The Sand Castle Blues, Part 6- Of Rats and Shitbags

My previous articles have given you a taste of the knob life, demographics at SC’s oldest frat, and most relevantly to the purpose of this site, the NROTC experience at a military college. What follows is a journey into my personal experience, how I went from a motivated recruit into the class of 2015 on equal footing with my peers, to being a rat, a shitbag in the eyes of everyone else. Hardly anyone wakes up one day and says “I’m going to dime out my people and not pull my weight, and be a lousy excuse for a cadet/soldier/marine. I don’t claim to have had the worst experience at the Citadel. The claimants to that would be the first women who came, the first blacks, the classes from the 50s-90s. But what I experienced was enough to cause me to reevaluate everything I thought I believed and my entire trajectory in life, and taught me who I really was.

Hell week was a torrent of stress, yelling and emotional turmoil. But amidst all that, I did not forget the high ideals, which the school claimed to have. Unlike my classmates from SC and other southern states, I had no idea what the system was really about.  My cadre squad leader, we’ll call Mr. M, gave me the first taste. For the first couple days we were both scared of him and perplexed. He was an army contracted junior, and the only Hispanic on cadre. I had never met someone who could cram so many F bombs into a sentence, and have not met someone since. The sheer density of profanity he could lace into simple explanations of how to make beds and shine shoes was astonishing and in other contexts would have been funny, and sometimes I suppressed a laugh. He and the ASL yelled a lot and played their parts well. Mr. M’s warning to us was that he could be our greatest protector or our worst enemy. But he started saying things that struck me as off.

He would go off on tangents about how the administration was ruining the school and not letting him train us.  He said they had let the place go soft, especially by letting women go to the school.

My company only had a few females, all of them seniors, one of them cadre.  When they weren’t around, Mr. M instructed us not to salute female officers (whether he meant only cadets or commissioned women too he didn’t clarify and no one asked) or even acknowledge them.

Shortly after picking up our utility uniforms, shoes, brass, and covers, we were in formation outside battalion, in a parking lot. Mr. M gave us a set of very specific instructions. He wanted us to go to the cadet store at some point, buy Cutex, and hide it in our rooms. If anyone was to ask, we were to say we didn’t have any.  He would teach us what to do with it.

Now at this point some of you might wonder why we would need nail polish remover. It has to do with belt buckles. The belt has a thin film of protective coating over it, preventing you from sanding and shining the brass with a rag and Blue Magic.  To be able to shine your belt to perfection like a good knob, delacquering the brass’s coating off is necessary. There are two common methods. The first is bathing your brass in a cup of brasso until the coating loosens and you can peel it off. The process takes at least three hours. The other method is to dip it in nail polish remover, which delaquers the brass in less than a minute.

What we didn’t know as knobs was that in a previous semester, a cadet (rumor had it it was our cadre 1SGT) had caused a fire in his room with the highly flammable cutex, no doubt on some shenanigan bullshit. His negligence/idiocy had gotten nail polish remover banned from the company, if not the battalion.  I also didn’t even conceive that I could try talking to Mr. M privately about my reservations towards his orders and his mentalities. I figured that was entirely out of bounds, he was a cadre, I was a knob, we were not human beings on either end, at least that’s how I perceived things. He was in charge, and I figured bringing things up to him personally would get me in trouble. His authority seemed absolute.

What I did know was that the Citadel had an honor code that could get you expelled for lying, cheating, and stealing, and here was our squad leader seemingly asking us to smuggle contraband and lie about it.  I conferred with other classmates about it in our rooms at night, some of them agreed that this was a problem, but nobody wanted to do anything about it.

One morning I was cleaning the room with my roommate, still stressing about it and the TAC came in. He was making rounds, just checking up on people.  I broke down and I told him what squad leader had been asking us to do. I told him this wasn’t what I signed up for and that I wanted to leave. The TAC told me I had done the right thing and that the Citadel needed more people like me, needed me to stick it out. My idealism bought into his words, and I waited to see what happened.

The consequences came in spurts.  An hour or two later Mr. M randomly formed us up, looking like a deer in headlights, and told us to salute the females and disregard his earlier order. After lunch he formed us up again and informed us that someone had told on him, and that he was being removed as squad leader, and could no longer talk to knobs. He was upset. He gave a defeated speech about he was our greatest protector and now, he couldn’t protect us. He asked us to raise our hands if we thought he was a good leader. My squadmates raised their hands, I didn’t. After that everyone knew it was me, I made no effort to hide it, retardedly holding onto my uber strict interpretation of “I will not lie”. Had I raised my hand and never told anyone what I had done (my roommate was a witness but he wouldn’t have accused me of lying, and wasn’t in my squad), things might have turned out just a little bit better.

My squad, the 3rd of 4, was disbanded, and we were dispersed into the other three for the rest of semester, probably the rest of the year.  I had not intended to get Mr. M fired from being cadre, but the TAC was zealous, overzealous in the eyes of many in my company.  Word spread quickly that I had told on my squad leader, the circumstances of it became muddy as it went around, especially after hell week when the rest of the Corps reported in for the semester.  I was quickly named a rat and got extra hate and scrutiny. Although when it came to uniform and knowledge I was not below average compared to my classmates, I was treated as though I was shittier than everyone else in those categories. The perception stuck. At the bookstore or between classes some of my company classmates would approach me and tell me I needed to fix myself and be like the rest of them, whatever the hell that meant.

Owing to my snitch reputation, upperclassmen rarely made me go to smoking sessions in their rooms. Instead my fuck ups would get my squadmates smoked for me. My classmate resented this, even more so when I made it clear that I didn’t approve of anything being done to us. At first I would try to talk to them about how every day at least 15 violations of the fourth class regulations were occurring, that we needed to stand up against it.  I soon learned that my views were an anomaly and made me an object of contempt.

My impulsive reaction the first few weeks to being a cadet was shock and an intense desire to go back home. At the time, the TAC and CO of the marine unit chalked it up to homesickness and soothed me to keep at it. I agreed, and Like Martin Luther before Worms,  I figured the behavior and mindsets I was witnessing was isolated and not representative of the whole. I thought we as a student body were on a learning curb and could still experience the Corps as it portrays itself, ethics and all.

The TAC wanted me to keep whistle blowing, as everyday I saw violations and knew people were being messed with. I totally could have. Attempts to hide what was going on ranged from cunning to stupid. For an example of the latter, the geometry of the barracks is such that there are four large pillar staircases on each corner of the quad, a stair for each company. They are sufficiently wide that if the TACs are not at your company’s corner, which was most of the time, it wasn’t hard to pack in a bunch of knobs behind the stairs and making them push or fuck with them. As long as nobody came close enough around the corner, the hazing was invisible!

I tried at first to keep TAC in the loop, had his cell phone number hidden under a false name in my phone. But the thing about going undercover is that the criminals can’t know you are a cop. I had blown my cover the first week of school, and I was being intimidated by individual upperclassmen and classmates who didn’t want me ratting anymore. Two asshole sophomores from cadre cornered me one time when I was taking trash out and got in my face, saying shit like “You need to decide if you are gonna have a real knob year” and “What would you do if I punched you in the face”.  A classmate who was approaching would passive-aggressively bump into me every time his squad passed by ours, and he tried to get me to transfer to another company. Gossip was that he and other motivated knobs in the company were plotting to fix me if I didn’t stop telling and “not putting out”. I was firmly in the crosshairs, and anyone getting in trouble immediately got me accused of being the cause.  So for my own safety, I stopped telling.

Every day of knob year sucks ass, but it’s all in the reward at the end for most.  The way you are supposed to cope is by bonding with your classmates, but you find as a snitch and a dissenter to status quo that you are ostracized from the Corps, and you lose motivation. As you lose motivation, you get outcast even more, it’s a self feeding process. I did not stay up till 3 or 4 am shining my shoes and brass and memorizing the lunch menu, because I practiced time management and stayed away from the battalion whenever possible. My uniform was arguably as good/shit as everyone else, but because I didn’t deprive myself of sleep, I was called a shitbag. No matter how much effort I put in, it wasn’t enough to anyone.  Classmates resented me because I didn’t get hazed, I didn’t get hazed because nobody trusted me enough to try it again.

The upper-class exploited this at every opportunity, and fucked with me mentally. At times I would be lectured about how I would never experience the brotherly bond they all shared, other times they would mock me by throwing their hands up and flinching. They would yell “OOOH stay at least 5 feet away from this pussy, guys, he’ll report us to the TAC for hazing aaaah”. At “sweat parties”, where cadre force the knobs to all cram into the corner of a room body to body, or at douche details, or punishment pt, they would force me to stand apart from everyone while my classmates suffered. Sometimes when I messed up on something I would be asked to name 5 classmates (to be smoked), of course I never said anyone’s name. An upper from our company on battalion staff would take my seat at lunch twice a week, I once didn’t get to eat because the tables were all full and the one free table had a mess carver tell me to fuck off. Everytime I sat at a mess with this staff officer or the XO, I had to fight every impulse in my body to not explode, or run away screaming. 5 of classmates were once made to report to staff guy’s room because I wasn’t swallowing my food in 3 chews (I get acid reflux from not chewing my food enough).

I came to hate every waking second of my life at the Citadel. I found that almost universally, the conduct of the fourth class system was one thing on paper and the opposite in practice. I couldn’t stand or wrap my head around why everyone bragged and touted their toughness by following a system whose rules they utterly disregarded and refused to follow.  Any suggestion to follow even the existing rules was seen as further pussification of the school and its “traditions”. And as I’ve covered before, when many of these guys are out on leave they get rousingly drunk and try to take advantage wasted College of Charleston chicks. If I had wanted to engage in these types of behavior, I would have gone to a regular college and joined a fucking fraternity.

Almost no one had my back or shared my views. I had nearly nothing in common with my classmates in general. At dinner, the one meal where we didn’t have mess hall rules, I had nothing to talk about and didn’t understand what the others were talking and joking about. At the time, and in my memory, their conversations were a series of macho little boy rumblings and hazing anecdotes. They lived in a different world from me, while in mine all I obsessed on was the injustice of this place and painful self-awareness that I didn’t belong. I would never be one of them.  I wanted to leave, most nights I just wished I could disappear and just be invisible.

A shitbag is supposedly someone who doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, does the least amount of work possible. My focus on school first, insistence on getting at least 5 hours of sleep, and heretical views got me called a shitbag. But I argue that the mainstream people in the Corps are bigger shitbags than could have ever been.  The bare minimum function of an institution like the Corps of Cadets is to follow its rules, and most cadets from freshmen to senior scoff at them. For them, teaching and practicing good leadership that inspires and builds people, motivates them to gladly put in for the group, is too much and too hard to ask. So instead, they break the rules, they bully and treat each other like shit and call it leadership. They judge their competence on how much they can torture themselves and others and by how much they can stand. Their refusal to live up to their supposed reputation for good leadership makes them the biggest shitbags of all.

P.S. In the two years since I left, I have a few regrets. No motivators, its not that I would have sucked it up, or that I wish I hadn’t left, to the contrary. I wish as a rat I would have gone farther. I wish I had gotten all those bastards so many tours that they were still walking the quad 3 years after graduation.  I wish I had a wire and could have caught some of the conversations and threats I heard. I wish I had taken swings at the following pricks, who I am naming by first name to a) preserve my anonymity as much as possible b) as disrespect, because I had to call most of them Mr. (last name):

1) John, the battalion staff guy. Fuck you for not letting me eat and smoking my classmates. I should have came to your room and kicked your ass.

2) Bryan, you’re the only person I truly, truly hate as a human being. You are a racist, alcoholic, fat, disgusting slob of a loser. That a person like you could last at a place like the Citadel is proof that the school isn’t nearly all kits cracked up to be

3) Zach- I remember during senior showers you made us all pop back into formation before they dunked your ass in the water. Bitch.

4) Paul- I wanted to snap so many times when you were mess carver. You’re lucky I didn’t.

5) Patrick- you are like an abused puppy bent to the will of its awful owners. You weren’t even in my squad and presumed to judge me.  I wasn’t scared of you then, I’m not scared of you now. You two-faced asshole, maybe we should have gone at it, but you were an infirmary ranger, remember? Getting your ass kicked during christmas lights, letting upperclassmen jack up your health. You sir, are pathetic.

6) Cody- Same thing, you weren’t even on my squad but you’d yell at me like you were cadre. You look like a premature 40-year old redneck, I’m sure your kids will be hideous.

7) Jeff- sending me up and down the stairs just because fuck me right. I didn’t respect your sophomore ass then, I never did the rest of semester.

8) I don’t know who you were to this day, but during parade you’re the asshole who kept kicking my feet trying to fuck with me. I fantasize about things I could have done different. I could have turned around and slugged you, or gotten to the parade deck and just walked out of formation, just to mortify the entire school and all the tourists. I would have made the news. Thing I’m most upset about though, is not knowing who you were. If I ever find out, you’ll hope we never cross paths asshole.

 

 

 

 

The Sand Castle Blues, Part 5- Yut-Yut Midshipman


[People I know are in this picture. I am not in this, that or I can’t pick myself apart from all the knobs. Pretty common problem actually.]

And now we get to the article you have all been waiting for,  where I break down the Citadel’s NROTC program! Going for a commission via NROTC is considered the wiser, safer, less horseshit way of becoming a US Marine, versus just enlisting. Other than going to OCS or PLC, it’s the most popular route to a commission. Now, units and lifestyle vary. Someone who went to Partyville State Bro college is not gonna have exactly the same type of midshipman experience I did, for obvious reasons. But the doctrine and scope of training is the same, so here’s my perspective on things.

As stated before, I went to the Citadel with an NROTC, Marine option scholarship. I was therefore a midshipman in the naval reserve, paid a lovely 250 dollar stipend each month along with a book allowance and tuition paid for. I was one of 8 freshmen to get in with this, and we were given a ribbon to wear on our uniforms with an EGA on it. Your feeling of accomplishment and distinction goes away when you recall what I’ve said in previous articles about standing out at a school like the Citadel. Having that ribbon makes you a target, makes it easier for upperclassmen to pick you out and pick on you, whether out of jealousy for your scholarship or because they are service snobs and don’t like Marines. Even though I earned that ribbon, cadre would punish me for uniform imperfection by ordering me to take it off. Upperclass who were midshipmen heard about this and told me to disregard such orders, as well as not bracing while in Marine Corps issued uniforms. It was an unresolved back and forth between Marine uppers and non marine contracts, wasn’t much I could do about it.

All cadets with a scholarship(often referred to as a contract) are in ROTC, but not all cadets in ROTC are contracting. If you aren’t going for a contract, it is just a one credit hour class, and a fairly easy one. Death by powerpoint, and the tests are easy as hell. We spent a month worth of classes watching some british mini series about the royal navy, and even though they turned the lights off, the navy LT who taught my class would get on you for trying to get some needed sleep during the movie.

If you have to commission, and it has to be the Citadel, do it as an enlisted MECEP. From what I understood, they didn’t have to be knobs, or live on campus as part of the Corps of Cadets.  All they had to deal with was classes, and typical Marine Corps bs.

If you are a MECEP,contract or wanting one, you have to be involved in the NROTC’s so called “Marine Contingent”.  It’s organized as a company with five platoons, each from a different SCCC battallion. Its chain of command muddies the water with the Corps of Cadets. A guy who has no position in the Corps might be a platoon leader in the marine unit, for instance. Our contingent 1st Sergeant was also my cadre CO.

Being in the contingent required your participation in 3 PT sessions a week at 0500, which  earned you minor scorn back at battalion from knobs who were still sweeping galleries while you took a shower after PT. Every thursday from 4 till before dinner mess(if lucky) you had a “lab”, where the unit formed up on the parade field and usually did something physical or had a class on land nav and formations, Physical activities ranged from fun stuff, like obstacle/endurance courses, to hum drum like CFT’s. We also went on conditioning hikes with packs, I forget how much weight it was but it was heavy as hell. Upperclassmen had priority when getting issued the more ergonomical and newer gear, I had some old BDU color pack thing from the 80’s. The army rucked more than us, but their gear was either a lot better designed or they didn’t carry as much on their backs. When hiking they also seemed a lot less supervised and like they were going on a nice little stroll, objectively speaking we humped harder than they did.

The closest we recieved to tactical training was low budget to say the least. We learned how to give covering fire and advance in groups of two(I’m up-they see-me I’m down- type shit), while wielding imaginary rifles and making gun noises with our mouths.  We once did squad formations, also with imaginary weapons, and very rarely we pulled out rubber duck m16’s. I would see the army guys training at the same time as us, they always had really cool looking rubber guns, they even had eastern bloc replica weapons and RPG’s and would set up make shift bunkers with camo netting. It always looked like they had the money to do stuff we wanted to do but had to play pretend with. We once learned room clearing, where the walls  and boundaries of rooms were denoted by ropes on the grass laid out in squares. Real exciting stuff.

Occasionally we would have a classroom instruction period during lab before we put skills into practice. These usually consisted of some motivator sergeant or corporal, MECEPs most likely, giving us a powerpoint about squad and fireteam formations or about land nav.  These marines had the impression that we were probably not very smart or able to focus on something for more than a few minutes at a time. They would make deprecating jokes about how this was all boring and hard but we had to bear with it, as if it was calculus or something. They would have us stand up and stretch every 15-20 minutes. I was, you know, a college student, and didn’t have a problem sitting still and taking notes. I don’t get why everyone else would, but sure enough even college officer candidates live up to the stereotype of the dumb, muscular marine who isn’t book smart.

The land nav classes in particular were a huge let down for me, because they were EXACTLY the same as the ones I had done for four years in JROTC. Exactly the same outdated map of fort benning with the same locations to find, exact same powerpoint we used in high school.  At least I could say I knew what I was doing, unlike a lot of the clueless fellow officer candidates who were scratching their ape brains about azimuths and such.

One to three FTX exercises are held during semester. They take up one to three days. Mine was 2 days and a night bivouac in Charleston Naval Weapons Station in september. Pictures of FTX on the contingent’s website sold me the most on going to the Citadel over other schools, so I was surprised to find out I hated every second of it. We built fighting holes, rucked like 9 miles, did a landnav exercise. It rained and was miserable, I had at least an inch deep puddle of sweat in my boots at one point, how humid it was.

The culture of the ROTC unit is a lot less hostile than in the SCCC. 4th class system isn’t in effect during training, so its the only time upperclassmen don’t make you act like a retard and treat you like a person. The Marine officer instructors(MOI and AMOI, latter is an SNCO, gunnies usually) were professional and polite. But being in a Marine Corps environment, I did witness some of the stupidity described by others on this site. Our unit platoon sergeant got racked out by some motivator NCO, and so he came to us and in his most exasperated sarcasm, apologized for being such a horrible leader. That he would fail to set the example by having missed a notch on his belt or some such, he had lapsed in his integrity, he hoped we would all forgive him for being such a poor example and shaming the Marine Corps and the Citadel.

A few stories for you of douchebaggery. I always figured it was the Citadel’s culture contaminating the unit, but knowing what I do now, the Marine Corps is certainly capable of negative experiences such as these:
During a timed 3 mile run, I did what I was wont to do in cross country in high school. As people started catching up to me or passing me, this would motivate me to push it and speed back up to beat them. One particular motard saw this and racked me out for doing it, something like ” Oh hey bitch you’re not gonna put out all the way when people aren’t around huh”. Another time we were running on a track. We had a motto in cross country, “finish strong”. I would pour out whatever was left in me for the last leg of the journey. My unit squad leader yelled at me for doing this, saying I should have been running that hard the entire time. Well, shoot, maybe next time I will just not bother to put in all my effort, so no one can accuse me of holding out by being totally unexceptional . What the fuck.

The biggest blow to my opinion of fellow midshipman came at the end of FTX. As we waited for hours for the bus to come pick us up and take us back to school, we were given lunch  in the outer part of Naval Weapons station,and it was pretty chill. I decided I would do something nice, and take my trash and that of others to the dumpster on the fence, across the way. When I came back, all the upperclass midshipman jumped on me for walking a hundred feet away by myself without a battle buddy, even though I was in plain view the entire time. In an instant my fellow midshipmen reverted to being Citadel upperclass, and I was a stupid knob.  Back and forth, I heard “who the fuck is that?”,” is that knob gaudy”? ” doesn’t that knob have a contract”” ” I cant believe they give nasties like him scholarships, what bullshit”. The culmination of all my frustration was in this moment, it was rock bottom for me in terms of morale.

To change gears slightly, my experience being at the Citadel and in the marine unit was a constant realization that everything I had planned my life around, everything I thought about who I was and my mission in life, was completely wrong. It was a destruction of my self image and my imagined dreams. The first week I stood up and was made to swear the oath. Every word felt like a lie, and I didn’t understand what the hell was wrong with me.

When in training or in academic buildings, fellow midshipmen were still full motard. They proudly joked about being yut yuts, oorah marine corps this and that.  In high school I was much the same. I realized then that I had been trying to be something I saw on TV, something divorced from reality, and here I was surrounded by people who were still in fantasyland. They looked so absurd to me, and I couldn’t get myself back into their mentality. They took pride in being meatheaded neanderthals, and it offended me to be associated with them. It felt offensive for others to judge my intelligence based on my uniform.

The bloodthirsty cadences, I couldn’t sing along anymore because I was comprehending what we were saying. On the Marine Corps birthday we had 0500 spirit run, a staff sergeant had us sing “napalm sticks to kids”.  Corpsmen would give us lessons on tourniquets and field questions about injuries, and I found myself unwilling to listen to any of it.

When I was in high school I would look at myself in the mirror with my high and tight cut and say  “I am a United States Marine.” I would imagine myself in MCU’s or dress blues, older, stronger, perfect.It felt good, I was so sure it fit. But before labs at the Citadel, I would look at myself in the mirror, above a sink where I brushed my teeth and was made to urinate. Here I was, wearing MCU’s, or boots and utes,  just like I had always wanted. I no longer saw a marine in the mirror. I saw a skinny, tired 19 year old kid, wearing a hand me down uniform that was too big for me. I was wearing a costume, pretending to be something I wasn’t and doing a horrible job at it.  I had zilch in common with anyone, even less without a desire to commission. People resented that I had a full ride and a path to commission, yet wasn’t motivated or boss at anything. There was no longer any doubt. I didn’t want this, and I was getting out.

They try to really make it a pain in the ass for you to leave. You get counseled by multiple MOI’s, they try to guilt you into staying in, making you feel like if you leave, you will never accomplish anything else.  I felt like someone who actually was motivated deserved my scholarship, someone who didn’t have any qualms about it all. What good would I be to marines under my command if I didn’t believe in the mission, the organization, the culture, the war? No good,and thats the part no one counseling me seemed to understand.

If you get a 4 year scholarship out of high school, you don’t incur any financial obligation to the Department of the Navy until the start of sophomore year. I didn’t want to waste anymore taxpayer money or time, mine or the Marine Corps’s. I left after finals in the fall, and transferred to a school in the state where I was from. I dropped my scholarship, my career, an entire life I had been setting myself up for. I have turned a new corner in my life, but the experiences I have been through are still very much a part of me, they brought me to where I am now. It is for that reason that I sing the Sand Castle Blues, and I still have  a few stories left to tell, for my benefit, and for that of anyone who can be saved from making a big mistake with their lives.

[More stories from me and others about El Cid at http://brokengrayline.tumblr.com/ If you went there or know someone who did, and you didn’t fit in, you aren’t alone. You are among friends. Drop us a line]

The Sand Castle Blues, Part 4- One of the Boys


[Summerall Guards, named after General Charles P Summerall, Citadel President and West Point alum. Noticing a pattern? It is every toolbag’s wet dream to become a summerall guard. They get mentioned at mess announcements and people bang the tables, tradition.]

Before going to El Cid,my frame of reference for what my fellow cadets would be like came as a result of my interests, and experience meeting other prospective cadets at programs for other schools. See, I was a military nerd, in the sense that I would read Clausewitz’s “On War” and Grossman’s “On Killing” out of sheer interest, and I devoured anything about the campaigns of Napoleon, Marine Corps in the Pacific, etc. I believed in the military and war as a profession, which demanded all my attention and sobriety. At the same time, I had the impression that freshman training would be shenanigans all in good fun.

At West Point’s summer leadership camp between junior and senior year, I met students who were tops of their class, tons of extracurriculars and leadership activity, the kind of people who could get into an ivy league school on big scholarships just as easily as they could get accepted to a federal academy. I was top ten percent of my class, had risen to head of JROTC at my high school, and had a host of other trivial honors on my resume. I expected Citadel cadets to be of similiar quality. That they would also be serious, dedicated, ethical people who preferred to spend a saturday night in the library working for a 4.0, or doing practical training, rather than going out to get shitfaced and contract STD’s. I expected some diversity too I suppose.

At the beginning of Knob Year, we are all in the same boat, recieving the same culture shock and homesickness pangs. Consensus among my company classmates the first few weeks was that we had all made a huge mistake in coming here, and wished we could take it back. The progessive infringements made by upperclassmen, and their mentalities towards us and our training bothered many of us at first. But with time, most of them got over it, drank the kool aid, and got with the program. I never did, and as I began to get to know the people around me, I began to see what differentiated us.

I got to the Citadel as part of the honors program, and the people in it were like me as far as priorities. There were only 20-30 of us out of the freshmen class of over 700. I was astonished by how underwhelming the majority of cadets were. The school was ranked as being kind of exclusive about admissions, but I sure didn’t see it.

You truly can typecast the typical cadet. White, southern, good ol’ boy who partied a bit too much in high school, average or below average student. More than a few probably couldn’t hack more than a  semester at a typical college because they’d be getting drunk all the time and skipping class. A good minority of cadets are legacies, and thus were expected to go to El Cid and make daddy proud.

Asides the whole military thing, its basically a small liberal arts college, and so most are in shit easy majors like criminal justice, education, and business. Just the kind of person who can pour their time into putting out as a knob because they weren’t going to be doing school work anyway. Just the kind of person who would, as an upperclassmen, deal with boredom by tormenting the knobs as was done to them.

Cadets come to take a lot of pride in the Corps and in upholding the image they believe it has. They believe it great because of its dominant white male masculine image and the hazing that they endure. Obviously, this means it is not good to stand out, either in opinion or in deviation from this image. Being in South Carolina, there are still plenty of alums alive from the time of Jim Crow, and a few of my classmates were openly racist anytime there weren’t black people around. Black cadets know there are still whispers that they don’t belong there, lumped in with the stigma that many black cadets are there as athletes.

You are taught by upperclassmen to hate the shit out of Corps Squad Athletes. Why? Because athletes to them aren’t real cadets. Most of their time is spent in class or at practice, or in locker rooms. They are almost never in battalion, and are usually exempt from saturday morning inspections, parades, and miss most of the shenanigans. At the mess hall, they eat upstairs, separate from everyone else. They get as much to eat as they need and eat at the table like people, whereas we had to to abide by all these weird table manner rules and be tormented by mess carvers, getting little food. Having done sports in high school I know that college athletics is probably even more demanding, but at the Citadel athletes are treated like shitouts and outcasts, mainly out of jealousy. If I had to go there again and could resist the urge to hit someone this time around, I would go in as an athlete.

The people who have it the worst though are probably the female cadets. They make up less than 5 percent of the population, and have only been admitted since the late 1990’s. The first couple to try didn’t last long, had their uniforms lit on fire by their band of brothers in the corps. Toolbags from time ever after bitch and moan about how women have ruined the school and lowered all the standards and don’t belong there. When I was at the Citadel, we had the highest rate of reported sexual assault incidents out of all the military colleges. I remember being offended when our cadre noticed that my company class was entirely male that year, and they remarked on how great that was and how we should be damn proud of it. Misogyny towards women in general was in style. Another stupid tradition involved making seniors hats for thanksgiving out of whatever materials we had.Yeah, just as stupid as it sounds. And a few asked us to put pictures of naked women on their hats, and so the company got bitched out. Our Tac officer had to comment the obvious, that he shouldn’t have to tell us that doing that was offensive and wrong.

I should probably say a word or two about TAC officers. These guys are retired military who are technically in charge of the Corps at company to regimental level, and the cadets that run them. All military colleges have some equivalent, and they keep the cadet officers on varying degrees of leash as far as how much power and supervision they get. At the Citadel, cadets basically have free reign to run the corps. My company’s TAC was an Army Colonel, West Point alum, and had come to the same conclusion as me, that bad leadership was the norm and the aspiration. As a result, uppers hated him and taught us to hate him too, for trying to fix it, for not allowing them to really “toughen us up and mold us”. The amount of freedom cadets have to “lead” is both the school’s greatest selling point and curse.Power corrupts.

It comes as no surprise that cadets and cadet culture are morally lacking. Some of the most religiously, racially, politically, and sexually offensive sentiments I have ever heard are common speech. We have to follow an honor code, enforced entirely by a cadet honor court, that says we will not lie cheat steal or tolerate those who do. Omission is considered lying, and in general I would think that the lying clause violates your 5th amendment rights. You can be found guilty of hazing, intoxication, disorderly conduct, or be a fatass upperclassman who can’t PT, but only by being found guilty of violating honor code will you definitely be kicked out of the Citadel. Those other things will only get you anywhere from cons and tours to a semester’s expulsion, at worst. Way to produce leaders and maintain good behavior.

Speaking of intoxication, the long running joke is that the Citadel is a drinking school with a military problem. My upperclassmen were some of the highest functioning alcoholics I have ever seen.  Going on leave in  Charleston they did some combination of getting shitfaced and hitting on College of Charleston girls. Knobs on leave had the pathetic habit of hanging around Berry Dorm, in the hopes that the girls staying there might invite them up to rub genitals.Underage drinking amongst my classmates was prevalent, but when caught coming back from leave drunk, they wouldn’t get punished officially. Uppers would bitch them out, have us help them sober up by forcing them to hydrate. You can look at it two ways. One, they look out for us and teach us to look out for each other by not throwing the book at us. Or, cadets tolerate behavior that isn’t supposed to be acceptable, and in doing so, dilute the honor and integrity they supposedly have. It is preferable to go against reg and punish someone by hazing them, in their eyes, than it is to get them in trouble officially. Make of it what you will.

A month or more in to knob year and your cadre and upperclassmen have to varying degrees instilled in their charges a drive to conform, put out, and be liked by their peers and their upperclassmen, in the way an abused dog yearns for his masters approval. Motardedness( the term was toolbag, only upperclassmen used it though) of varying degrees is the standard. Biggest motards become roaches, guys who will get vouched for leadership positions next year. They get hazed extra, mainly by the sophomores.

The pantheon of toolbaggydom is the Summerall Guards, a senior drill team. If you want, look them up on youtube to see their faggy routine. Juniors who want to become summerall guards get to relive knob year, getting shaved heads again and being hazed by the seniors. There is NO SUPERVISION from TACS or anyone in the school admin for the sumerallguards. They have a rep in the Corps for being the most badass, obviously.

Being a shitbag and a shitout is more often an accusation, rarely is someone brave or irreverent enough to admit that they aren’t down with knob year and their company, declare themselves outcast.Snitches who rat on people for hazing get lumped in as well. In lieu of being fucked with on a physical level, when snitches mess up on something, their classmates get hazed or PT’d for them.The more motarded knobs will be instructed by cadre to fix their classmates, or take the initiative to do so themselves. I once heard one of my cadre tell the squad of knobs under him ” I don’t give a fuck how you fix classmate X, just don’t get caught”.
Another time on the weekend I sat next to knobs from 3rd battalion(3rd Reich as its popularly known), discussing how they needed to do something to fix their classmate, but just be careful it didn’t kill him.

To sum up,some like me were ignorant of the realities of life in the SCCC, and expected what was on the brochures about leadership and integrity and brotherhood. Others knew, but went anyway because of the prestige. Still others, wanted to be hazed, wanted to be fucked with and to fuck with people in turn. Most stay because they get it in their heads that quitting is the worst possible thing you could ever do. They can’t fathom the concept of changing your mind, changing course. They think quitting is the easy way out, yet I dropped a guaranteed job and college paid for to be free. Really,It is easier to just conform, and buy into a southern masochistic lifestyle where the only relief is to soak your sorrows in drinks and treat others like shit. To just bend over and let everyone tell you how to live, how to dress, how to think, who to haze. That’s how you become one of the boys. A Citadel Man, worthy of his ring.

The Sand Castle Blues Part 3-Nonmilitary Miseducation


[This is General Mark Clark, a president of the Citadel during the 60’s. Among motards there is a delusional fantasy that when he was in charge of the school the 4th class sytem’s hazing served some sort of POW/SERE purpose. It’s pure hogwash. Also, he graduated from WEST POINT, not El Cid.]

In the past two articles I touched on the dubious highlights of being a Knob at the Citadel, and how they haze and indoctrinate you to be a defender of the 4th class system and the Corps’ values.  But even granted that I would eventually make peace  with the culture,I went to the Citadel expecting it to live up to the promise on the brochures; of being a focused military and academic program to build leaders.

This is after all, what the academies and senior military colleges offer and how they sell it to prospective students. These schools sell themselves on not just a unique experience, but on giving you discipline that will help you in school and in service more than going to Podunk State. The busy, spartan rituals of cadet life are supposed to be more valuable than being  free to manage your life as you see fit,  and it’s supposed to allow you to learn and practice good leadership.  The  small class size academics are touted as being highly ranked, and the first priority of student life above all cadet activities. The big question is, is a military college a better investment of 4 years, from an education and or military leadership standpoint? The answer, from my personal experience and various facts, is no. In fact, I would argue that by combining a military garrison/frat culture with a serious college education, you dilute the quality of both by tearing individual students between two opposing worlds, at the Citadel for sure, and at military schools more broadly.  Let’s talk about the military aspect first.

Considering it being a “military college”, you would think the Citadel would offer training that augments and reinforces what you would receive in the armed forces. After all, they have 24-7 uniforms, loud yelling and marching, PT,friday parades, Saturday Morning Inspections(SMI, field daying basically),strictly controlled schedules and OCD standards of perfection in the barracks/dorms, a very conducive environment for ROTC activity. And EVERYONE at a “military college” is going there to join the real military anyway right? All the tough physical hazing serves to help you in combat, so say upperclassmen.

Let’s break that apart from the bottom. The Citadel, and military schools outside the federal academies, don’t have any military obligation whatsoever to attend. No obligation, period. In fact, the Citadel only commissions about  a third of the graduating class, and that rate is comparable to the other military colleges. Citadel cadets did have to be enrolled in ROTC classes all four years, but they did not have to participate in training activities or labs outside of the one hour, 1 credit- hour class that only met maybe twice a week. The exception to this is obviously people who were actively pursuing a commission or were already there on contract to commission, like myself at the time.

So since military service isn’t obligated for two thirds of the students, the training involved in being a member of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets cannot ever be truly military in nature, as it is not an armed militia. Besides the aforementioned barracks lifestyle spoken of previously, you do not engage in any combat training. You are issued an M-14 rifle with no firing pin for use on the parade field. You receive no weapons training, no tactical or strategic education, no hand to hand combatives, no field training of any kind. When you graduate from the Citadel, you will be useful in any emergency situation that involves shining shoes and belt brass, ironing creases into shirts, sweeping floors,  yelling loudly,and being an arbitrary abusive prick. If that sounds like a combat ready defender of the homeland, excuse me while I pack my shit somewhere run by half sane people.

Surely, the Citadel has to have the college part working, otherwise how could it be an accredited institution? Yes, fortunately it has very good tenured faculty and low class sizes, and one of the best tutoring programs in the nation. If you are getting a degree in the liberal arts, hopefully on someone else’s generous dime, it will be an academically satisfying experience, and likewise with the electrical and civil engineering program. The barracks has mandatory study hall periods for like 2 or 3 hours in the evenings, and upperclass mostly abide by the rules of not fucking with knobs and actually doing something productive. So what’s the problem?

In case you couldn’t guess, it has to do with time management.  See, at regular colleges, you have complete freedom to be wherever you want and spend your time however you see fit. You can study as much as you want, or be as lazy as you want, be involved in extra curriculars, or shut yourself in and flip off the outside world.  Its up to you to find the balance. That’s the beauty of the regular college experience.

A military college looks at the time management scenario described above, and says Hell No, these 18-19 year old kids can’t manage time! They need someone else to tell them what to do, when to do it and for how long. They need structure and discipline, so we will make them go to meal time formations, give them curfews,  and march in parades that take up most of friday afternoon. If they have discipline problems or do stupid shit on leave, the school will  either give them room confinements(cons) or tours. A con is self explanatory. Each tour is 50 minutes spent marching around the quad with m14 in hand, like a sentry. Some trouble cadets join the century club, racking up hundreds of tours, losing literally 100’s of hours they could have spent studying, which a confinement at least enables them to do. Tours are fucking pointless wastes of time, and a shitty form of punishment that cripples your main mission as a college student, but its a traditional form of punishment and isn’t going away.

If cadets are in ROTC to get commissioned, they will wake up early in the morning 3 days a week for PT, and attend a military training lab that takes up almost the entire day once a week. This training is mandatory and you will be punished for missing it. All of this is so that cadets can learn to  make smart decisions with what little time they have left. As you can see, these various things all comprise a form of babying, but it  is the respectable reason people come to these schools.

Citadel upperclassmen look at this in relation to the freshmen and say “FUCK NO! These worthless knobs need to earn their place here and since we have almost total power over their lives, we will give them NO TIME. We will interrupt anything they are doing to harrass them on the stairs and in their rooms. Instead of letting them study or get things done, we will make them run errands for us and spend all night shining brass rather than cramming for exams. On fridays, in addition to parades, we will make them spend 3 hours on a “douche detail” where they will pour buckets of hot water and soap on the galleries and sweep floor by floor with shitty brooms. It doesn’t get anything clean, but thats not the point. And if they try to avoid any of these activities by not being in battalion as much as possible and going to bed before 1 am, we will punish their classmates so that they turn on each other and ensure everyone is playing the game. We will barely let them eat at the mess hall and abuse them in any way possible if we can get away with it.They will fall asleep in class and have borderline GPAs. Some of them might fail and have to take summer classes. Some will end up in the infirmary because of what is done to them.They will spend their time doing arbitrary shit rather than anything productive. But by God,they will have a hard knob year, earn their class rings, and they will thank us for putting them through this.”

To sum up, the Citadel offers a barracks environment but no real military training. This makes it no better at preparing you for your training in service than any other school in the nation.  And yet cadets will laud how tough they are because they’re at a military college and learning soldierly things like marching and shining shoes and standing around for hours, just don’t ask them about what kind of combat training they get.

It’s a good school, but your entire first year is spent trying to please the whims of sadists who don’t give a fuck about your classloads, or their own academics for that matter.  They don’t want you putting in the time and effort to be a successful student, because its considered shitting out.  It’s really hard to do well in school when assholes are forcing you to get less than 4 hours of sleep and you’re losing weight from not eating enough and being smoked all the time. Then they will have the nerve to piss on you because they catch you falling asleep in the middle of classes. And if you don’t fit the mold and stand out like I did, everyone is out to get you, and you essentially are alone, because no one likes you or will be associated with you. And yet you are expected to spend every possible second around these people regardless, or its shitting out.

In my next article we will delve into what kind of people are to your left and right at this school, and what to expect from the social groups you can associate with.

[For more from me and other members of the Broken Gray Line, check out our blog:http://brokengrayline.tumblr.com/]

The Sand Castle Blues, Part 2-4th Class Citizens

[Pictured: Knobs becoming leaders by bracing, aka looking like fat deformed children, and  injuring their backs for 8 months. Part of a real knob year.]

A key part of joining any manly organization, whether its the armed forces, a gang,  a cult, or a frat is the initiation, and this is no different with the South Carolina Corps of Cadets (SCCC), which is a hybrid of all 4 of the aforementioned groups. Our initiation and training as cadets and college students is known officially as the 4th Class System,  purpose described like so in the  4th Class Manual, aka the Red Book:

“… to lay the foundation, early in a cadet’s career, for the development of those qualities of character and discipline implied in the mission of The Citadel as a military college – to produce The Citadel Whole Person with an alert mind and a sound body who has been taught high ideals such as honor, integrity, loyalty, and patriotism; who accepts the responsibilities which accompany leadership; and who has sufficient professional knowledge to take a place in our competitive world.”

To everyone else the 4th class system is knob year, and a knob is what you are for that first year. You are a knob because of that skinned doorknob head you pay to get shaved twice a week, and because traditionally that’s what they always called the freshman. Tradition is important here, whether its roots are long or imagined.

You matriculate in August a week before class, the “Hell Week”, where you check in at your dorm, the Battalion. You are assigned to a company, where you will be for four years, and meet your cadet Cadre who will be in charge of you and the whole company for the year. Before anyone can expect to lead, they must learn to be good followers, and that’s EXACTLY what you will become. Interestingly, one of the first things you do when you matriculate is you sign a document defining hazing, and sign it where it says it is your legal and moral duty  to report any instances of it.

After that, knob year will progress much like you would expect from boot camp. You sir sandwich, yell a lot, and are expected to be motivated at all times. Ass chewings are frequent and deafening. You will refer to yourself and others in the 3rd person. There is some official PT that ends after hell week, unless you end up needing remedial PT, but you still get up at 0600 everyday to sweep the floors and the quad. 7  to 9pm is an extended study period where your ass is expected to be sitting in your room or academic buildings doing something productive, and upper class mostly leave you alone for it. When it came to these types of things, I expected no less, and this wasn’t the reason I left and felt the need to criticize the school to the  world. Now, here’s where things get more problematic.

You are expected to brace at all times inside battalion, as seen in the photo. You can’t tell at this angle, but in addition to your chin looking like Jabba the Hutt you have to arch your back, such that you are in an exaggerated position of attention.It’s highly uncomfortable even when done correctly, and you rack up many hours of your life in this position. Asshole upperclassmen might order you to table top, where you arch your back to the point that you’re leaning back parallel with the ground, like a retarded form of the matrix dodge. This is very bad for your back, obviously.

Other stupid rules include always walking in gutters, and walking everywhere at 120 steps a minute, but uppers telling you to step it out makes it more like 180-240 steps. You will be the fastest power walker when you go visit home my friend. You also have to ask permission to go up stairs, and if you do it wrong or they hate you, uppers will order you  back to front sally port or up and down 4 floors of stairs. Got something to do and limited time to do it? Say, isn’t this type of shit against the regs? Too bad asshole, up to 4th division you go, regs and your time wasted means nothing to them.

You are not expected to get much sleep considering how much you need to do every day, but sleep deprivation becomes an intentional goal here. You will catch shit from uppers and motarded classmates if you do something reasonable, like going to bed before midnight. You can’t take naps in battalion, and since I left, the only safe place where you could nap during the day, the Chapel, apparently no longer allows cadets to poke at their sleep deficits there. El Cid won’t even let God ease your burden as a knob, it seems.If you choose to stay up late getting school work done instead of being obsessive about your brass, shoes, and creases till 1 am, you will be in trouble come morning when you form up. Being a knob is more important than being a student, period.

Officially, knobs are expected to follow legal orders, be good students, and always have uniforms, shoes, and brass to perfect standards. To relieve your stress there are religious activities as well as  a whole department of student activities that sets up movie nights for knobs, and has a room with food where you can chill. But unofficially you are expected to put out, not shit out, because you want to have a real knob year.

How do you have a real knob year? Simple. You keep your mouth shut. You ignore and embrace the breaking of Red Book regs, and embrace the motto “Hazing is  Amazing”, in the belief that it makes you tough and earns you your class ring. You covet the posession of said ring as though you were Smeagol. You let uppers smoke the shit out of you, hit you, and play fuck fuck games constantly. After all, its why you came here instead of College of Charleston with its 80 percent hot female population. You get no sleep and barely any food, and don’t complain that they want you to piss in the room sink where you brush your teeth at night. You persecute people who aren’t having or stopping you from having a real knob year. Snitches, shitbags, Corps Squad athletes, women, they are all fair game. Oh and those activities for knobs and room for you to hang out? Don’t ever go there, pussy. Always take the most unnecessary, hardest route at doing anything.

This is your knob year in a nutshell, not even factoring ROTC training commitments, being in Honors Program, extra curriculars etc. This might all be some sob story sure, you might tell me, but surely the results speak for themselves, and it is an effective form of military training and education, otherwise who are these people dumb enough to keep going there and give it good word of mouth? I will address these topics next week, in our next verse of the Sand Castle Blues.

[ for more ventings, musings, and criticism of El Cid from me and other shitouts, please check out http://brokengrayline.tumblr.com/]

 

The Sand Castle Blues, Part 1- Headed to the Citadel

[Pictured above: An inmate-run sand castle prison masquerading as a place of higher learning. Not Pictured: surrounding low income  neighborhood behind the camera]

This blog series is about my life and times at a place that defined who I am today, a place called the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.  A place that had a radical effect on me as a person and how I saw the world, though opposite of the way it was intended.

Like many awkward, insecure teens, I grew up idealizing and worshiping that most American of cults, that of the man at arms, particularly the Marine.  My time spent at poolee functions with recruiters made me want to enlist, which my college educated parents wouldn’t tolerate. Thank God, I took their advice, and since I was good in school and more into reading about the great military minds and campaigns, I agreed to go in as an officer at a good college.

I picked the Citadel because normal colleges weren’t military enough, and because the service academies struck the enlisted recruiters and older friends who influenced me as snobbish. I wanted a challenge in  a good military and educational setting unplagued by the supposed ills of regular colleges. Things like apathy, drug use, rampant drinking. Hah. We’ll get to that.

The Citadel seemed to have it all: pretty good ranking,  it was in the deep south and had a lot of history,  all 4 branches of ROTC and a particularly large portion of their midshipman  were in the so called “Marine Contingent”, along with more MECEPS than at any other school. On paper it looked as though it had just as much pedigree for building leaders of character as West Point or Annapolis, plus a more macho image to boot. Honor, Duty, Respect were the core values, and the school’s mission was to “Build leaders for all walks of life” or something similar.

I competed for a four year all tuition paid scholarship via the USMC, and was picked as one of 8 freshmen to the Citadel class of 2015. I expected to find a place where I could shine and be molded by good leaders.What I found out instead was that the place was a mad frathouse run by alcoholic, bitterly angry upperclassmen with little supervision, and even less real military experience.  I was exposed to various forms of abuse and violations of regulations regarding our treatment.

I learned that the Fourth Class system for freshmen, the “Knob Year” is an 8 month long hazing session devoid of value as military  or ethical training. It serves to make you a prick and tool for all walks of life. Cadets and their families from all over the South are not only aware of this, but firmly embrace it. Anyone outside the circle like myself, and most of you reading, had no indication of how bad this place really is or in how much self righteous denial people are about it, much like the services.

In any news articles or youtube videos, especially regarding hazing or treatment of women, legions of alums and current toolbags rush to the defense of the Corp’s practices and “traditions”.  Not a lot of ex cadets are willing to step up and fight them back or vent about the utter nonsense of the Ashley River’s biggest frat.

I have the chance to do something about it. I’m going to expose The Citadel’s many troubling aspects in this series, in scathing, amused detail. I’m going to cover Knob year, describe the stupid mentalities, dissect the bad blood between the Corps of Cadets various cliques, talk about NROTC, and much more. It is my strongest hope that one day, motarded toolbags all over greater Charleston will blow a gasket for calling out their bullshit. This is my Sand Castle Blues, hope you enjoy the song.

[For more from me and other ex cadets, check out http://brokengrayline.tumblr.com   a blog inspired by ihatetheusmc, made special for El Cid’s misfit rejects.]