Graduation was so nice, they held it twice

Emmitt B. Feldner • forThe Review

I guess it’s time for us to get Ethan graduated from Army Drill Sergeant School.

Terry and I went to South Carolina early last month for his graduation at Fort Jackson and wound up going to two ceremonies.

It’s not that they had that large a class that they had to split the graduation ceremony in half and it wasn’t that the ceremony was that long that they had to split it in half over two days.

What happened was, there was a pinning ceremony on Tuesday afternoon and then the actual graduation on Wednesday morning.

The pinning ceremony took place in the exercise area outside their school building on a hot, sunny afternoon.

Having just left Wisconsin, where winter was still in full swing, it was admittedly a bit of a change for us to be sitting out in the sun in 70 or 80 degree weather – but it did feel nice and about 50 degrees warmer than what we’d left behind.

At least we got to sit and they didn’t make us do any marching or exercising, even if it was the exercise area.

All of the 90 or so graduates received the first emblem of their graduation, their drill sergeant pin, during the ceremony, which was fortunately rather brief – not only was it hot, but there was no shade in the middle of the yard and we pale Northerners were not used to that.

The next morning was the formal graduation ceremony and, fortunately, they held that indoors in the post theater.

Once we were all inside and seated, they marched all the graduates in through the theater to their seats, singing their cadence song as they marched in.

I was just glad they didn’t turn it into an audience participation thing and make us march or sing – it would have been more than some of us could have handled.

Once they had all the drill sergeantsto be seated, there was a little speech and then they got to the graduation part of the ceremony.

Rather than receive a diploma or a certificate, each of the graduates was handed their own campaign hat to signify that they had graduated – or as they are more affectionately known in the Army, their brown round – to put on officially.

Apparently, they had sized each of the graduates beforehand and made sure they had all the hats in the right order as they handed them out – unlike diplomas, campaign hats are not one size fits all or all the same size, just like the heads they went on.

Of course, they also had to shake hands with all of the collective NCOs on the stage as they received their hats and marched off.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, however, they didn’t all throw their hats in the air as at other graduation ceremonies.

That’s understandable, given how hard they had to work for them – if I’d gone through all that, I wouldn’t let go of my hat either.

The graduates then all marched outside the theater before the rest of us were dismissed to go hook up with them, congratulate them and get all the obligatory graduation pictures.

In between the two halves of the ceremony, Terry and I joined Ethan, one of his classmates and the classmate’s family for dinner at a local Olive Garden – but not before another misdirection misadventure.

Ethan said we were going to the restaurant on the west side of Columbia, so Terry and I set off on the interstate to get there.

We were about one exit short of our destination when Terry got a call from Ethan on her cell phone saying they had decided to go to the Olive Garden closer to the fort – back on the east side of Columbia.

We turned around and headed back, but somehow I missed a turn somewhere and we wound up in the middle of downtown Columbia instead of on the bypass and had to work our way through the city to get back to Fort Jackson and the restaurant.

We made it in time for dinner, but everybody else in the party had already exhausted their unlimited supply of breadsticks and soup or salad by the time we finally got there.

After Ethan’s graduation, Terry and I headed off to revisit Charleston and other Low Country haunts for a few days – as long as we were in the neighborhood, right?

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