HONOR: First and foremost honor, includes adherence to the Honor Code of The Cadet. A cadet “will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” The commitment to honor extends beyond the gates of The Citadel and is a life-long obligation to moral and ethical behavior. In addition, honor includes integrity; “doing the right thing when no one is watching.” Finally, honorable behavior includes exercising the moral courage to “do the right thing when everyone is watching.” The Honor Code is the foundation of our academic enterprise.

DUTY: First and foremost duty means to accept and accomplish the responsibilities assigned to me. At The Citadel, my primary duty is to perform academically and then to perform as a member of the Corps of Cadets and the campus community. I accept the consequences associated with my performance and actions. Once I have held myself accountable for my actions, then I will hold others accountable for their actions. Finally, duty means that others can depend on me to complete my assignments and to assist them in their assignments. Duty is also a call to serve others before self.

RESPECT: First and foremost, respect means to treat other people with dignity and worth – the way you want others to treat you. Respect for others eliminates any form of prejudice, discrimination or harassment (including but not limited to rank, position, age, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, physical attributes, etc.) In addition, respect for others means to respect the positions of those in authority, which include faculty, staff, administrators, active duty personnel and the leadership of the Corps of Cadets. Finally, respect includes a healthy respect for one’s self.

The Citadel’s origins can be traced to a series of arsenals built by the state of South Carolina during the 1820s. In 1842, the state legislature founded the South Carolina Military Academy consisting of the Citadel Academy in Charleston and the Arsenal Academy in Columbia. In January of 1861, Citadel Academy cadets fired the first shots of the Civil War when their battery on Morris Island shelled the Union steamship Star of the West trying to resupply Fort Sumter. Later in the war, Columbia’s Arsenal Academy fell under the torch of ‘Sherman’s march to the sea’ and was never rebuilt.

Union soldiers occupied The Citadel in 1865 until it reopened in 1882 as an educational institution. In 1922, The Citadel moved from its original location in downtown Charleston to its present location on the banks of the Ashley River. The Citadel provided the highest percentage of any American college student body during WWII. Citadel alumni served with the Flying Tigers and participated in the Jimmy Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942. The first Black cadet enrolled in 1966 and the first female cadet, Shannon Faulkner, entered The Citadel in August of 1995 after a long court battle but dropped out during her first week. The gender barrier, however, had been removed. In 2018, Sarah Zorn was appointed as the first female to lead the entire Corps of Cadets as regimental commander. The rest, as they say, is Citadel history.

Honor, Duty, Respect: Lt. Col. Will Coleman, a former long-time Conyers resident, is the epitome of The Citadel’s motto and core values. And this is his story.

“I was born at Ft. Riley, Kan., the son of a professional warrior, Command Sgt. Major Raymond Coleman. He served 32 years in the Army, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam with three Silver Stars to his credit. My father never talked about war, he believed a true warrior prays for peace and that war is not a pleasant thing. War is something you have to learn for yourself; he would not glorify it.”

On his life as a military brat: “Yep, I was a military brat, and I loved it. I never met my natural father, he was a soldier, too. The man I have known as ‘dad’ met my mom and married her before I was born. He adopted me and gave me his name. We went to Germany when I was a child, but when we returned to the states my father bought us a house in Ft. Carson, Colo. The house is still there. Dad knew he would be deployed overseas and elsewhere on a regular basis, but we stayed in Ft. Carson. My dad wanted us to have roots. Ft. Carson was a nice military community. Most of the kids joined the military or went off to attend college; I knew my destiny from an early age.”

Body escort duty: “Dad was assigned as a body escort during a tour in Vietnam, escorting the bodies of fallen soldiers back to the states. The Carters lived across the street from us. Sgt. Carter was part of a chopper crew in Vietnam; he made it back from his first tour but didn’t make it back from his second tour. Dad escorted his body home. It was one of only two occasions that I saw my dad cry; they were good friends. I’m still friends with the Carter family.”

High school graduation: “I’m not too proud of it, but yours truly graduated at the bottom of his class. I’d signed up before I graduated; I knew I wasn’t going to college; as I said, I realized my destiny was the Army. I was 11 Bravo, a bullet-stopper, an infantryman, just like my dad, and we stayed in the field. Well, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t too fond of ‘the field.’ When the Army offered to send me to school, it was like, ‘Shoot yeah, I’ll go,’ anything to get out of the field. I’d never seen a beach; never seen an ocean, and suddenly I’m en route to Charleston, S.C., to attend The Citadel.”

The Citadel: “The Citadel was an all-male military school back then. We wore uniforms, people were screaming at you all the time, but for me that was a piece of cake compared to the drill sergeants I had as an enlisted man. You become very close to your classmates; it’s a different type of place to go to school, but I found it easy. They told you when to sleep, when to study, when to eat; you’re restricted to campus, and it didn’t matter who your daddy was or how much money your family had. We all started in the same spot.”

Life at The Citadel: “Well, you have three personal inspections a day, one room inspection a day, it was a great place for me to go. And unlike high school, I did not graduate at the bottom of my class; I graduated in the top half. But I had to study; they told you when to study, I studied. You gain rank every year. Freshmen are called plebes; sophomores were like corporals; juniors like NCOs and sergeants, and seniors were like officers. A plebe walked in the gutters and was only allowed to sit on the first 3 inches of a chair … sophomores got to sit on the entire chair and walk on sidewalks, juniors could walk in the streets and the seniors had the whole parade ground to themselves.”

The mess hall: “There was a pecking order. Seniors fed first, then sophomores, then juniors … the plebes got the leftovers, so to speak. That’s the way you learned, that’s the way you gained privilege.”

Choices: “Back then you had to take ROTC all four years, but you did not have to go into the military. However, freshmen had to choose a branch of service. The professors of military science would tell you what they had to offer, trying to sell you their programs and branch of service. The Army needed more pilots than the Air Force due to a demand for chopper pilots. Then the Marines would give you their sales pitch … first in, first in combat … yak, yak, yak, then the Navy gave their pitch. All the pitches didn’t matter to me, I was Army all the way.”

Butter Bars: “I graduated as a 2nd lieutenant, and I DID NOT choose the infantry as my first choice. I’ll mention this: my wife and I have mentored a lot of young people, and I always tell them ‘Learn something!’ Over my career I’ve seen guys come in, then get out of the service mentally, physically and emotionally and financially broke. It’s the truth, I mean, what do you put on a resume … I was a platoon leader, I led a squad, I fired a tank, I killed people, that doesn’t bode very well in civilian life. LEARN SOMETHING! The military will get as much out of you that they can; you need to do the same while you’re in the military, learn something that can translate to civilian life.”

Career choices: “Well, on my dream sheet I listed air defense artillery … I thought it would be neat shooting rockets … finance, quartermaster, but I was assigned to the Army’s water craft.”

Water craft?

“Yeah, at the time the Army had more boats than the U.S. Navy, boats like landing craft, air-cushioned vehicles, even Vietnam era Brown Water navy boats from Vietnam. The LCUs (Landing Craft, Utility) still had log books that recorded their actions in Nam, the ambushes; the daily existence on a swift boat, it was fun to read that stuff. Yeah, I was a boat guy.”

Author’s note: I’ve known Will for several years and wasn’t surprised when he didn’t harp much on his own military career. He was more interested in motivating young people, mentoring new plebes at The Citadel, and praising the combat experiences and contributions of his Citadel brothers; Lt. Col. Will Coleman is that rare breed of individual that finds solace in giving rather than receiving. A brief summary of his career:

1981-1987: U.S. Army Transportation Officer, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and California.

1988-1991: Unit Commander/Contracting Officer Rep, Navy Communication Station, Stockton, Calif.

On March 24, 1989, a second or third mate aboard an oil tanker ran the vessel aground while attempting to avoid obstacles in an Alaskan Channel. The oil tanker became a household name: the Exxon Valdez. Approximately 10.8 million gallons of crude oil leaked out and covered 1,300 miles of coastline, of which 200 miles were heavily or moderately oiled. The Exxon Valdez oil- spill is still considered the worst oil spill in terms of damage to the environment.

The clean-up: “Yeah, that was a huge mess. Exxon leased Army equipment, especially watercraft, and I would travel to Valdez, Alaska, to inspect the equipment. There weren’t any hotels up there so I stayed on a cruise ship. That was pretty cool. I had my own chopper and pilot, but, man, what a mess!”

1991-1995: Logistics Staff Officer, Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, U.S. Army, Fort McPherson, Ga., and later as Chief, Organizational Integration Team, U.S. Army Reserve Command then Senior Analyst, CALIBRE Systems.

“During Desert Shield leading up to Desert Storm (the Gulf War) we received all our shots, got the equipment ready to go, and were on standby for deployment to participate in the planned feint (fake) amphibious attack into Kuwait. We were ordered to stand-down after Saddam Hussein spilled oil into the Gulf.”

1995-1999: Force Structure Analyst, Department of the Army Staff-Pentagon, Washington, D.C., and later as Program Analyst, at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon: “I worked for a two-star general. The Pentagon, in my opinion, was the least-favored assignment. There were too many career-climbers to suit me. I’m more of a boots-on-the-ground type of soldier, I do my job, and I don’t care who my boss was, I had a job to do.”

1999-2002: Chief, System Integration Tea, U.S. Army Reserve Command, Ft McPherson, Ga.

2002-Dec 2004: Chief, Organizational Integration Team, U.S. Army Reserve Command, Ft. McPherson, Ga.

Will Coleman retired in 2005 on a Friday and went to work the following Monday in Civil Service at Ft. McPherson.

Jan 2005 – Sept 2005: Senior Analyst, CALIBRE Systems.

Sept 2005 – Feb 2009: Senior Logistics Management Analyst, U.S. Army Forces Commander.

Feb 2009 – Jan 2010: Logistics Management Specialist (GS-13) AFSBn Ft. Stewart, Ga.

Jan 2010 – Dec 2010: Deputy Program Manager/Plans and Operations Manager, Goose Creek, S.C.

Dec 2010 – Sept 2011: Logistics Management Specialist, Ft. Stewart, Ga.

Sept 2011 – August 2012: Senior Readiness Analyst, USARC, Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Aug 2012-June 2016: Assistant Chief of Staff (GS-14) US Army Cyber Center of Excellence, Ft. Gordon, Ga.

Lt. Col. Will Coleman retired in 2016 after 40 years of service to his country in the military and as a civil servant. Modest to a fault concerning his career, he stated in his final thoughts, “I was a provider, a support-type personnel, not a hero like so many of my brothers from The Citadel. I had a wonderful time; I enjoyed being with soldiers, I still do. My dad was a soldier, so that’s all I knew. Life for me was simple. And ask me my best assignment … anytime I’m with soldiers. My worst assignment, well, The Pentagon, but don’t tell anyone.”

Dec. 27, 2018: Will Coleman was diagnosed with MPAL (mixed-phenotype acute leukemia). He is in the fight of his life. Some patients die within 60 days of their diagnosis, yet others survive longer but there is no assurance of a proper prognosis. The disease is so rare there has never been a clear answer as to the best treatment approach nor has there been a single prospective randomized trial.

Where does America find such men? What has happened to honor, duty and respect? Those attributes are still found in men like Will Coleman.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran. For story consideration, visit his website at veteransarticle.com and click on “contact us.” Mecca is also host of a weekly radio program on veterans. The program airs Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at americaswebradio.com.

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