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:]

Author: Knob_Gaudy

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

  • USMCFormer

    I’ve read your article series with interest, but the scope of my own personal experience has been with the Marine Corps, and ( as a LT) working with graduates of the Naval Academy, plus meeting one Officer who went to the Citadel.

    I never attended a military academy myself ( Thank you Jesus!) but did attend an old English boarding school and the experience was miserable, but I did get to go home every night!. Quite frankly, your posts are reminiscent of an old movie I saw called ‘Lords of Discipline’ -based on a book written by Pat Conroy ( the same guy who wrote The Great Santini – a movie most jarheads are familiar with).

    Reading what you have written and looking at pictures of the institution, its looks so much like a maximum security prison and none of what you describe is surprising given its nature. I personally cannot relate to it because I’ve had no experience with it, but I’ll roll with the thought and ask:
    Does going to a service academy make you a better military officer?
    There is no easy answer to that question. Naval Academy Grads ( or “Ring knockers”) get a bad rap for being elitist, but most of the grads weren’t bad people to work with. One of them at my TBS class stands out as being arrogant, but he realized that his past status was not going to help him that much.
    For myself, I was prior enlisted, and when I finished my enlistment contract I went to a school that had a Corp of Cadets, but it was better because the school was co-ed and also had a normal student population. Once you done some Fleet enlisted time, I personally had no desire to be a part of a college organization like that, because mainly you are older and don’t want a snot nosed college kid with no real life experience yelling at you, and more importantly, all the SPIT AND POLISH ( OR DOG AND PONY SHOW) BULLSHIT you described may work well for a ceremonial barracks, but not for a real world Fleet Marine Force unit!!!
    If I refer back to the Naval Academy grads, most said to me that it was a good place to say that you were from, but it sucked hard being there putting up with all the hazing!! Some outstanding American heroes have come from the Naval Academy, so I am not here to bash the institution.
    But do they make the best Officers? Not necessarily, but it does depend on their individual personality. If the institution ( whether it be the USNA, Westpoint, Citadel etc) has molded a young man into a creative, adaptable, flexible, intelligent, motivated, driven officer who is also has empathy. listens to others and takes care of his men, then its done its job. If it creates a cruel, malicious tyrant who is nothing but a “discipline junkie”, is so rigid in his thinking and uses his past service connections to climb the promotion ladder, then I don’t think the military is better for it.
    Call me biased, but my best preparation to become a Marine Officer was a four year Marine Corps enlistment!!. You can’t lead men if you have not been through or understand what they experience everyday, and high and mighty service academies ( who tend to fall in love with their own images) fall far short of that!
    I’d like to think that the military benefits more from having well rounded Officers from different backgrounds- not exclusively from the “Yes Sir! No Sir! Three Bags Full Sir” Academies. There is such a thing as being “disciplined to death”, but the trick is to know when it is appropriate and when it is not.
    In other words, as a maintenance LT I would demand 110% from my Marines in ensuring aircraft were properly maintained and fully mission capable. If they achieved that in white socks, untucked T-shirts or not being clean shaven for a day, their primary mission is far more important than the superficialities!

    • Knob_Gaudy

      Yeah Conroy went to El Cid, the ironic thing is they sell his book at the campus bookstore and take pride in him writing about the place, even though from what I have heard(haven’t read or seen in myself) its not a flowery picture either.

      The first semester there, you can’t stay off campus period. You don’t start getting any leave passes til semester 2, I was gone by then. The federal academies have a more professional rep as far as controlling the hazing, but I still wouldn’t go, because compared to them a place like Citadel is very generous with giving you weekend passes and leave on weekends, not to mention Charleston is a lot more fun on the town than say, Annapolis MD or West Point NY.
      Related to the question of does it make a better officer, the question of “Have they historically made better officers/leaders” is a good one that I didn’t have room in this article to cover. If I think of West Point, right off the bat we can think of Ike, Grant, Patton, men who went to that school and posterity remembers them as effective officers and leaders. The Citadel has been around since 1842, and in that time, even after having gone there, I can’t tell you about a single Citadel alum who achieved anywhere NEAR what some service academy grads have. They have not produced ONE household name, barring scandals, first over females, now Skip Reveille and his child molesting.
      I live in Texas, and most of the time when I tell people I went to the Citadel, no one has even heard of it. Outside of the deep south, the place has no standing in public eye. That should have tipped me off back in my senior year when I still had West Point interested in me, and acceptance at A&M and Norwich, which have civilian students as well as a corps of cadets, and generally seemed more laid back.
      I wonder if part of the reason for the freshmen shenanigans at one point was to simulate how crappy the enlisted have it, to give them that empathy when they commissioned as a substitute for doing actual enlisted time. But there were a few knobs who were reservists and said the enlisted military was nowhere near this bad.
      Interestingly, one knob I knew had an associates degree and already was a 2nd LT in the army! He was going for his bachelors,and he got a lot less crap from all the upperclass since they had to salute HIM instead of the other way around.

      • mikehev

        My 2 cents-My best friend from my time in the army is a West Point grad. Apart from the sarcastic banter we throw at each other, we’ve had some good discussions about the differences of the 2 systems. Bottom line as I see it: West Point’s system is a strategic, 4 year leadership tank designed to fall in line with whatever the latest in Army doctrine on leadership happens to be. Their academics are rigorous, and the leadership model they teach extends to all 4 years. The Citadel, on the other hand, is a true adversity system reminiscent of how things used to be at the service academies in decades past, and that hasn’t had to change at is core because of changes in the armed forces. While West Point spreads a strategy for developing principle-centered leadership over 4 years, the Citadel focuses its efforts on producing resilience, selfless teamwork, and the ability to act under pressure in 1 plebe/knob year. While West Point is tough in its own right compared to normal colleges, compared to the Citadel, toughness is sacrificed while they sequentially teach leadership. The Citadel, on the other hand, takes a different approach. While leadership is taught by virtue of the 4 classes, there is a greater focus on the plebe/knob year being tougher and filled with adversity. The interest is in not just creating toughness and a rite of passage for the individual (while that is a natural product of the knob year), but to rid the individual of vises such as self-centerd-ness and self-promotion, while developing their ability to act under pressure, remain calm, and think through the best decision even though every decision may have negative consequences. While neither system can truly create character (as character rests within each individual-which is why there are exceptions [always going to be a few knuckle heads that come from west point, and always going to be a few self-centered rank chasers that come from El Cid), both systems guide their recipients towards a heightened degree of the character traits that each are designed accentuate. My buddy and I have concluded that In the end, both systems have merit. He doesn’t question that my system was far tougher than his. I don’t question that his professional leadership training was more extensive than mine. In the end, both had merit, and I found that the people who were commendable officers during my time in the Army were either people who went to a military college, or people who behaved with the character traits that both types of systems tried to accentuate (toughness, calm under pressure, selflessness in the case of the Citadel; and principled-centered leadership in the case of West point).

        • mikehev

          As a side note, I only visited this site because someone told me about the article. I just had a chance to look through this site. I originally thought it was some sort of USMC site, but just took a closer look at the name. All I can say is that this just seems like a place where people complain. You may want to make an allowance for the notion that you have your own issues, and they have followed you into the USMC. I don’t mean to be unkind, but this doesn’t seem like a grouping of individuals who appreciate the phrase “suck it up and drive on,” which is probably the first problem, and has nothing to do with The Citadel, West Point, or the Marine Corps.

          • Knob_Gaudy

            I would like to thank you for making your comments free of any derision of my articles or most of the opinions expressed herein. As far as being the type of people who “suck it up and drive on”, you are correct, as in fact I completely disagree with that sentiment. It is in my opinion a recipe for complacency and the toleration of unacceptable behavior, and cruelty at worse. People at these types of institutions have been sucking it up so long that it is to the detriment of their continuing improvement and ability to stay relevant in greater american life.

            Your assessment of the leadership development process at the Citadel is vague and positively in line with the school’s party line. I have written these articles to shed light on these vagaries and criticize its shortcomings, which you have not addressed.

            ‘creating toughness and a rite of passage for the individual’
            I get that the school sells itself on this and the adversity, but why do cadets think that in order to have this, they must blatantly and contemptuously break cadet regulations? Why must they follow the textbook definition of hazing, and why does Chain of command not fix the problem? Why did cadets I was alongside see nothing wrong with any of this?

            “producing resilience”
            I and a classmate injured ourselves. To avoid being seen as a shit out, he would not attend physical therapy and worsen his leg. He got reamed by the trainer for it, but he didn’t care. I on the other hand, got physically threatened by him and other classmates because I wanted my leg to heal and didn’t think morning sweep detail mattered more than my physical health. Is resilience my ability to conform to peer pressure while ignoring the negative consequences of doing so?

            “selfless teamwork”
            I was threatened and treated like scum, because I thought spending time studying and doing my homework at a conducive place, was more important than being in battalion at all hours. More important than being made to do all kinds of duties and shenanigans not authorized by the regs.
            I thought sleep was more important than being up till 4 am shining brass and shoes that were never shiny enough no matter how much effort I put into them. If the corps of cadets will deprive me the chance to give my best academically, it has no place in an accredited institution of learning.
            They all wanted to shine, get hazed, and go underage drinking on weekends. Why did the academic and moral mediocrity of my company have to weigh me and my personal standards down to their level? I thought people with my standards would be the norm or at least the aspiration at a place like the Citadel. Not so.

            As far as selflessness goes, if its ingrained I never saw that in my upperclassmen. They routinely enjoyed comfort and privilege over us to our detriment. In the red book, all condiments are allowed for 4th class. I once asked if I could pass the syrup around at mess, I was told by mess carver “go fuck yourself”.

            Because a senior in my company from battalion staff wanted to, he could take my chair, forcing me to look for an open seat where another mess carver would have pity on me. I didn’t eat one time because of this. What happened to looking out for the welfare of those under you? At what point is the Citadel no longer adversity training and just an excuse for people to bully those under them?