come directly from The Citadel website.

I learned early on that at this military school most policies are documented and easily found on the web site. All the training modules are posted on the Office of the Commandants page if you really want to get an understanding of what is taught at this Leadership school.

Now that I have my own blog I can see the various search terms used to find the blog. I know the future cadets and their parents are using Google quite a bit and ending up on this site.

A few tips for learning information about the school:

Use the search window on the main site. Enter basic terms. For instance, if you wonder what a cadet corporal does, enter “duties of a corporal”, or “roles and responsibilities of a corporal.”

Use a few different terms until you find the answer to your question.

Call the appropriate office on campus and ask the staff there if you have a question about a term you’ve heard or if it is a general policy question. They will point you to the right place to get the answers. It is always best to get information directly from a primary source. An assistant commandant told me they prefer to answer the scheduling and policy type questions directly to avoid rumors.

Become familiar with the information on the Office of the Commandant page. Most of your questions will be answered on a link here.

Bookmark the link to the Guidon online. It is a great resource.

Use the volunteers of the Citadel Family Association. Their contact information for the company and battalion reps as well as various area reps can be found on the CFA web site. Parents who volunteer have already been through a year or two and volunteer to help the new parents.

Facebook groups for parents can be helpful. As I mentioned in an earlier post, The Citadel: Social Media and the Rumor Mill, use the groups as a resource for information and avoid posting anything about your cadet specifically.

Many alumni cannot understand why parents know so much about the 4th Class system now. Parents and students today have far more information available to them today thanks to the internet.  Alumni will tell you when they attended their parents would drop them off on Matriculation Day and maybe get one five-minute phone call from their cadet once a week or so. That call was made from a pay phone.

Times have changed. To stay relevant and competitive in the higher education marketplace some policies at The Citadel had to change. Allowing cell phones for knobs is a change that, in part, came about for campus safety after the shootings at Virginia Tech. The use of computers is a necessity for anyone in the job marketplace. With the increased use of computers comes the increase n communication capabilities such as email and Skype. Future employers will expect graduates to know how to use computers and other technology. Parents need to know how to use technology for their own work and duties as a parent.

The Citadel has held the #1 ranking for public colleges in the South. A testament to how well the school has managed to maintain the rigors of the 4th Class System while staying relevant in the current higher education marketplace.

Helpful links to navigate the web site:

A-Z Sie map

People Search



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

The Citadel: Helping Parents Cope with Matriculation Day Anxiety.

Bravo Company during the Corps Day weekend parade.

Matriculation Day at The Citadel is just over 2 weeks away. If I didn’t have a calendar I could tell you it was getting close by the search terms used to find this blog. One search in particular tugged at my heart today. One person searched for “how to cope with your son going to the citadel.” When I read search terms like that I wish I could reach out to the person to give them in the information they are searching for directly.

I would let them know they aren’t alone. So many parents feel totally alone in their feelings when sending a cadet off to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. It IS a scary process, especially if you have no knowledge of the school or military. That is one reason I posted this blog, to help new parents navigate what seems like a totally different culture with its own language and traditions. Just look to the navigation topics to the left of this entry to find helpful links and advice.

Bravo Company knobs face the Company Commander during the promotion ceremony, 2007.

When a cadet enters The Citadel they not only will get a great college education, but they will learn to take charge of their actions. It is a leadership school. One of the hardest thing for the families to learn is that once you drop a cadet off at the school the cadet is then the one expected to handle their affairs. Of course if the family is paying the bills there are certain expectations that should be met by the cadet. The cadet does need to be the lead in all their affairs and will be the only one to be recognized for accomplishments, or their mix ups once on campus. You may find this entry and the links in it helpful: The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

Early this spring I started a Facebook group for the parents of cadets entering the Class of 2016. The group is for new parents only. I invited a few friends who are also parents of graduates as well so they can help answer the varied questions of new parents. The Files section of the page includes advice and tips for new parents. The questions asked by the new parents are ones that all of us asked when we sent our students to the school.

This type of support wasn’t available in 2007 when my son matriculated. I did find the email of the chair couple of The Citadel Family Association and sent them a note with my questions. At the annual Send Off dinner hosted by the Atlanta Citadel Club I met a mom of an upperclassmen who was particularly helpful. Not every parent has that opportunity because not all areas of the country host a send off event.

It is my belief that sending a child to a military college is scary enough. When helping get your child ready to report I don’t believe you should feel isolated. I’m an Army mom now. In the Army they have Family Readiness Groups (FRG) to help family members navigate the preparations for deployment. The military has found if the family members are familiar with the deployment process they will be less anxious and more able to support their soldier. That is how I feel The Citadel Family Association and the various parent Facebook groups work as well.

Members of the Regimental Band during a parade on Corps Day Weekend.

Attending The Citadel is tough for the cadets going through the fourth class system. I don’t believe it should be as tough for the parents. I encourage all new parents to make contact with the CFA area rep and/or join the Facebook group for new parents. Once your cadet is on campus you can join the Facebook group for your Battalion and/or contact the CFA Battalion and Company representative. Some companies have Facebook groups as well. Look over the links on this entry for other Facebook groups related to the school. They are a great resource for information and support.

I do recommend that you join the groups, but only post general questions to the parent groups. Ask specific questions in private messages to a CFA rep or other  parent. If you have specific questions about policy or other official school business call the appropriate office on campus. Learn to use the search window on the schools web site to find the answers to your questions. They also have an A – Z site map. I’ve compiled a list of Helpful Web Links for frequently called departments.

Learn to read the Office of the Commandant page. The weekly training schedules are posted there. When you can’t be in touch with your cadet, you can see the overall schedule for the Corps of Cadets.

One word of caution, years ago before cell phones, email, and Skype, parents would drop their cadets off in August and not see them until parents Weekend or Thanksgiving. The cadets could only call from pay phones once a week. If you talk to an alumnus who went through during that time period, don’t expect a lot of sympathy if you complain about the lack of communication.

If you have friends with children who enlisted in the military, realize that they don’t hear from the soldier much at all during boot camp. It can be 10 weeks with only an occasional 3 – 5 minute call or regular letter. If you meet the parent of a soldier in boot camp or deployed know that they too are going through a stressful time.

We are all proud of our children. We also owe it to them to learn what we can about their process, not to intervene, but to support them.

Remember you are not alone. There are many Citadel parents who are available to answer your questions. My biggest surprise of my son’s four years at The Citadel was that I gained life long friends as well.

We call ourselves The Citadel Ya Ya’s. We had a little reunion at Vendue Rooftop in 2010.

To read more about my process of sending a cadet to The Citadel visit this blog entry:

Blog Posts about being the mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel