Clint Hubbard '86
One of the most endearing and immeasurable values of the VMI Education has been the constancy of the program and the reality that you can be years apart in your respective VMI Class, yet your experience is markedly similar. This consistency of the system is what has bound VMI alumni for generations. We all have the expectation that any other VMI graduate with whom we might cross paths, has persevered through the same trials and tribulations that we faced; and we may be assured that they are people of an abiding sense of personal honor, sterling character, who can endure terrific hardship without cracking under pressure.
Certainly, the Ratline or adversative system is the first and arguably most consequential building block in the overall systems that develops the special people who EARN the right to wear the Ring and be called VMI Alumni. We have collectively been tested in the crucible that is the Ratline. Moreover, the Rat System is egalitarian in that everyone who has ever been a Rat has had their day when they were the main course on the cadre’s menu. No one makes it through the Ratline without having had their day in the sun where they were skewered by the cadre or upperclassmen.
No matter how much heat you’ve endured by the cadre and the Ratline, a Rat’s first trip to a meeting of the Rat Disciplinary Committee (RDC) strikes a new level of fear in your heart. Typically, you get your summons in the morning of the RDC meeting in question. The dread during the wait is palpable and weighs heavy on your mind and your soul. Like many things in life, the wait is worse than the event. And also like many things, your individual experience is an event that is much more severe than any comparison of someone else’s experience. Quite simply, no one else suffers like you do/have. So, while I am recounting my first visit to the RDC, I suspect it may ring a few bells with your memory as you recall your first trip to the RDC.
Let me offer some background information that is both relevant and pertinent to my first trip to the RDC.
When I was a senior in high school, VMI was one of several schools in which I had become interested in possibly attending. While I had not made up my mind completely that VMI was where I wanted to attend college, I had a strong interest. Competition was keen to enter the Institute – it was the height of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was President, patriotism and the military were all popular.
A guy from my hometown of Covington, Virginia, was a member of the Class of 1983 (they were Second Classmen at the time) and we were reintroduced when he was home for Christmas furlough. Owen Peery ’83 suggested that I come over to VMI in January for a basketball game and to meet some of the guys. We lined up the date for late January (of 1982) and I drove over to Lexington on a Saturday evening. I checked into the Guard Room, and an orderly took me up to Owen’s room in Old Barracks where he began introducing me to his roommates and classmates. We went to the ballgame, and I met more of Owen’s friends. It was all on a first name basis, and I don’t really recall learning any of their last names. It was just Franklin, Bobby, Teddy, Ben, Red, Jammer, Spence, Jim, Tracy, Gordo, Bubba, Dave, and Snake, along with a host of others. They were all very welcoming and friendly, offering encouragement for me to matriculate the next school year.
After the ballgame, Owen told me to bring my car up to Washington Arch and keep it running; he and Ben would be down in a few minutes. I did as I was directed and in short order, Owen and Ben came running out of Washington Arch wearing bathrobes over civilian clothes. Owen dove into the backseat and Ben jumped in the ‘shotgun’ seat of my 1970 Chevelle. Ben urged forcefully, “Go! Go! Go!”, and I took off down Letcher Avenue toward W&L. As we got to the front of Barracks nearing the cannon ball, there was a uniformed military officer who motioned for me to slow down, and I think he even held up his hand in a ‘halt’ or ‘stop’ signal. I slowed up and mused out loud, “I think he wants me to stop….” Ben slapped the dashboard and said, “(Screw) him! Just Go! Go!” So, we gave the officer the dust as I swerved around him and “dropped the hammer” going down Letcher Avenue and out through Limits Gates.
Our social objective was a big party at W&L. I’m not sure of the precise location; we stopped in a fraternity house or two first and then ended up at a large, loud, and raucous party with a beach music band and plenty of cold beer and pretty girls. Many of the guys I’d met earlier in the evening in Barracks or at the ballgame materialized again and we all had a grand time. They treated me like one of their own and I came away determined that VMI was my top choice. Within a few months, my Offer of Appointment letter came in the mail and my destiny was set. I matriculated as a member of the Rat Mass of ’83 plus 3.
As I settled in to life as a Rat at VMI, and began to learn the pertinent information in my Rat Bible, I became aware that all my new friends with whom I had gone to the ballgame, then helped to run the block, and partied with at W&L in civilian clothes, were actually a veritable Who’s Who among the Class of 1983 and included Cadet Captains, RDC members, Honor Court members, and Class Officers to include the President of the First Class. All those first names I’d learned were immediately replaced with “Mister”. For better or for worse, as a lowly Rat, I knew more than a few members of the First Class. As you might imagine, some of them were not nearly as hospitable to me as a Rat as they had been when I was a high school senior.
It all came to a head when I finally went up to the RDC on one of the Virgin Nights. Virgin Nights were reserved for those Rats who had made it all the way through the first semester without having been summoned to an RDC meeting at 2315 hours on the fifth stoop in Old Barracks – uniform: fatigues and boots. Why it took that long for me to go up, I have no idea. Certainly, I had been “sent up” numerous times, but for whatever reason, I did not get an RDC meeting summons until late January of 1983.
All of my roommates had been up to the RDC before me. I had heard the yelling every week at the meetings and even the infamous Rats yelling out of the fifth stoop windows into the Barracks, “They’re killing me Brother Rats, they’re killing me!” Like many things in life, the dread of an event is worse than enduring the event itself.
I had been coached by my BRs on the procedure to follow at the RDC – similar to the complex directions for the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. They told me that when my name is called to hustle up the steps posthaste and pound on the door like I was trying to break it down because no matter how hard you pound, they will tell you to pound louder and harder. They also counseled that when you are told to enter, one or two RDC members would be holding the door so you would have to put your shoulder into it to actually get the door open to gain entrance into the RDC ‘courtroom’.
Ready or not, at 2315 hours on the appointed evening, dressed in my fatigues and boots, I walked the ratline to the holding place at the bottom of the RDC room stairs like a condemned man walking to the electric chair. I probably prayed for God’s mercy and a quick and painless death.
I knew my card (offense) was for “Failure to know the Ten New Market cadets”, so I had brushed up on them and knew them - cold.
When my name was called, I ran to the top of the stairs as fast as I could and pounded on the door like my life depended on it. As expected, they told me to knock harder and then screamed, “Get in Here!” I pounded with my fist once or twice then lowered my shoulder and hit that door like a linebacker on a quarterback. Unlike what my BR’s had told me, there was minimal, and I mean minimal resistance. Whoever was on the other side was barely holding the door, so when I hit it in force, it opened readily, and I just about bowled over the RDC member on the other side. That got things off to a grand start, let me tell you. I don’t remember specifically which RDC member it was (maybe Karl Protil ’83), but I do remember that he and his compatriots were neither amused nor impressed at my zeal in coming through the door.
As we both gathered ourselves, I heard someone off to the left shout out my name, “Hubbard!!!” Though I did not realize it at the time, it was my friend with whom I had run the block about a year earlier, Ben Cottrell ’83, who was a secretary of the RDC. Adrenaline pumping, my mind and my heart were racing, and I did not recognize his voice or otherwise make the connection; I could only think, “Good Lord, how do they know my name already?"
I was told to step forward in front of the President of the RDC, Brent Dunahoe ’83. I felt a bit like the Cowardly Lion when he was summoned to step forward in front of the mighty and powerful Wizard of Oz. Pretty sure my knees were shaking about the same way.
They shined a light at me and told me to “Sound Off.” I yelled, “Hubbard, RC, Covington, Virginia, Sir!” No big surprise that I wasn’t loud enough to suit them, and we went through several minutes back and forth of “Quit whispering!” and “Sound off like you got a pair!”
Mr. Dunahoe finally said I had been summoned for “Failure to know the Ten New Market cadets” which elicited howls of “Oh, My God!”, “What-the-____!” and other cat-calls of incredulity from the other RDC members as if I had renounced my American citizenship and adopted the Soviet Union as my new country.
Mr. Dunahoe asked how I wished to answer the card. I responded, “Correct, but wish to explain, sir.” He countered, “Let’s hear it.” I said, “I messed them up when my corporal asked me, but I know them now.” Then without hesitating, I rattled off the names of the Ten New Market cadets and was beginning to feel a little cocky as if I were back on offense again and taking back some control of the situation.
Mr. Dunahoe rhetorically asked the other RDC members, “What should we do with Rat Hubbard?”
They all began to chime in simultaneously, “(Screw) him!” “Beat him with a bed strap!” “Hang him out the window!” “Throw him into the Old Courtyard!” “Take him to the trunk rooms!” “Leave my school, you little worm!” – and other sundry comments that frankly didn’t make me feel particularly valued or welcomed.
After a few moments, as if he were doing me a favor, Mr. Dunahoe announced, “We’re not going to give you the death penalty, but I sentence you to a single workout and a week’s confinement.” Having heard some of the suggestions that had been put forth, I actually felt grateful and lucky with that sentence.
But this was the RDC, and their hearings did not include a fairness doctrine or due process.
Mr. Dunahoe was about to bang his gavel, when the same voice who had yelled my name upon entering the room interjected, “Wait a minute.” The voice continued, “I happen to know that Rat Hubbard was up at the frats at W&L and drinking without his Dyke.” (Note: we were of legal age to drink beer at age 18 but drinking without your Dyke was an RDC Cardinal Sin.)
This new wrinkle took me completely off my game and the momentum shifted decidedly back to the RDC. My mind was racing to think where in the world this allegation was coming from as the RDC members revved it back up, “WHHHAAATTT?” “OhMyGawd!!” “The Frats??” “Drinking without your Dyke?” “$%&@# Mink-wannabe!”, “Who the hell do you think you are, Frat Rat??” as they swarmed and surrounded me. Melodramatically, Mister Dunahoe declared, “This, changes everything.”
The other voice outlined, “Rat Hubbard was at the frats and at W&L last January in civilian clothes, drinking without his Dyke and he was observed by more than several members of the Class of ’83.
Despite reeling from the allegation and the corresponding “upping of the ante”, I somehow connected the dots and realized this was when I had been over on the visit while I was still a senior in high school.
I stammered out, “But I wasn’t even a cadet last January.” Stepping in front of me for the first time, I could see Ben Cottrell and he looked at me with a straight face and said, “But you admit you were at W&L that night and drinking (beer) without your Dyke?” “Well, yes,” I mumbled, “but I didn’t even have a Dyke then.” The cat-calls and false indignations from the other RDC members continued at a low roar. Mister Dunahoe asked, “Who is your Dyke?” I replied, “Mr. Cornett.” (Bill Cornett ‘83 – who coincidentally lived in the room right next door to Mr. Dunahoe’s room in Old Barracks.) Mr. Dunahoe responded, “Was Mr. Cornett with you?” I answered pitifully, “No, Sir.”
With that admission, Mr. Dunahoe triumphantly announced (and maybe with a touch of glee in his voice), “Well then, Guilty as Charged! We sentence you to a double workout and two weeks’ confinement. One week for failure to know the Ten New Market Cadets and one week for drinking without your Dyke. Get outta here!”
From the kangaroo (Get it? “Kangaroo?”) courtroom, I went to the workout room where I enjoyed twice the fun for the same low price – a double workout instead of a single one. Thirty minutes later, dripping sweat, I walked the Ratline back to my room, changed into gym dyke and went to the showers. A couple of other BRs who had been at the RDC that night were coming and going while I took one of the few leisurely showers you ever got to enjoy as a Rat. I was in my hay by 0100 and back up and at ‘em at 0615 the next morning.
Obviously, each cadet’s own RDC experience is most memorable to them, personally. But another one of my Brother Rats had an RDC experience that literally and figuratively takes the cake. This Brother Rat’s birthday was in October or November, and as a lark, his First Classman Dyke thought it would be funny for him to go up to the RDC on his birthday, so the First Classman arranged it. When my BR entered the RDC courtroom, there stood the RDC, all in gray blouse, in a semi-circle behind Brent Dunahoe. (He was phenomenal in his role as RDC President, by the way.) Mr. Dunahoe was holding a cupcake in his outstretched palm with a single lit candle in the cupcake. The RDC serenaded my Brother Rat singing their rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You’. When they finished the song, Mr. Dunahoe closed his hand around the cupcake, burning candle and all, smashing it into one large blob. He looked at my BR and said, “This is what I think of your $@&?# birthday!” With those words, he threw the blob at my BR, and then all hell broke loose as the RDC members transitioned from ‘choirboys’ back to RDC members.
I forget the charge as outlined on the RDC card, but Mister Dunahoe gave him a double workout – one workout for the actual card, and a second workout for having a birthday.
Is it just me or are you beginning to see a pattern here?
Many things about the VMI Experience are unique and difficult to explain to someone who has not endured the system or the treatment. A visit to the RDC is certainly in that category. So what else might we glean from the trip to the RDC? What does that sense of dread waiting for 2315 (or whatever the hour of the meeting) accomplish? How does a double workout in fatigues and boots develop the character that my former roommate used to say he would need another misc. box to hold all the surplus character he was building as we plodded through our four-year endurance test?
I submit that similarly to the Ring, a trip to the RDC binds us to the formidable brotherhood that is widely recognized by outsiders. Shared hardship creates strong ties. Though they may not completely understand it, most ‘outsiders’ with more than a passing awareness of the Institute recognize the tight bond among VMI alumni. It is an abiding differentiator and sets us apart from other schools.
One final thought on that brotherhood. I’ve heard it said for years that VMI Alumni take care of their own. There is a kernel of truth in that, but it needs to be explained deeper than a trite expression. Rather than enticing or recruiting youngsters to come to VMI because “the alumni will take care of you”; we should be inculcating any prospective and current cadets with the expectation that will rest on them as they take their place among the alumni ranks.
The generations of VMI graduates who have come before you set the bar pretty high.
Embrace the expectation for what it means to be a VMI Alumnus. Remember and put into practice the lessons you learn at the Institute. Hold yourself and others accountable to those high ideals and standards. Be humble but walk tall and proud. Earn your place -- and your keep in our long gray line.
Don’t be the weak link in the chain.
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