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.