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 Deployment Roller Coaster

The roller coaster that is deployment continues. Trying to strike some sort of balance of life at home and supporting/worrying about ddeployed children can be very strange.

In the past few weeks I’ve had a real mixed bag of activities and emotions.

The first week of June my husband daughter and I went on a cruise as part of a celebration for my in-laws 55 wedding anniversary. It was a wonderful trip with lots of fun experiences. I even had the chance to visit the resort where my own parents honeymooned in 1958, Caneel Bay.

An overview of Caneel Bay, St. John, VI
An overview of Caneel Bay, St. John, VI

A small piece of me wondered all week how my deployed son was doing. I wasn’t home so I didn’t have the ever-present startle response when the door bell rings. My younger son was at home working. He had instructions how to reach us in case of an emergency. We never heard from him though.

When we did return, however, I had an email from the Family Readiness Group advising of another loss for the 3-69, the third since January. I don’t know how many of the soldiers in the battalion are injured. In one email the reality of being the family of a deployed soldier came back.

On the heels of that email was the news of four US soldiers being killed near Bagram Airbase near Kabul. It was over 24 hours before I’d learn it wasn’t my son or his battalion. The relief and joy of hearing from my son was tempered by the knowledge that four families were now without their loved ones.

This week we heard from my son quite a bit through private messages on Facebook. Our daughter was thrilled to have a “conversation” with her big brother. She doesn’t talk about it, but her level of concern for her big brother stays very high.

She has grown so much this past school year. I’ll enjoy the surprised look on his face when my son sees his baby sister for the first time when he comes home.

This past weekend in an ongoing effort to help her through her worries, and to support her interest in Indie and alternative music, we attended a concert at a small local venue, Swayze’s. one of the four bands scheduled to appear, Farewell, My Love, had toured with her very favorite band, Late Nite Reading.

Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love in Nov. of 2012. The band called out, "Mom, Mom, you get in here too!" photo by Stanley Leary
Dorie, Chelle, and her friends with the band Farewell My Love in Nov. of 2012. The band called out, “Mom, Mom, you get in here too!”
photo by Stanley Leary

When I first saw the band members of Farewell, My Love, I was a little apprehensive. They wear all black clothes and their hair and make up are reminiscent of the theatrics of some bands from the ’80’s and ’90’s. Once I met them all, I learned they are terrific young guys following their dreams. After seeing them for third time at a concert in Jacksonville, I promised the band members that I’d make a homemade dinner for them their next visit to our area.

Chelle watches over the tailgate table waiting for the guys to have some dinner.
Chelle watches over the tailgate table waiting for the guys to have some dinner.

Saturday night was the time to make due on that promise. We made eggplant parmesan, garlic bread, and chocolate chip cookie bars. Once we arrived at the venue, around 5:00, I set up a card table and put out the food, including a cooler with Red Bull, Coca Cola and water bottles.

It was great fun to see our new friends from the band and meet the other bands too. I didn’t know it was possible for band members to look scarier, then I met the members of Kissing Candace. The lead singer, or as my daughter says, lead screamer, is a guy named Joe. His on stage “look” includes a white contact lens and fake blood.

Joe, of the band Kissing Candace in full make up. I love the contrast of mom and scary looking screamer guy.
Joe, of the band Kissing Candace in full make up. I love the contrast of mom and scary looking screamer guy.

It may seem odd to write about our concert experience along with my feelings around deployment. That is the odd thing about being the family of a deployed service member. Life does go on at home while they are deployed.

On the outside it may look like we are living a normal life. Our internal emotions and thoughts are never far from our deployed loved one.

Our new friends in the bands may seem like polar opposites from our soldier, their hair and make up especially are a stark contrast, but I see some similarities. Providing dinner for these young men was like taking care of my own son. While they don’t have to worry about running over an IED, or being shot at my insurgents, they are away from the comforts of home for long periods of time. To save money, they will sleep in their vans while driving from one city to the next. I am sure their families miss them too.

So we served them some home cooked food, gave them something to drink and had normal conversations. We talked about our deployed son/brother, and they told us about their families. We took a few photos together. In the midst of a pretty unusual setting we had a slice of normal life.

If only for a few hours, we enjoyed the music and the time with new friends. The roller coaster of being the family of a deployed soldier didn’t seem too bad.

Doire visits with Chad and Charlee of Farewell, My Love.
Dorie visits with Chad and Charlee of Farewell, My Love.
Chelle visits with the  lead singer of Farewell, My Love, Ryan Howell.
Chelle visits with the lead singer of Farewell, My Love, Ryan Howell.

Support for the 3-69 AR BN

The color guard moves forward during the Casing of the Colors for the 3-69 AR at Fort Stewart, October 2012.
The color guard moves forward during the Casing of the Colors for the 3-69 AR at Fort Stewart, October 2012.

The Family Readiness Group for my son’s battalion sent me a note recently outlining their needs for both the families of the deployed soldiers and for the soldiers over seas. Early this year, with the help of many friends and family members, I was able to gather and send items. The battalion needs our help again.

I hope the readers of this post will help me get the word out once again. If you live near me in Roswell, GA and can drop off your donation great send me an email to let me know you’ll be donating! If you would like to send a financial donation, please email me at: dorie@dorielgriggs.com

They requested the following items:

Underwear (solid color boxer briefs in medium, large, and XL)

Good, sturdy boot length socks

T-shirts

Foot powder, soap, baby wipes, shaving cream (in tubes not aerosol)

Sunscreen (cream, no aerosol cans)

They have also established an account for the battalion. Money donated to the fund will be used to give injured battalion members gift baskets, provide welcome home baskets for single soldiers, and also to help with their welcome home activities. To donate to the battalion send your donation to: Friends of Speed and Power

mail to:

3-69 AR BN, Attn: LT Yamin, 515 Warrior Road, Bldg 648, Fort Stewart, GA  31314

Please share this post with anyone you believe will help.

Thank you!!

An Army Mom's Field Trip to Fort Stewart

I visited another culture yesterday, Fort Stewart. Since I did not grow up around the military that is how I felt when I entered the base. It wasn’t that the language or  people were different, but how to navigate the different rules and culture came crashing together for me while shopping in the Exchange.

The Exchange

I met the Family Readiness Group leader at the Exchange. The first sign that I was out of my element happened pretty quickly. I was sitting outside the Exchange in what I thought was the front entrance. A few minutes later my contact walked up and said, “I thought I should check over here. I was waiting on the other side, the front of the building.” Oops.

This was my first visit to an Exchange on a military base. It was like a mini mall. My shopping companion knew exactly where to go once we were inside. We passed kiosk shops with framed sports photos, ladies wigs and other items. We arrived at our destination, a store filled with uniforms and supplies for soldiers.

Before my trip to Fort Stewart scores of friends and people I have never met sent me checks to go toward supplies for the soldiers of the 3-69 AR. Many of the soldiers are in remote areas without access to the internet or a PX. Getting needed supplies is difficult, so are showers. We were told before they left that our soldiers will need us to send items like soap, deodorant, etc. more than snacks and goodies. When I heard there were some soldiers who needed socks and underwear, etc. I put the word out and people responded. To date I have received $1,310 for this project.

Once inside the Exchange I handed over the cash, holding some back to go toward shipping. Since I do not have a military ID all the goods needed to be purchased by my contact. We decided shopping at the Exchange was better than ordering online with free shipping. The prices are so much better on base we could send more to the soldiers this way. We are buying for two platoons, about thirty men.

socks in the cart

We started in the underwear and sock section. Standing in front of a wall of socks we began to read labels. We settled on one style labeled “Military Fatigue Fighter” and features “Graduated Compression” and is made with “Wick  Dry & Scentry Technologies.” While neither of us really knew what “Scentry Technologies” actually means after reading the description of the sock we decided on this style. We opted for a mix of large and extra-large socks. It was on to t-shirts and underwear.

Standing in front of the t-shirts we had fewer decisions to make. There was only one choice in the type of shirt to make, cotton or polyester. Then it was a decision about the size mix. After getting enough for two per men, it was on to the underwear.

The standard issue briefs were only $2.05 a piece. While most of the guys we knew prefer boxer briefs we opted to go with the standard issue because the boxer briefs were over four times the price.

By this time our two shopping carts were pretty full. My shopping partner was keeping a running total on her smart phone.

We turned to the cold weather gear. Because the soldiers are in an area that is very cold now we opted for the “ThermaForm Neck Gator.” The label touts, ” A unique construction of layered fibers that create a body-conforming climate capsule to keep your neck and face warm and protected from winter weather,” Plus it had moisture control. I am learning that wicking and moisture control are important features for soldiers.

After a quick check of our running total we had enough money to buy something in the three dollar range. We opted for foot powder and were on our way to check out.

I made a slight detour to look at the Teddy Bears dressed in uniform. Our 14-year-old daughter came to mind. She misses her oldest brother and would love one of these bears. I settled on one with its cover pulled down to cover its eyes, the same way our soldier wore his cover at The Citadel, plus it had a distinctive nose like our guy.

On to the register. The ladies were very nice. One rang us up while the other bagged the items. To our surprise we came in at $995, not the $1,100 we thought we had. It was on to the PX to buy breakfast bars and oatmeal. The MRE’s provided the needed calories, but we thought the soldiers would appreciate something that doesn’t come from a standard issue box.

loaded carts

The PX was a big grocery store with great prices. We made quick work of the breakfast aisle loading up our large cart with boxes of nutritious bars and oatmeal. A little girl about 4 years old just stared at our cart as we walked down the aisle.

The check out line was like any other store. The lady working check out reminded me I was not at home in an off base grocery store. As she was ringing us up she asked if we needed custom forms for the USPS. We didn’t tell her why we were buying such a huge amount of bars and oatmeal, she just knew. It turns put she receive the stop mail notice for her son and had a stack of forms in her car. She gave the young guy bagging our groceries her car keys to retrieve the forms she no longer needed. One Army mom helping another.

With my little Toyota Corolla now filled up with items to ship to Afghanistan, we drove to the battalion headquarters office to see the Family Readiness Group Support office. I wanted to stop in to say hello and to express my condolences to the rear detachment staff after the death of Sgt. Wittman of the 3-69 just a week before.

After a quick visit and a few photos, I was on my way off base. I took a little time before I pulled out to reflect on the day. I only spent a few hours on base, but I had learned so much. I had to let it sink in a bit.

As I approached the Main Gate, I saw the “Warriors Walk” a tribute to Fort Stewart soldiers who lost their life in during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. I had to pull over to pay my respects. I’ll write about that experience in my next entry.

Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.
Dorie visits with the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader and the FRSA.

 

An Army Mom Reflects and Gives Thanks

We made it through our first Christmas with our soldier deployed. While we missed him, we did manage to have a very nice holiday with friends and family. Like many people I tend to become reflective this time of year. I thought I’d share some rambling thoughts and reflection about this past Christmas.

Two years ago Christmas day the first blog post I wrote for the military blog site Off the Base was published. The Making of a Military Mom started me on a journey I could never have imagined. When Bobbie O’Brien first asked me to contribute to the blog as the mom of an Army ROTC cadet soon to be officer my first response was, “Thank you, but I am not a writer.” Little did I know when I finally agreed to give it a try that my entries about our experience at The Citadel would be so well received. Eventually I posted my own blog. I’ve met so many wonderful people through this blog either in person, on Facebook, or through email. We have a very supportive community.

This Christmas a group of friends joined me and donated items to be sent to my son’s platoon for Christmas. We heard via Facebook the gift bags arrived right before Christmas. I was thrilled to hear all the boxes we had sent finally arrived. When I asked for photos he told me they would be coming. I checked email and Facebook several times a day hoping to see photos of our guy. A few days before Christmas our daughter asked me what I wanted most for Christmas. I told her, “I’d like a picture of soldiers in Afghanistan.” What a wonderful gift to receive Christmas morning in my stocking. While it wasn’t the picture I expected, it was one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received.

This picture was in my stocking Christmas morning. A gift from my daughter.
This picture was in my stocking Christmas morning. A gift from my daughter.

She also gave me a t-shirt with the little blue fish, Dory, from Finding Nemo. (In case I forget my name I can look at the shirt.)

In case I ever forget my name, I can look at my shirt. A gift from our daughter.
In case I ever forget my name, I can look at my shirt. A gift from our daughter.

A few days after Christmas an email arrived with three photos. Two of the platoon with the gift bags we sent and one of our guy in a hat we sent to him as a present. It made for a great start to the New Year. The guys look good and we could make out a few of the children’s Christmas pictures in the bags we sent.

Delta Company Christmas photo.
Delta Company Christmas photo.
Delta Company Christmas photo #2
Delta Company Christmas photo #2

New Year’s Eve 2012 marked the 19th year of working in the press box as a volunteer for what is now called the Chick-fil-A Bowl. No matter what changes I am going through in a given year the one constant for 19 years has been this activity. It is like a family reunion each year. My favorite person to catch up with is a gentleman our daughter calls Mr. Walter. He works for the Georgia Dome security during the bowl and his station is right next to the information table in the press box where I work. He is a wonderful, caring, man who is a wiz with statistics of all kinds. He was profiled in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in the past few years. He is an Atlanta celebrity among event goers since he works at multiple venues. I always enjoy our time catching up together at the Bowl. It is also fun to see the various reporters and others who attend the game.

Dorie and Walter catching up during their annual reunion.
Dorie and Walter catching up during their annual reunion.
Members of the press getting ready for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Members of the press getting ready for the start of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Before Christmas I put word out that the soldiers in our son’s battalion needed some basic supplies. While they had the basic necessities some are stationed in remote areas and could use a few more basics. The response has been amazing! Checks began to arrive right away. I am told more are in the mail now. To date I have received $1,200 to go toward supplies. Several other people said checks are on the way. I am working with the family readiness group to determine what is needed and the items should be on their way next week. An initial shipment of military cold weather socks are on their way to our son’s platoon along with another shipment of the coveted soft toilet paper.

I am overwhelmed with these gifts in addition to the many people who have sent boxes to our son and his platoon. Many of these people I have only met a few times, or only know through online networks like Citadel parent Facebook groups. Some are teachers and have sent boxes of goodies and needed items along with letters from children. My son tells me the guys really like the boxes I send the best. I really think he means the boxes of items I and our friends send. In a very real way I feel we are a small part of a huge family that includes: Citadel families, Army families, childhood friends, college friends, church friends, and a few caring people who read the blog and I have never met.

This past week a package arrived from a Citadel mom. It included a card and check and a very special gift for my daughter and me. A picture frame with two patriotic angel pins. Tears came to my eyes when I read the card. The sender is a military spouse. She has a first year knob at The Citadel and has given me some very helpful tips the past few months. She told me that while the Citadel parents are like family that the military family is even larger.

A beautiful gift from a Citadel mom who is also a military spouse. She is also our angel.
A beautiful gift from a Citadel mom who is also a military spouse. She is also our angel.

I am so blessed to have so many wonderful and supportive friends. I am beginning 2013 with the firm knowledge that our family is blessed to have such a wonderful group of people surrounding us with their care and their prayers.

Finding Joy in Toilet Paper

Never again will I look at toilet paper the same way.

My son sent me a private message on Saturday morning. I had missed his Skype call the day before. He doesn’t contact me often so I wasn’t sure what was up. It turns out the toilet paper I ordered through Amazon.com arrived. I sent 96 rolls, enough for each member of his platoon to have a package. He told me the guys were treating it like gold. They received a number of boxes this past week, but the toilet paper was, “the hit of everything.”

I told my son to let his guys know I’ve got their a$$es covered. I am pretty sure he rolled his eyes when read my comment.

This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday, the time in Advent when Christians reflect on joy. How interesting that something we take for granted, like toilet paper, would bring such joy to a bunch of deployed soldiers. When I go to the grocery store this week and come home with toilet paper I guarantee you my family will not be overwhelmed with joy. It is something they just expect to have. The only time it would become a topic of conversation is if I had forgotten to pick some up and we ran out.

Right after I corresponded with my son I heard from the Family Readiness Group leader for the battalion. I had offered to help gather needed items for not only my son, but anyone in the battalion. It turns out quite a few of the soldiers are in need of socks, t-shirts, underwear, baby wipes, and hand warmers. They are in remote areas without access to laundry facilities. It is getting quite cold and they need these basics. Many of the guys have not had the opportunity to shower. With no laundry facilities our soldiers end up having to burn their dirty socks and underwear with the other trash.

Who among us rejoices over waking up getting dressed and going to work in clean clothes? I know I will look at my everyday routine a bit differently now. I vow to appreciate what I used to take for granted. I have a nice home, with heat, running water, and indoor plumbing. I sleep in a comfortable bed, and have clean clothes to wear each day. I even have a variety of clothes. We have food in the pantry and the refrigerator. If we run out of anything we can find the needed items at a variety of stores near by.

I will never look at a roll of toilet paper or a trip to the bathroom the same way again.

If you would like to help provide basics to some of our deployed soldiers from Fort Stewart, please email me: dorie@dorielgriggs.com

My First Family Readiness Group Meeting

Dorie and Jerri catch up after the Family Readiness Group meeting.

I attended my first Family Readiness Group (FRG) meeting last week at Fort Stewart. The meeting date was posted to the battalion Facebook group a few days before the meeting. With a deployment on the horizon it was a meeting I really had to attend to help me understand the ins and outs of getting ready.

After making sure the rest of the family would be set if I was gone for two days, I checked to see If I could stay with a good friend and fellow Citadel mom, Jerri. When we found out my son would be at Fort Stewart, Jerri told me that I could stay with her if I came to town. It was time to take her up on her offer.

It is a four-hour drive from our home to Fort Stewart. I arrived at Jerri’s house with just enough time to visit then leave for the meeting. Jerri went out of her way to make me feel at home. She even drove with me onto the base to make sure I found the right building for the meeting.

I knew ahead of time that I probably would not get to see my son since he was busy with his work and may be in the field. On my way to town I had spoken to the executive director of Care For The Troops and found there was a fellow member of the board of directors that lived near the base. When I spoke to him it turned out he wasn’t free, but his wife is the Military Family Life Consultant (MFLC) for my sons battalion and she would be at the meeting.

As I parked the car near the building I saw a number of young couples walking toward the building with their small children in tow. The meeting room was packed when I got there. The only seat left was right next to my new contact with the MFLC!

The lieutenant colonel began the meeting by introducing the various Family Readiness Group leaders, including his wife. He then began to go over the calendar for the next several months using PowerPoint. I have learned during my son’s time at The Citadel that the military loves to use PowerPoint. Each time he would use an abbreviation for a term his wife would ask him to explain the abbreviation. I was grateful for her questions since I had no idea what they meant. While he talked I took notes so I would remember the terms after I walked out. During the meeting I also made friends with two young wives and their toddler age daughters. These young women said they also appreciated the meeting since their husbands tell them very little.

The biggest surprise came when the meeting was over. I checked my phone for messages and learned my son sent a text asking if I’d like to meet him for dinner when he got off work! It would take a while for him to finish up so I spoke to the FRG leaders and the lieutenant colonel after the meeting. I was given some free information and a small doll to give my daughter. The booklet, A Handbook for Family & Friends of Service Members: Before, During and After Deployment, and the file folder with information from USAA Insurance includes lots of reading material. It will keep me busy reading all the information.

A few of the items I was given at the Family Readiness Group meeting.

The highlight of my visit came later that night when I finally caught up with my son. He worked until 8:00 pm so we met at his condo and went out for a late dinner. It was obvious that the was extremely tired. He gets to bed each night by 9:00pm and is up very early to get to work. He is learning that what he went through knob year is nothing compared the schedule and demands on him now. When our dinner arrived at 9:15 it was the first meal he had since early that morning. We caught up on family news and his weekend adventures. Then came THE conversation. The one every family should have before a deployment. He began to tell me his wishes should he not return alive from his mission.

The conversation flowed. he told me his plans and explained he had already reviewed them with his father, my ex. I was impressed by the level of thought he put into his plans. I was also very happy that he brought it up with me during this visit when it was just us there to talk. We have had very few one-on-one talks since he left for college five years ago. The conversation didn’t bother me then, and really doesn’t bother me now either. It is just a little surreal to discuss final plans with your child. It brings home the fact that their chosen career means they are in harm’s way. It just isn’t the type of conversation I ever had with my own parents when I started my first job out of college.

After dinner I saw his condo for the first time. A beautiful place right on the river near Savannah. We didn’t visit long after dinner since he had to get up early the next morning.

My friend Jerri stopped in my room when I got home to talk about my visit. I so appreciated the opportunity to stay at her home and have her counsel as an Army wife. She has years of experience with deployments and other aspects of Army life.

Now it’s time to start reading all the information I was given.

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