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Cadets at The Citadel get hands-on leadership training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island

525 cadets went through exercises ranging from team puzzles to physical strength challenges
Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 4:11 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2021 at 11:47 PM EDT
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PORT ROYAL, S.C. (WCSC) - Before dawn’s first light Saturday morning, 525 cadets from The Citadel boarded a fleet of 11 buses and left Charleston for a training unlike many of them had ever experienced.

The group’s ultimate destination: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island. The cadets, all upperclass leaders, were thrown into a variety of courses ranging from team puzzles to obstacles designed to test their physical strength.

It comes as they prepare to welcome a new class of cadets at the military college next weekend.

“Part of our leadership development model at The Citadel is we acknowledge the fact that growth and comfort can never coexist, right?” Commandant of Cadets Col. Tom Gordon said. “So we wanted to take advantage of the facilities down here at Parris Island, it’s a special place, to take our cadre – the cadet leadership of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets that are going to train the incoming freshman class – and get them out of their comfort zone.”

The cadets didn’t learn of the plans until hours before they left.

“We’re going to expose them to some adversity and allow them to overcome that adversity,” Gordon said.

One of the cadets to take part in the exercise was Regimental Commander Cadet Col. Kathryn Christmas.

Christmas, the second woman in the college’s history to serve as regimental commandant, had gone through the confidence course at Parris Island in 2019 – the only other time cadets from The Citadel were given the opportunity to do so – but that didn’t mean it was easy this time around.

“So one of the first obstacles was going back to my home company and finding the comradery and how that would work,” she said, noting she didn’t know many of the younger members of that company since she hasn’t been in that company since her sophomore year. “Another one would be some of the challenge courses; I haven’t done some of them so they were challenging to me, and honestly I went in, ‘I think I can do this,’ and halfway through I went, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ but I got through it because most of my teammates were encouraging me.”

The training is all part of what Gordon said is his job to create principled leaders.

“What we’re looking to do is try to close that empathy gap if you will, we wanted to remind them what it’s like to be exposed to some adversity… and how they felt so that when the freshmen report next Saturday, they’ll be able to empathize a little bit, put themselves in their shoes,” he said.

Christmas drew some parallels between the leadership training the cadets went through this weekend and what incoming students will likely face.

“We got a tour of the whole entire course, and some people might go, ‘That’s a lot.’ And so will the freshmen: they’ll get a tour of the whole entire campus and they’ll go, ‘That’s a lot.’ So they’ll be overwhelmed, they’ll get stressed, we were stressed, we had a time crunch,” she said.

Ultimately, Gordon said he wanted the cadets to leave Parris Island “with a little bit more confidence, a little bit more humility, a lot more empathy and a whole lot more resilience.”

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