Like my literary hero Pat Conroy, I wear the ring. I am a proud graduate of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. If you went to military school or served in the armed forces, you understand it’s tradition to be overly critical of those who follow behind you. Their experiences never quite match up to those legendary tough times you had to endure. Your boot camp was harder. Your plebe year (or knob year as we call it at The Citadel) was infinitely tougher than those wimps who dare even call themselves plebes in 2009.
I do my fair share of bashing.
When I was a cadet, our “air conditioning” consisted of a box fan in the window and an open transom to create a cross breeze. The result was a desultory movement of air saturated with humidity—the norm for Charleston, South Carolina for most of the year. Today, the cadets have central heating and air.
When I was a cadet, my classmates and I enjoyed what was then called the “Knob Lounge,” a single 2-by-8 board affixed to a wall under an overhang. The board served as a shelf where we could lay down our books and stand—stand but not talk—to enjoy a quick snack between classes and drill. Today, the “Fourth Class Lounge” is a well-appointed room in the student center complete with a television, comfy couches and chairs, and even a computer to check your FaceBook or maybe email mom to tell her how tough it is being a freshman cadet.
(Okay, I can HEAR the eye-rolling about now, but I’m getting to my point. Trust me)
Yes, I bash, but it is all in fun. It has to be because I am sobered when I log onto my college’s website (http://www.citadel.edu/) and look at the list of young men and women serving, and in some cases dying for, our country. Many are alumni who graduated well after me. They don’t know me. But they are serving to keep me and my family free.
Shane Childers graduated in 2001. He was the first person do lose his life in the current Gulf War. I don’t care what kind of knob experience Lt. Childers had. I care only that he put on a uniform and fought for me.
That goes for everyone serving, Citadel grad or not. If you were Citadel cadet, a former EMT for your county rescue squad, or a sorority girl at Alabama, it matters not. You have my immediate respect, my life long gratitude, and my prayer for a safe and peaceful return.