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How The Citadel Works

Surviving the Knob's First Week
Thanksgiving dinner in The Citadel mess hall. The gentlemen with the festive headgear appear to be knobs.
Thanksgiving dinner in The Citadel mess hall. The gentlemen with the festive headgear appear to be knobs.
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Knobs report to The Citadel one­ week before classes begin. Some call this first week Hell Week because it's physically and mentally demanding. They receive their uniforms and rifles, have their hair shorn, report to their barracks and attend academic orientation and military training. During this time, upperclass cadets instruct knobs in the basics of military training and discipline. The knobs will undergo intense physical exercises, dropping to the floor for push-ups, sit-ups and crunches or scrambling to their feet to run. Knobs also learn how to shine shoes, polish brass, make a bed, keep their rooms in order and sweep the barracks, form for assembly, march, drill, salute and learn rifle manual basics. Got that? In addition, knobs learn to walk at a pace of 120 steps per minute and maintain good posture (rigid back).

If you're a sassy youngster, The Citadel may not be the place for you. Knobs must carry out all orders from cadets without question. When addressed by an upperclass cadet, a knob can respond in only these ways:

  • "Yes sir/ma'am."
  • "No sir/ma'am."
  • "No excuse sir/ma'am."
  • "Request better judgment sir/ma'am."
  • "Request permission to make a statement sir/ma'am."

[source: The Citadel Guidon]

Whenever asked (usually at meals), knobs must answer questions about the institution. These questions cover just about any topic related to The Citadel. If a knob doesn't know the answer, he or she is asked to find it and report back at the next mess.

­At meals (called mess), knobs must sit upright on the first 3 inches (8 centimeters) of their chairs. They serve the upperclass cadets in their mess (mess carver). Hands aren't allowed to rest on the table, and proper etiquette is strictly enforced.

One Citadel mess tradition called "stumping the stars" refers to answering and asking questions during the knobs' mess. Another no-longer allowed tradition or prank involved ordering a knob to sneak under the table and pour condiments on an upperclass cadet's shoes without getting caught. Another tradition comes at Thanksgiving dinner when the knobs make Thanksgiving hats of all sizes and decoration for their upperclass mentors to wear during the meal.

Knobs are very busy during that first week. What they learn and do during those days will continue throughout the knob year and become the foundation for the training they will receive throughout their time at The Citadel.

­Until 2008, knobs weren't allowed to have telephones, either in their rooms or cell phones. That has changed because of the campus shootings at Virginia Tech. Today, all cadets may carry cell phones. Knob aren't permitted to use their phones during the first week of military training and orientation, but they can text or e-mail family or friends.