Category Archives: Corps of Cadets

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part Three

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

After two weeks of background info, I finally get to share this story about my dad… one time for sure when he achieved the perfect Dad Score of 10/10.

As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty hard and life in the Aggie Band is harder still.  Back then, a large number of fish would wash out.  I don’t recall exactly what the attrition rates were, but I want to say Corps-wide, it was about 35-40%.  I know in prior years it was as high as 60% and I’ve heard rumors of years when it was more.  When I was there, my outfit had one of the highest retention rates in the Corps, but one of the other three outfits in the Band started with 36 fish and ended with 14 – a 61% attrition rate.

Most fish reach a breaking point where they make the fateful Call Home.  During the Call Home, they tell their parents how hard it is… how it’s not what they expected… how this isn’t what college is supposed to be like… how high school band was fun, but this is just torture… how mean and cruel the upperclassmen are, especially the sophomores.

I’m not ashamed to say I made the Call Home.

It was probably two or three weeks in.  My dad answered the phone.  I asked to speak to my mom.  He must have known what was up because he said, “Why don’t you talk to me first.”

I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I talked to him.  Once I started talking, I started crying, which surprised me… I didn’t realize how broken down I had become.

I told him how much I hated my life, how hard the Aggie Band was and how we had to do so much more stuff than the rest of the Corps and how our upperclassmen made us do things the CT fish didn’t have to do.  (Members of the Corps are affectionately known as CTs.)  I complained about not getting enough to eat and not ever getting enough sleep.  I complained about tons of other things.  I told him I wanted to quit.

Given his passion for A&M, I expected to hear something that started with “No son of mine…” and continued with a mandate of staying in the Corps and the Band.

He simply said, “Well, son. That’s your decision. I can’t make it for you.”

I was stunned.  I think I was looking for permission to quit or, at the very least, being berated into not quitting.  I wasn’t prepared for his simple response.

I asked him what I should do.

He said, “I can’t tell you that. Only you can decide.”

Then, he said, “I can tell you this, though: If you quit, you will spend the rest of your life knowing you couldn’t do this. You will end up quitting other, more important, things later on. If you somehow make it through this, you will know that you can overcome anything because nothing will feel as hard as this does right now. This decision is going to define who you are for the rest of your life.”

I think this might have been my dad’s finest moment as a father.  I can’t think of anything he could have said or done differently which would have been even slightly better.

To top it all off, he was right.


Dad Score: 10/10 – Part Two

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

Last week, I began telling a story about my dad… one time for sure when he nailed the whole “being a father’ thing.  To help understand this moment, I found it necessary to share a little bit about our common history at Texas A&M and in the Corps of Cadets.

As I said before, life in the Corps is pretty tough, and your freshman year is a lot like being in boot camp for nine months with the added bonus of being a full-time student who needs to actually make good grades.

Being in the Aggie Band, though, took the whole concept of making life miserable for the fish and turned it up to 11.

In addition to everything the other fish had to do, we had drill every afternoon from 1600 hours until formation and chow at 1830 hours.  The first half hour of drill was called “sectionals” where each instrument section (such as trumpets, woodwinds, drums, etc.) would work on their specific skills and maneuvers.  As it turns out, the vast majority of the skills and maneuvers in my section (woodwinds) involved having inspection-perfect uniforms, including combat boots polished to a mirror shine (we called it a “two-bulb” shine… the shine had to be so perfect, upperclassmen could see the distinct reflections of each of the two florescent bulbs in a dorm room’s ceiling light fixture).  The inspection involved a good 3-5 minutes and ended in doing push ups while getting yelled at by sophomores for the rest of sectionals.  The remainder of drill was spent perfecting the upcoming halftime drill for the week with a lot of push ups and getting yelled at thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes we missed formation.  Sometimes we got into Duncan Dining Hall just long enough to have five minutes to inhale our food before we had to report to our dorms for a quick shower and then Call to Quarters, which was mandatory study time.

Other things about being a BQ (member of the band) were harder, too.  When it came to our uniforms, the shine on our shoes, how we spoke to upperclassmen, our requirement to always have a fish buddy with us (you have no idea the abject terror one experiences when finding oneself the lone fish in front of upperclassmen)… in all of these things, and more, our upperclassmen held us to a higher standard than what we saw in the rest of the Corps.

For example, unlike the rest of the fish in the Corps, our upperclassmen required us to speak in unison.  You could always tell when a group of BQ fish were talking to an upperclassman because the first word was drawn out long enough for everyone to get into sync:  “Miiiiiiiiiiiiister Jones, sir!”  Looking back, I’m amazed at how we were able to organically develop a cadence in our speaking which allowed all of us to say stuff in unison.

Fortunately, this was made easier (a happy accident, I’m sure, as upperclassmen are loath to make fish lives easier) because as a fish, you’re only allowed to say one thing to an upperclassman when initiating a conversation:
 – “Mr Smith, sir!  May we have permission to speak sir!” (It’s actually not posed as a question.)

Likewise, there are only four fish answers:
– “Yes, sir”
“No, sir”
“No excuse, sir”, and
– “I don’t know, sir”

For the sake of accuracy, I need to be more specific about that last fish answer.  You’re not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  The correct form of this answer is as follows:

“Sir! Not being informed to the highest degree of accuracy, I hesitate to articulate for fear I may deviate from the true course of rectitude.  In short, I’m a very dumb fish and do not know, sir!”

Sounds like a fun life, right?  Hence the phone call to my dad….

Dad Score: 10/10 – Part One

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”
– Mark Twain

Like most men my age (or, perhaps, of any age), I had a complicated relationship with my father.  For the most part, I didn’t like him much.  He was an angry, prideful man and he had a gift for making me feel unworthy and instilled in me a feeling that I was a constant disappointment.  This wasn’t something he attempted to do.  In fact, there were many times where he would tell me that I was a constant source of joy in his life and that he was very proud of me.  But, that didn’t seem to ever sink in.

Unfortunately, this has defined my view of God and ended up molding me into the kind of father he was.  I’m not making excuses for my many failures as a parent; rather, it’s made me understand him far more and has enabled me to give him a lot of grace.  When I look at his life, from the time he was a boy all the way through to when I became a man, it’s no wonder he became who he was.  And in all fairness, he did a much better job than he should have been able to.

I was thinking about him today… about one moment in particular.  Without a doubt, this is one of the times my dad nailed fatherhood.  Seriously, his Dad Score was a perfect 10 out of 10.

To fully understand this – to know why he knocked it out of the park – you have to understand a little bit about him and me and some history we share.

My dad went to Texas A&M University and was class of ’62.  Of course, he was in the Corps of Cadets and he was incredibly passionate about his love of A&M throughout his entire life.  I went to Texas A&M as well (class of ’92) and I was also in the Corps of Cadets, but I also joined the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band (which is a major unit of the Corps).  And, like my father, I’m very passionate about A&M and love it dearly.

If you’re not familiar with the Corps, it’s an ROTC program.  But, it’s not like most.  Texas A&M is one of six Senior Military Colleges.  The Corps of Cadets at A&M is similar to the ones at The Citadel, VMI or Norich.  This means life is a lot like life at one of the service academies, but quite a bit tougher.  Cadets were supervised far less than at the academies, so there was more… ah… “creative” forms of instilling discipline into the freshmen (called “fish”).  The fish year was basically nine months of boot camp with the added stress of being a full-time student.

Being a fish in the Aggie Band, at least when I was there, made life in the rest of the Corps look pretty easy – with the exception of the guys in the Fish Drill Team.  If you’re not familiar them, look them up.  They’re absolutely amazing.

More about life in the Aggie Band next week.