Each year about this time the Atlanta Citadel Club hosts a gathering to welcome the new cadets and their families. Each year I walk away from the event impressed by the alumni and their support for their school. The dinner last night was held at the Georgian Club and was attended by at least 145 people. The president of The Citadel, Lt. Gen. John Rosawas the honored guest along with quite a few members of the administration.
Sitting at the dinner last night brought back memories of the first cadet send off dinner I attended in 2007. I experienced an interesting mixture of feelings. I was excited for the Class of 2016 and their parents because in hindsight I know the challenging, but rewarding feeling of accomplishment and pride the cadets and parents feel.
Five send off dinners since the first one I attended in 2007, I am now feeling a different anxiety. I am preparing myself for my oldest sons first deployment to Afghanistan this fall. In many ways this anxiety is similar to how I was feeling the summer of 2007.
My son is the one who took the road less traveled and successfully navigated the rigors of the tough 4th Class System of The Citadel. I have been a spectator and student of how to be a supportive parent of a cadet. I continue to be impressed at the loyalty cadets and graduates have for THEIR school.
In 2007 I learned about the 4th Class System from scores of parents, mostly moms, of current cadets. Today, thanks in large part to my new friends through The Citadel, I am learning about the U.S. Army and how to be a supportive parent to my son.
As a parent you spend your child’s early years protecting them from harmful situations. At some point during their teen years you begin to realize they need to spread their wings and begin to learn about life, including the difficulties, on their own. It is like a mother bird watching their chick make their first flight. Sending my son to The Citadel was like watching him soar off into the world.
I watched the new families at the dinner last night with a mixture of feelings. I remember my own anxiety at sending a child to a tough program. But I also have the benefit of hindsight. I know the funny knob year stories that will be told. I know the feelings of accomplishment these almost cadets will feel when they reach the end of Recognition Day the end of their knob year. And I know what sheer joy looks like on a cadet their senior year when they have earned The Ring.
My son was on an Army contract. For the past several years I have gone between feeling proud of his service to being anxious about what that service entails. As a non-military person trying to learn about a complex organization with a zillion new terms to learn, the whole situation can be overwhelming.
While a military system like The Citadel can be intimidating for a non-military person, I’ve learned that like at the fictional Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame, “help will always be given to those who ask for it.” The volunteers of The Citadel Family Association and the staff of the school are a terrific resource and helped me learn about what my son was going through. Just remember, The Citadel is a “no fly zone” for helicopter parents.
I am now learning about the U.S. Army the Family Readiness Groups and organizations like Blue Star Mothers and Blue Star Families. Support groups for parents and spouses are plentiful on social media sites, but you do need to reach out and ask for support. Knowing I am not alone on this journey doesn’t take away the anxiety completely, but knowing I stand in a long line of families that have sent their sons and daughters to war gives me strength.
Best wishes to The Citadel, Class of 2016 and their parents. As the graduates say, “You spend 4 years waiting to get out and spend the rest of your life trying to go back.”