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. The reasons to learn precalculus are simply innumerable, but 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:]

Author: Knob_Gaudy

Ex-Knob,Ex contract midshipman, mechanical engineering student. axes need grinding, this here is a great stone for it.