I'd be interested in fellow VMI Alum chiming in on this - as this changes and morphs over time. But here is what I told DD at VMI this past week when she called from her Academic Advisor Office - and I repeated to her when she called from Church this AM The Phases of the Ratline: I. Cadre (or Hell Week): This feels like an eternity. Many Rats do not have 'Dykes' yet as the full Corps is not back in Barracks. This is the most physical phase of being a Rat. It is a confusing, yelling, whirlwind of activity. Emotionally many rats project forward and assume that the entire Ratline will be just like this 'Hell Week' Sadly - that is why some quit during this phase. Over time the actual activities of 'Cadre/Hell week' have changed as society has changed - but the essence is stripping Rats down of the prior individuality and inculcate them with certainty that the ONLY way of making it through VMI is as 'Brother Rats' Rats get their basic issue of uniforms (though tailored items like Blouse and Coatee take longer) and are drilled in the basics: (in no order) Marching; Rat Bible; Honor Court; Chain of Command; etc. The end of this phase used to be an event like 'Rat Picnic' but now is 'The Crucible' These events are a 'demarcation' point to visibly show Rats they have finished Phase I and are now entering into Phase II. * Throughout the Ratline there will be these moments where Rats are allowed to 'lower their guard' and the upper class will be 'human' Don't worry - the intensity will be turned back on. It is this on/off that drives some Rats a bit crazy but is an invaluable lesson for future life as VMI graduates know how to work in 'cruise' mode but at a moment's notice go to full intensity 'game on' II Phase II Academics - 1st Semester. Classes start and life begins a 'rhythm' of Academics & Football Weekends. Rats begin to learn the invaluable skill of time management and prioritization. Simply put: there is too much to do (by design) and Rats must learn to judge which ball they will let drop. It is far easier to shine shoes and brass so your Corporal won't yell at you - but the payoff is non existent as you will only be a 'Shiny' Rat that is failing academically. Rats are allowed out of the Ratline if the Football team wins (Man, it must suck to be a Rat now as that does not happen much anymore) and of course they are blamed if the team loses. The relationship with their "Dyke" is all important. Having a great Dyke is key, in my mind, as that mentorship can help a Rat focus, keep them on the straight & narrow and protect them from the occasional jerks in Barracks. How does a Rat get a great 'Dyke?' - no easy answer. Some relationships are formed prior by being from the same hometown, by Alumni that know both families, by Rats coming on to various sports - football, track, basketball. But most are luck of the draw and today (end of hell week, Corps coming back) is when many of these relationships are formed. Surprisingly, this system works very well and things turn out as they should 9 of 10 times. The keys to thriving in Phase II are: 1. Honor Code. Never ever come close to breaching this. Do not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do. Period! 2. Focus on Academics. You'd think this would be obvious as the purpose of going to school is to learn - but because of the pressures of being a Rat many turn to 'diversions' and do not spend the time needed to thrive. Grades are, in the long run, why many do not make it through VMI. 3. Sense of Humor. Without the ability to laugh at one's self or the absurd situations you'll experience as a Rat you won't make it. You have to laugh otherwise you'll cry. 4. Rely on your BR's and your Dyke. You don't have to actually like everyone of your BR's. In fact - you won't. BUT you must work with them, rely on them, and they on you. 5. Seek help from professors and the support systems at VMI. This is where I believe VMI has really matured since I graduated. The amount and quality of support, in my mind, is wonderful. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT! III Phase III Holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas & Coming back after Christmas Break. This is a special time as Rats get to go home for Thanksgiving, eat too much and then come right back. FYI Parents - you will be AMAZED at the changes in your child if you have not seen them since Matriculation! they will be "Yes Sir/Mame" and will probably take out the trash, do dishes, and actually make their beds & clean their rooms! Expect to pay the piper the Monday after Thanksgiving Holiday! Yep, you will run and PT until Turkey comes out your nose. ** Note: One of my best friends quit the Ratline after Black monday. Little did he know that the worst was behind us. So make sure your roommates and friends are strong and encourage them that 1st week back! After that 'Black Monday' it is an all out sprint academically to prepare for Final exams for 1st Semester. ** Parents - do not be surprised if your Rat does not communicate as much during this time. Encouragement, Care Packages, Letters - all of which flow easily the 1st few weeks of the Ratline are perhaps more important here. So Parents - mark your calendars and UP the support in the form of cards, letters and care packages without expecting much back in return as they sprint towards Finals. For many courses the final exam is worth 30%+ of the overall grade. After Finals it is like a jail break as cadets head to the exits for Christmas Leave. (sigh) Christmas Leave. A wonderful time of bliss, food, Family. Your girlfriend or boyfriend 'probably' still likes you. Your family is so proud of you as you 'made it' through the 1st Semester. Good times. Enjoy them because III Phase 3 - The Dark Ages. You will come back from Christmas Break. You will be a bit out of shape from all the pie, nacho chips, and laying on the sofa and napping during Bowl Games. ** Many of your BR's simply will not come back from Christmas break. That is heart breaking as you never got the chance to try and 'keep them' with you. Steel yourself for this.** The Dark Ages will be a shock to your system. Parents won't be around to take a million pictures like at Matriculation. It will be cold and DARK. Literally Dark as you will go to BRC and it'll be Dark, and you will go to SRC and it'll be Dark. Yes - you will pay the piper as you did after Thanksgiving. But after that respite of 'Rat fun & games" (you will be Pro at those by now) you will settle down to 2nd semester Academics. Ugh. But shortly you will begin to see some light. Quietly, you will begin to speculate amongst yourselves on the timing of that mythic date …. BREAKOUT. February will come fast and you can smell it. There will be false rumors (stoop poop) flying all over as to when you will breakout. Many Rats get distracted from Academics during this interim and that is a mistake. DO NOT LOSE SIGHT OF WHAT IS IMPORTANT! I did, and my grades suffered. You cannot control when Breakout will occur BUT you can control your focus on your classwork! DO SO! IV The week of Breakout I do not know what they call this now - we called it 'Resurrection' This is, frankly, hellish. The upper classes throw everything at you they can but by now you have become a unit - and are on the verge of becoming a Class. You, as Rats, push back. You refuse to be broken and the day comes: BREAKOUT. Every Alum can tell you every detail of the day he broke out of the Ratline. Each takes on a mythic quality (and more than a little embellishment) with each re-telling. I will only say this … it feels damn good to be FREE! That said - there are several more phases to the Ratline. PAY ATTENTION - THIS IS AS OR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ABOVE 1. You will always be a Rat. I still am. No matter how much you think you are the 'Lord of Barracks' someone else always outranks you. There are guys from the Classes of '70s, '60s. '50s, 40's and back that will still tell me to get my "Chin in!" I am not kidding. They will. Of course, I respond in a manner that polite company should not hear which usually involves my suggesting an anatomically impossible act. (unless you are a Hermaphrodite! ) 2. You have to finish your 2nd Semester strong. There is a tendency to 'let your guard down' and coast after your new found 'freedom'. DON"T! 3. In truth - the worst part of being a 'Rat' is being a 3rd Classman. That is seemingly a paradox. But every Alum will tell you being a 3rd sucks. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE likes a 3rd. Academics are tougher, your girlfriend or boyfriend has long since dumped you, your Parents have forgotten you because you are no longer a 'cute wittle Rat' … My only advice to being a 3rd - Suck it up! The ONLY people who give a **** about you are your Classmates. This is when you truly learn what you are made of because being a Rat is like being on a conveyer belt - you just roll down it. But being a 3rd is all about your mastery of yourself and the support of your Classmates. Once you've made it through your 3rd Class year you have your Ring to dream about as a 2nd - and then the Allure of being a 'Demi God' for a year as a First. I hope this is a useful post for prospective Cadets & Parents. For fellow Alum I have no pride of authorship and welcome suggestions and additions. (Unless you are a s*** eating 3rd in which case …) For those readers who are Alum of fellow SMC I know your experiences are different but similar. If you have a constructive insight (not chest thumping my SMC is better than yours) I welcome your insights. Apologies for misspelling, typos or grammar - my Parkinson's does not "Strunk & White" me make. Dedicated to the Rat Mass of 2015+3 and my DD.