This afternoon I went to our local barbecue restaurant for lunch. Not usually anything to write about. Today was special though. Right before I went into the restaurant I checked my messages. There was a quick message from my deployed son letting me know he received a couple of boxes I had sent two weeks before. The boxes included food and some boxer briefs in various sizes for his platoon members. Most of my boxes take over 3 weeks to reach him so I was surprised that they arrived so quickly.
He let me know the guys appreciated the boxers. Usually that would be the end of our correspondence. He tends to write a short note and that is it. In my reply I told him that I continue to cover their a$$es whether it is toilet paper or underwear.
Apparently my wit won him over. After going in to order my lunch, I checked the messages and found another one. Our conversation continued for a few more volleys. Nothing earth shattering. His birthday is coming up and I asked what he’d like. He never asks for anything so I am left to guess at what may be appreciated.
The conversation was short. Sitting there in the middle of Slope’s BBQ in Roswell, Georgia it struck me. I am using my Droid HD to have a conversation with my son in Afghanistan, something I would have thought inconceivable just a few years ago. A rather surreal feeling.
One of the ladies who works there asked me if I was alright. I know she was asking about my tray and wondering if I needed anything else, but for some reason her question got to me. Sitting there thinking of my son and his birthday in a few weeks, and knowing he is in a difficult place I realized, no, I am not OK. I miss my son and I worry. I told her I was corresponding with my deployed son. The tears began to well up. I tried to clear my table and go outside before I made a spectacle of myself.
The plan almost worked until the nice lady asked me for my son’s name so she could pray for him. That did it. The tears filled my eyes. She gave me a big hug right there in the middle of the restaurant. I drove home with my heart in my throat.
Some days I am pretty good at pretending that I am not worried. Today is not one of those days.
I can tell from the search terms used to find this blog that the members of The Citadel, Class of 2017 and their parents are doing their research before Matriculation Day. The high school seniors this year will graduate from The Citadel 10 years after my son graduated. He is now in the Army serving in Afghanistan. Time really does fly by.
Our daughter was starting third grade in 2007. She will graduate from high school in 2017. Looking back on the photos I can see how much she has grown in this time. Funny how our children get older, but we do not age.
If you have found this entry after a search for Citadel related posts, Welcome! Please take time to review the information in the links on the left hand side of the page. If you are a member of the Class of 2017 or a parent of an entering cadet, see the Knob Year Notes for Parents link. That entry has helpful tips and links to other blog posts. Spend time looking through the other entries on the left hand side of this page as well.
If you are starting your research early, NOW is the time to start your physical training. You will be required to pass a physical fitness test each semester. If you are a high school athlete that will help, but you do need to meet the requirements for sit ups, push ups and the 2 mile run. The other top thing to do to be ready to report is get your shoes and break them in prior to steeping foot on campus. Foot problems are the top reason for knobs to struggle the first few months.
Please take your time and review the information on this site. Parents, join the Facebook group, The Citadel: Parents of the Class of 2017. This group is just for new parents. A few parents of graduates are in the group to help answer your questions. Once your cadet reports and finds out what company and battalion they are in you can join the respective Facebook group.
Please remember that Facebook is a very public space. If you have questions about your cadet, send a private message to one of the administrators or call the appropriate office on campus. Check your Facebook settings and be sure the privacy settings of an incoming knob are set very high. The cadre, the upperclass cadets responsible for training the knobs are known to search for photos and posts by their knobs. It is also a good idea to Goggle your name to see what come up. You can’t really do much about public posts like news articles, but at least you will know what information is readily available online about you.
Friday, February 9, I arrived at Arlington National Cemetery for what I knew would be an emotional afternoon of paying tribute to a young sergeant and graduate of The Citadel, Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman. Sgt Wittman was killed in action in Afghanistan by small arms fire, January 10, while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. My son is in the same battalion, but a different company. Both Sgt. Wittman and my son are graduates of The Citadel.
The night before my hosts for the evening told me what to expect when I arrived. There would be no way for them to prepare me for what I found on my arrival, three long rows of cars all waiting to pay tribute to Sgt. Wittman. I had a hand quilted Gold Star banner donated by Memories in Stitches to deliver to the wife of the battalion commander who in turn would present the banner to Mrs. Wittman. I knew the turn out would be significant, but I could not have imagined the sea of cars and people in front of me.
A quick call to Mrs. Davenport and the guards allowed me to move closer to the front of the line. I passed the banner to Mrs. Davenport and made sure to take a photo graph for the lady who made the banner. Shortly later we were in our cars and moving slowly through the cemetery for the beginning of the graveside ceremony.
I have been to the cemetery before but each visit I am moved by the experience. As we snaked through the various sections I took time to say prayers of thanks for the life and sacrifice of each person there represented by a white marble head stone.
The line of cars had to stretch about a mile long. A silent procession of cars wound their way into place. We parked on both sides of the street and walked up a small hill to where the horse and carriage, the honor guard, and the military band awaited the arrival of the casket. I was struck by the sheer numbers of cars and people and how quiet it was there. An occasion jet passed over head. You could see other smaller services about to start as we took our place at the top of the hill. I am told about 3 or 4 services are held each day there.
As I approached the crowd gathered at the top of the hill I quickly met two Citadel moms toward the back of the assembled crowd. One mom I have known for a few years.The other I had not met before but we are Facebook friends. We waited for the ceremony to start.
As a soldier killed in action Sgt. Wittman was given full military honors. As a member of the Patriot Guard Riders I have attended a few military funerals at the Georgia National Cemetery, but had to refer to the website for Arlington National Cemetery to learn what it means to have full military funeral honors. The web site for the cemetery says this about the service, “enlisted members who die as a result of wounds received in action and are being interred/inurned at Arlington National Cemetery are eligible to receive full military funeral honors, to include an escort platoon, a colors team, a band, and a caisson section.”
The ceremony began quietly. As we all looked on a team of pall bearers approached the hearse to remove the casket and proceeded to place it on the caisson (horse-drawn carriage). There was a caparisoned (riderless) horse there as well. The ceremony proceeded. The band played a very moving song. I don’t know the name of it, but it was beautiful. We were all touched by the honor and dignity to the entire ceremony.
At the designated time the band proceeded to the front of the caisson and led the procession down the hill to the grave site. There must have been between 100-200 people in attendance. I saw representatives of the media take a respectful place at a distance from the proceedings. The Washington Post published a write-up and photos in the paper the next day. I knew a few friends who wanted to attend and I tried to take a couple of discrete photos to capture the dignity of the service.
We stood in silence as the ceremony began under a small open tent. While we couldn’t really hear what was being said we all knew when it was time to bow our heads in prayer. I don’t remember the order of the service, but when the 21 gun salute and bugler began to play Taps,we all felt the gravity of the loss of this fine young man.
Since 2007 when my son began at The Citadel I have learned quite a bit about the fellowship between the cadets and graduates of the Military College of South Carolina. Some say the fellowship between the graduates who wear the ring is stronger than any bond out there. I have experienced this bond in a variety of settings.
February 9 at Arlington National Cemetery was the most moving display of honor and respect I have ever experienced. I did meet a few of Aaron’s classmates that day, but the majority of graduates assembled did not know him, or his family, but they ARE his Citadel family.
My prayers are with the Wittman family.
Rest In Peace Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman.
God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.
Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.
In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.
“Life is something that happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” John Lennon
I first read that phrase on a card my good friend, Chelle Chaudoin, sent me once in college. I had just had a break up with a man I thought I was in love with and she wrote a note of encouragement on the card.
That phrase came to mind as I am sitting in the airport in Richmond, Virginia reflecting on my weekend.
Over a month ago I received an invitation to attend the, February 9, 100 Years of Spider Basketball celebration at my alma mater, the University of Richmond. From 1977 -1981 I was a manager for the men’s basketball team and also worked as an intern in various areas in the athletic department as a student. This was my first official invitation to an athletic department event in 30 years.
The plane reservations were made right away and arrangements were made to stay with a good friend, for what was to be a quick fun weekend reunion with long time friends. When I talked to my friend about the travel plans she told me the day game was also her father’s birthday. This would be the first birthday without him since he died in July of last year. Already the weekend was changing shape.
At some point in January another event happened that profoundly changed what was to be a fun-filled weekend, an email from the Family Readiness Group of the 3-69 AR at Fort Stewart informing family members that one of our soldiers, SGT. Aaron X. Wittman, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Shortly after this email The Citadel related Facebook groups lit up with the tragic news. Sgt. Wittman was graduate of The Citadel and the son of a graduate.
I was numb at the news. My son is in the same battalion, but not in the same company or area of the country. He is also a Citadel graduate. Sgt. Wittman was also from Chester, Virginia near Richmond. Perhaps I could pay my respects to the family during my visit.
Once the obituary was released I realized my plans for a fun weekend would include a very solemn occasion as well, the burial of Sgt. Wittman at Arlington National Cemetery. My Army mom’s heart breaks for the Wittman family. From all accounts Aaron was a wonderful young man. Tributes were posted to YouTube by family members and his unit in Afghanistan. There is also a video of his delegate from Virginia moving to adjourn in the memory of Sgt. Wittman. Citadel grads and parents began to post their condolences to various Facebook groups. I felt I needed to do what I could to attend the burial at Arlington.
The Family Readiness Group (FRG) Leader for the 3-69 is also the wife of the battalion commander. She is the one I met in January to go with me to the Exchange to purchase needed items for the 3-69. I contacted her to let her know I would be at the burial service. She told me she would be there with a rear detachment officer. We made plans to meet at Arlington. A few Citadel moms wrote to let me know they too would be attending the ceremony.
A couple of weeks before the trip I saw a photo of a beautiful Gold Star quilt made by Memories in Stitches. Her website said she makes banners for Gold Star families. After a few emails she said she would send a banner for the FRG leader to present to Mrs. Wittman.
Through a network of Citadel grads a graduate and father of graduates learned I would be in DC and offered to host me the evening before the burial. An amazing offer since we had never met. It was set, I was flying into Richmond renting a car driving to DC and attending the burial.
A few more surprises slipped in.
My long time friend and fellow Richmond grad, Joe Williams, lives in the DC area. We’ve talked for a while about collaborating on a project. He was free the night I arrived so we had an extended visit/meeting over dinner.
My host family for the night were extremely hospitable. After a great nights sleep I was on to DC to spend a few hours admiring the sights, that is until another synchronistic meeting came together. I called a couple who have a first year cadet, called a knob, at The Citadel. They were both home and invited me to join them at their home for visit and brunch. I met this family Matriculation Weekend at The Citadel and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. I was about to go through a very difficult ceremony. Spending sometime with a delightful couple made a terrific buffer for the more emotionally difficult experience that was coming next.
My son serves in the U.S. Army. I have no background in the military. That means for the last several years I’ve been on a steep learning curve. I guess I really didn’t HAVE to learn the terms and different stages a Army ROTC cadet goes through in their training, but if I didn’t I’m not sure how well I’d be able to communicate with my son.
Learning about his process also has helped me reach a level of understand about this very demanding job. To help in this learning curve I have read a lot, but I have also resourced with people who are far more knowledgable than I am when it comes to the military and the Army specifically. One of my best resources is a mom I met during Matriculation Day. The day her son reported to The Citadel. That year my son was a sophomore. This new friend of mine always made a point to tell me that my son was a good officer, tough but fair. I appreciated the kind words about my son from another mom. It wasn’t until later that I learned this mom was a graduate of West Point. She really knew what this process was about. She has become one of my teachers on this journey. Quite a few Citadel alums have been and are my mentors on this journey as well. I have learned quite a bit the past 5+ years and continue to learn something new everyday.
Leading up to our son’s deployment I created and joined a couple of Facebook groups for military parents. I joined the Army Officers Friends and Family Support page. It was started the summer of 2010 when a group of mostly moms met via the LDAC Facebook page. The group now includes others who find us. We all share what we are learning. Each year the Public Affairs Office at Joint Base Lewis-McCord post a new Facebook group for that year’s class of cadets and their families. They also have a blog called Warrior Forge and photo sites. Right now the LDAC 2012 group is still active
The summer of 2010, thanks to a Citadel mom I learned about goarmyparents.com website. It is a terrific spot to visit when you start hearing a bunch of abbreviations that appear to be an alphabet soup. Right after graduation I started the Military Parents of The Citadel group with the hope parents with knowledge and experience about the military would help those of us who know nothing about the process.
The Army Moms Facebook group is a good one to join to ask questions and gain support from other moms. The majority of moms on this site appear to join when their child enlists and heads to boot camp, but many have deployed soldiers as well. The Files section of the site has very helpful information. The Army Moms page is where I learned that the term Green Dot will bring joy to a family member. It refers to the green dot that appears when a loved one is on Facebook. Just seeing the Green Dot is a sign that they are alright.
Once my son deployed I was invited to join the Parents of Deployed Soldiers Facebook group. The group is several years old. They have a group of volunteers to monitor the site 24/7. Before posting to the group you are asked to read and agree with the OPSEC policy.
Today we have far more ways to learn and gain support than in previous conflicts. many soldiers have ready access to computers and can Skype, email and Facebook with family and friends. That isn’t the case for everyone though. The battalion commander of my son’s battalion has encouraged family members to write letters and send boxes. Not everyone has ready access to electricity much less computers.
Our guy has been deployed for a few months now. The months leading up to his departure we experienced a real roller coaster of emotions. We have found a new normal in our daily routines now, but it isn’t always easy. I guess we have learned to live with a level of stress any family who has gone through deployment will understand it. Others try to understand but really can’t.
In the last month I have heard from our son more than I have in the last year combined. It isn’t much, one time I received a short one word reply. That one word was enough to know he was OK.
The most comforting experience is when I send off a note just because I am thinking of him, and he replied right back. At first I thought, “What a coincidence.” It has happened so many times now I have to believe the mother/son connection is alive and well even though we are a half a world away.