Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Summerall Tales I

Time for another goosebumps moment.

I wrote in earlier posts about a group called the Junior Sword Drill at The Citadel, and my run-ins with them as a freshman. My decision not to attempt to be a member of that organization was one of the smartest things I've ever done. The semester that I would have had a roughly 1.0 GPA due to tryouts I made Dean's List--and got my pilot slot. So, when the spring came around I went out for the 1994 Summerall Guards.

I'll go into more depth on these guys later, but equate the Summerall Guards to a 61-man presidential honor guard. We would represent the school at all sorts of occasions--from Presidential Inaugurations to Mardia Gras parades. Members were selected from the rising senior class after roughly a month of brutal physical tests and training. Unlike the JSD, there was no rank requirement--so we attracted a lot of seniors who had done pretty much nothing in their cadet careers and wanted to make a mark for themselves. In addition to these guys we had everyone from platoon sergeants to the regimental sergeant major--so the mix was pretty interesting. For two weeks the roughly 110 trainees, known as "Bond Volunteers," were "called out" at precisely 1600 and collected by the senior Summerall Guards. We were taken out onto the parade field (another big difference--everything (almost) was out in the open) and drilled for about 45 minutes. After that we were formed up and run into the ground, culminating in a 2-4 mile run carrying our 15 pound rifles.

Charge On...

Behind our formation in the run a group of Summerall Guards formed what was called the "line of death." Trainees that began to fall behind eventually would fall behind this line, about 20 feet behind the formation. Those that fell behind that line were pulled out for the day. If this happened three times, you were eliminated from the process altogether. So the physical part was nervewracking, to say the least.

The process of being "called out" at 1600 gave me an adrenaline rush that I still get every time I hear certain music. We would all be hiding in rooms around our perspective companies in the barracks. At around 1555 upperclassmen would start to gather around the galleries to watch the spectacle, especially the juniors whose classmates were the ones trying out. At 1600 a horn would sound over the PA system and we would all sprint out from the rooms in our perfect uniforms for inspection, and fall into a super-tight formation in front of the letter that identified each company. Most groups had around eight Bond Volunteers.

As we quickly fell into postion the butterflies would start as we waited for the Guards to come and get us. Upperclassmen from all corners of the barracks came out and starting cheering and screaming at the top of their lungs to motivate us. The junior with the best stereo system would bring his speakers out onto the top balcony and startcranking out rock music--usually something to get us pumped up. My favorite was "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC. I will never forget that feeling--the booming sound of the bells reverberating off of the barracks walls around the quadrangle...the cheers from my buds around the building...the guards in their black t-shirts and specially-decorated Castro hats running into the middle of the quad in formation...

The Guards ran in perfect unison into the middle of the red-and-white checkered expanse in front of us and stopped. After a few seconds the senior Guard would shout a command and the Guards would split and sprint towards their respective companies to inspect us. After a few minutes of inspection, which we would all undoubtedly fail, we were forcibly shuttled back into the middle as a battalion. Once we were together, the Guards would start us running again...out onto the parade ground and off to training.

I still get goosebumps every time I hear that song.


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