Honoring trailblazers

Seven graduates of the Class of 2002 returned to the college in February for a Friday afternoon dress parade honoring their contribution to Citadel history 20 years ago, when they became the first Black female cadet graduates. At the time of their graduation in 2002, U.S. Army Maj. Adrienne Watson Crosby, Toshika Hudson-Cannon, Dr. Renee E. Hypolite, Natosha Mitchell Johnson, Genieve Marshall, Jamey McCloud and Lesjanusar Peterson were known as the “magnificent seven.”

“They created the history for me to be able to create history,” said Samantha Walton, ’22, who served as the 2022 regimental cadet public affairs officer. “It just feels amazing to be able to know that because of them, I’m able to do something inspiring for other women here.”

New cadet club aims to establish parachute competition team

When they jump from a plane at 14,000 feet, they plunge through the air for about 60 seconds. They fall at a rate of about 17 miles an hour, and when their feet touch the ground, they hit hard, usually at about 13 miles per hour.

To do that solo takes coordination, precision, training and planning. And it is all part of the thrill of parachute jumping, according to Cadet Tyler Miller. The senior cadet helped lead the formation of The Citadel Skydiving Club during the 2021-2022 academic year. The club has about 70 members and is now actively raising funds to help underwrite this impressive yet expensive activity.

“I like jumping out of airplanes, and I wanted to create something exciting for cadets to participate in that wasn’t the norm,” said Miller.

The goals of the club are to help members work toward U.S. Parachute Association licenses if they wish and eventually to create a competition team. “Some of us have jumped before,” said Miller. “Some of us may jump if we are going into the military. I think as we become more and more proficient, we might be able to have a competition team.”

Three institutions awarded $1.12M in grants for teacher education Centers of Excellence

The Citadel was one of three in-state institutions awarded a grant by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education for centers of excellence that develop best practices in teaching-related areas.

Each institution’s center specializes in a critical area for teachers’ effective service to the educational needs of South Carolina. The Citadel was awarded $130,000 for specializing in STEM and Literacy.

“As our state seeks to overcome a historic teacher shortage, these programs will provide support to key areas identified by the receiving institutions,” said Dr. Mariam W. Dittmann, director of the CHE’s Office of Academic Affairs and Licensing. “We are excited to see these centers implement concepts that address our teacher shortage head-on.”

The 2021-2022 grants called for proposals to focus on collaboration with rural school districts or low performing schools.

Citadel professor named 2022 Engineer of the Year

At the annual March engineering banquet in honor of National Engineers Week at The Citadel, Citadel Engineering Professor Gafar Elamin was named the Charleston Engineers Joint Council Engineer of the Year.

Elamin is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering whose numerous educational and community accomplishments have served to distinguish him among his peers. Whether serving students as an advisor and teacher, motivating youth as an insightful mentor, or cultivating his mechanical engineering talents to lead cutting-edge research, Elamin has demonstrated a lifetime of exceptional service to STEM education in his local community and beyond.

English professor’s book continues legacy of graduate and best-selling author

Michael Livingston’s love for the work of author Robert Jordan began 30 years ago. Today, The Citadel English professor’s newly released book, Origins of The Wheel of Time: The Legends and Mythologies That Inspired Robert Jordan, pays homage to Jordan and his wife, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

Jordan is the penname for James Rigney Jr., who graduated from The Citadel in 1974 as a veteran student and physics major. Best known for his internationally best-selling Wheel of Time series, Jordan passed away in 2007.

McDougal Rigney, who was also Jordan’s editor, provided the foreword to Origins and gave Livingston access to notes and early drafts that had never before been shared. According to Livingston, the world that he and many other readers have come to love would not have existed without McDougal Rigney, and neither would his newest book. As an expression of gratitude, Livingston included the symbol of the Wheel of Time, the interwoven snake and wheel, on the cover of the book. In a 2013 interview, McDougal Rigney said she always regretted not including the symbol in The Wheel of Time books, which has recently been adapted as an epic fantasy television series by Amazon Prime.

Origins will be welcomed by Jordan’s fans all over the world, but the number one audience in my mind was Harriet. It was essential to me that I do justice to her husband’s legacy while acknowledging her vital role in its making—not just as his wife, but as his editor, as well,” said Livingston. “Teaching at The Citadel, striding the halls he walked, I feel his presence today.… I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do think it made a difference to write this book in a world that he loved so dearly.”

Vertical flying vehicle airfield project earns $10,000 award

Imagine car-sized drones that lift off vertically rather than needing a runway for takeoff and landing. These eVTOLs—electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles—are being developed around the world for both passenger and cargo use. As the new air transportation field emerges, so does the need for new aircraft infrastructure called a “vertiport.” That’s where senior engineering majors have stepped in to help.

As part of a senior capstone project titled Designing Advanced Air Mobility Infrastructure, nine teams of senior engineering cadets took part in a yearlong South Carolina case study at the Rock Hill County Airport. After evaluating operational parameters and creating designs last fall, the cadet teams delivered final recommendations to the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission and an advisory panel of national experts last May.

“Project designs developed by The Citadel students turned out far better than I could have ever imagined and have helped advance the professional dialog in our state on this coming aviation innovation,” said Gary Seigfried of the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission.

The project earned a National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying Engineering Education Award, which comes with a cash prize of $10,000. It also captured the attention of U.S. Representative Nancy Mace, ’99, who visited campus for a student-led briefing.

The high-impact learning experience attracted the support of several organizations, including Heliplanners, Beta Technologies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Carolina Aeronautics Commission, Rock Hill-York County Airport, Charleston International Airport Authority and Mead & Hunt Engineers.

“Students who completed this successful capstone project are now serving in the military, working as engineering professionals or headed to graduate degree programs,” said William J. Davis, Ph.D., PE, department head of civil, environmental and construction engineering. “Our graduates are exceptionally well prepared to contribute to planning, engineering and design of advanced air mobility infrastructure such as heliports, vertiports and high- density vertiplexes.”

The Aerospace Industries Association forecasts a $115 billion annual impact from the U.S. Advanced Air Mobility sector by 2035, adding 280,000 new jobs and $20 billion in exports by 2033.

The Class of 2022

More than 600 members of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets and more than 500 students from The Citadel Graduate College accepted degrees during the commencement ceremonies on May 7.

The day before commencement, approximately 30% of the graduating cadets accepted commissions as officers in the U.S. armed services. Among those commissioned are the first two Citadel cadets to join the U.S. Space Force: Conor William Deans, space operations officer, and Jack O. Schwartz, developmental engineer.

Another significant accomplishment from the Class of 2022: two cadets tied for First Honor Graduate, Steven Jones and Ashley Ruiz, each completing the Gold Seal track of The Citadel Honors Program and graduating with a perfect 4.0 cumulative grade point average.

Ruiz, William Jenson and Martynas Tendzegolskis comprise the first group to graduate through The Citadel Distinguished Scholars Program, a rigorous academic initiative that develops the brightest and most ambitious cadets and students for success in top-tier graduate schools, prestigious fellowship programs and leadership roles in their future careers.

Ukrainian students awarded scholarships to attend The Citadel

The first day of classes at The Citadel is an important day for members of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, but it was especially important to three Ukrainian cadet-recruits.

The Class of 2026 is the first to include cadet-recruits from Ukraine.

“As an independent nation, Ukraine is only 31 years old,” retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Glenn Walters, ’79, president of The Citadel. “When established, the nation had already had a long cultural history and identity, but we want to ensure it also has a long, politically independent history. We announced The

Citadel Support for Ukraine Scholarship for this exact reason—to help prepare the future leaders of Ukraine, either for the armed services or civilian life.”

Thanks to generous donations through The Citadel Foundation and The Citadel Alumni Association, the college is able to offer three scholarships to Ukrainian students to teach them how to lead and serve according to The Citadel’s unique leader development model.

The Kenya Health Care Program

Health and Human Performance associate professor Sarah Imam, M.D., was so inspired after a 2021 summer experience offering free medical services in the Nairobi slums that she returned home determined to create a similar experience for her students. With the generous help of the Swain family—David, ’80, and his wife Mary, and Chris, ’81, and his wife, Debbie, Imam put together a unique service-learning program. In June, Imam and her daughter Mariam, along with Professor Kimbo Yee and 23 students, traveled to Kenya.

When Staff Sgt. Ben Knight, an active-duty Marine Corps student, signed up for the summer service-learning program in Kenya, he was not sure what to expect. But after a month assisting in a free medical clinic in the slums of Nairobi, Knight and his classmates returned to the comforts of home enlightened and better prepared for their future careers in the healthcare industry. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

Following is an excerpt from Knight’s travel diaries. To read the story in its entirety, visit us at dev-the-citadel-magazine-sites.pantheonsite.io.

The Flight

As I boarded the plane, I thought about the enormity of what we were about to do, and I felt like a fish out of water. On the plane, I walked past the spacious and clean first-class seating and settled into my row. Two seats on the left, three in the middle, two on the right. Stuff your carry-on under your seat and buckle up.

I sat next to an African woman wearing a yellow dress, an intricate African head wrap and a big diamond ring. My imagination ran wild—was she coming or going, how had she made her money and where was her family?  We made regular small talk and exchanged pleasantries. She had a large bag full of travel necessities and luxuries at her feet, much more fashionable than my ragtag, quickly stuffed backpack holding only my essentials, protein bars and a cell phone charger. She wore white fuzzy slippers and set her feet on the bag, which was now doubling as a footrest. She tore into the complimentary blanket and pillow and began to tuck herself in.

She was so warm and content that her comfort became contagious. My traveling anxiety melted, and I became comfortable as well. My eyelids got heavy, and I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the flight.


The final stretch of our travels—Ghana to Kenya—was a bear. I think I looked at the countdown to landing on the onboard flight tracker every two minutes. I sat in the middle row between two other passengers, like a hot dog in a bun, for six hours on Kenya Airways. We disembarked posthaste and began the dance of customs. “E-visa, vaccination status and passport please” was the challenge of the trip thus far. I had become a gunslinger of important documents and pulled them out like Clint Eastwood in an old western. After we satisfied the Kenyan officials, we got our baggage. Well, some of us got our baggage. A few poor souls had to live out of their carry-ons until their wayward belongings washed up. My luck was on point—my baggage arrived in full. We were picked up from the airport in a large passenger van—windows all around with the little curtains haphazardly slung to the sides. The seats were covered in soft, stained 1990s-style fabric. Our driver was friendly and informative. Either wear your safety belts or not, he told us. “This ain’t U.S. driving over here.”

I buckled up.

The streets were basically driving lanes with few rules. We passed numerous motor bikes carrying varying numbers of passengers. As our driver maneuvered through the throng of vehicles, we passed a couple of men carrying a cart of potatoes. When the bags holding the produce ruptured, potatoes tumbled onto the streets like tiny brown balls. Everyone passed carefully around them as the men tried to salvage what they could from the busy roundabout.

Walls and barbed wire helped to break up property lines. There was no shortage of vegetation. Planted in the concrete pillars beneath overpasses were hundreds of little plants, part of a new beautification project created to absorb vehicle emissions.

The Mathare Slum

Looking out of the windows of our van seemed like peeking through a veil into a kind of poverty before I’d never seen before. The people all had curious scars, unique tales of hard times. Their mismatched clothes claimed no discernible brand, color scheme or style. Some slept on the side of the street. Some sold dirty heads of cabbage or corn from a makeshift grill. Some sold old T-shirts displayed like prizes. Many made their way through the crowded streets, chatting and bargaining. And near the road, men and women hawked their goods from wooden boards laid over culverts filled with sewage and garbage.

The equivalent of the population of Boston lives in this three-mile area. People were stacked on each other like awkward Lincoln Logs. Each balcony bore clothes and rugs hanging over the rails. Clothes lines and structural imperfections adorned high-rise buildings. Entire floors had been blown out and left uninhabited. Curious faces watched from the balconies as we drove by, and laughing children smacked the balcony with both hands as they screamed out in a foreign language.

The Pharmacy in Mathare

After the first day, we got our bearings. An assortment of boxes of previously mixed drugs meant to help the needy had now been set in place to enhance efficiency. Our tent clinic was split into eight rooms. Each room was just large enough to be functional. Everything was tight and, like the slums, there were no luxuries. Three of us started our first medical rotations in the pharmacy. Our tent box was outlined with small, unmatched tables to give us quick access to the 100 or so drugs at our disposal—drugs for pain, malaria, diabetes, hypertension and other ailments.

Working in the pharmacy

After a few days in the camp, I started to feel a profound sense of accomplishment. Our team was humble and excited to learn with every patient. After setting up the tables with sectioned-out areas for medications, we stocked them back as far as we could and refilled as needed. We took the paper scribbled on by the doctors and did our best to decipher their scrawls. With the help of a local pharmacist, we packaged up the medication and carefully ensured the patients understood the directions. Most spoke Swahili, and while most anyone in Kenya with a basic education could understand some English, this was rare in Mathare. The pharmacist I worked closest with was originally from the Masai Mare area of Kenya. She was direct and demanding, but a great teacher.

Our patients were the faces of pain, cute babies strapped to their mothers with a cloth and laughing youngsters playing with stones on the dirt floor. They were old people who just wanted to talk, and shy young women, breast feeding mothers and scarred or disfigured characters. They were people with HIV, children with scabies and a man with metal instruments protruding from his calf from a surgery he couldn’t afford to finish. The vast majority said “asante,” which means “thank you” in Swahili.

The People

Just days into our stay, the intelligence and sense of community surrounding us began to open my eyes. On the drive through to the campgrounds, I saw the resolve in the shop owners as they set up what little they had to feed themselves and their families. They swept and unpacked the day’s goods from a large potato sack. The goods were brought in on their backs and laid on a blanket or tarp for the busy street traffic. Motor bikes whooshed by with various cargo and passengers. Vans and cars of all different shapes and sizes hurried by each other in a carefully choreographed dance. At the camp, I noticed a man scrubbing about 30 unmatched shoes, readying them to sell later in the day.

Mothers came and sat all day in the equatorial sun to ensure their children would have this rare opportunity for medical attention. Children and infants clung tightly to their mothers. Their faces as they clutched the medicine and their smiles before they left warmed my heart and reminded me that family ties transcend economic status. Listening to the heavy accents of the doctors and pharmacists who devoted their time to help us learn was humbling. They knew every drug up and down and exactly what to look for. At the end of the day, a woman was flash frying some peanuts with salt and spices in a metal pot over a fire in the corner of the camp. She saw people who were hungry and tired, and she shared her meal with us.

Mt. Longonot

At 0630 we packed ourselves into our 28-passenger limo van and headed out on our first excursion, our first weekend, and our first time venturing outside Nairobi. We drove for two hours on a scarcely regulated highway. Vehicles of various sizes wove in and out of lanes, and on several occasions, oncoming traffic screeched to a halt due to an overzealous driver. Speed bumps on the highway slowed us down. After we got out of the city, we drove past a clearing and saw Mother Africa with new eyes. It felt as if you could see for 1,000 miles. Mt. Longonot, a volcano that was last active in 1860, was the highest mountain range in that landscape. You could make out the greenery all the way to it with painter’s strokes of browns and reds and splashes of deep green.

The bus arrived around 0900. The day was gorgeous, with light cloud cover and a slight breeze. The temperature was around 65 degrees. Some of us rented walking sticks for about two dollars.  

After a briefing on the route, we broke off into smaller groups of different effort levels. I was in the middle toward the back and figured I’d take it all in at an easy pace. I wore my military boots and boot socks to protect my ankles and get the best possible tread. At a clearing, I pulled out my binoculars to see zebra and impala grazing in a field below. We all caught up at the halfway point, and I was already visibly out of breath, but as we started for the top, my competitive spirit drove me toward the front. Yousef, the 12-year-old son of our guide and a guide in training, led the way up to the top. I was with a few athletes and Yousef at the front. The pace was steady, and we jogged down the valleys, using the momentum to propel us up the peaks.  At the top third, there were no valleys, only peaks. The kind of peaks I had only seen before at various hills in Quantico during Officer Candidate School. The only difference was that we were about 2,000 meters above the highest point in Quantico. Several times I stopped when I didn’t want to stop and gasped for air, but my pride and knowledge that a 12-year-old was out there leading the way made me push harder. I made it up among the top three hikers. We saw the ringed summit surrounding the crater, now filled in with beautiful greenery from the nutrient-rich soil of a previous lava flow eruption.

At the top, we did what any American does at a moment like this—we reached for our phones to take pictures. The others flowed in not long after us, and we took group shots at the summit.

I was proud of us all.  

The School in the Kibera Slum

A hand-painted sign above the door of the sheet metal building read “Silver Springs Secondary School.” Our bus was parked across the dirt road next to a large pile of trash where goats foraged for food. Inside, the students in traditional Kenyan fashion sang and danced for us in an open space in the compound. Some of us were pulled into the center and began to dance along with them. I overcame my reluctance and joined in. My partner led the moves, and I copied. My awkward foreign look and enthusiasm made everyone laugh. It warmed my heart to see these young people who have endured the unimaginable smile and dance and laugh.

After the jamboree, we passed out supplies and donations and learned about them as they learned about us. As I glanced through their notebooks, I was stunned to see chemistry notes and equations that I had scarcely just learned about in my college years. These children and young teens were applying high caliber, complex thought while juggling life in a slum. We talked about Drake, Lil Wayne, Tupac, 21 Savage and other artists. They were eager to know about life in the United States. Dr. Imam passed out colas in glass bottles, and we toasted one another. They were victims of hunger, burn, rape, abuse and other evils, enjoying a moment of excitement and laughter.

I was sad to leave that day. Their determination and endurance are seared in my memory. I wish we could have done more for them.

Kibera Immersion

I wasn’t so sure about this. A walk through one of the biggest slums in Africa among what I imagined would be desperate and destitute people. There were six students in our group, males and females, led by a woman who lived in the slum.

We walked through a labyrinth of open street markets and over broken concrete sidewalks. We passed a stern-looking man in his 20s with dreadlocks and another man sprawled out on rocks, eyes closed and chickens pecking and clucking all around him. A one-eyed dog got up and started barking angrily at us. Stumbling down a ledge where stairs should be, we walked the final stretch. In a valley, a small river of trash and waste assaulted our noses. In Kibera, there are no taxes and no government assistance. Any water or use of a toilet comes at a cost. If you can’t pay, you just go, and it smelled like it.

The woman guiding us grabbed her baby from a nearby neighbor as we passed a row of 10 doorways with cloth doors before arriving at her home. She was one of the lucky ones. She had shelter. There were no windows. There was a small end table with two chairs and beyond that, a dresser. A sheet hanging from the ceiling concealed her bed. That was her home, with its cloth door and metal roof. There was no refrigerator, no electricity and no running water. We gave her maize, flour, sugar, soap and paper towels, and some of us gave her cash to help her pay rent. We wished we could do more.

Pharmacy at Kibera

Our bus driver turned right into a hidden lot, just inches from grazing the sides of the narrow passage. The camp was spread out in the heart of Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa. The registration was in one place, triage another and the consulting rooms in yet another area, so there was a lot of walking between the units. My place of duty was the pharmacy, and the storage was in a local mosque that allowed us to use the conference room, so medicine had to be transported from the storage to the pharmacy.

On the horizon as we made our way to the pharmacy, we could see the skyscrapers of downtown Nairobi. The day was overcast, cool with a slight breeze. A woman was hanging wet clothes out to dry on a clothesline with mismatched plastic clothes pins not more than four feet between the walls. A bra, a half dozen tiny shirts, tights and a small blanket were hanging on the line. Children reached out at me, saying “hiiiii” in their best English. One grabbed my hand and tried to lick it as I pulled away, awkwardly laughing.

I continued past the woman and children, past a white and brown kitten, past doors and people and a group of children all happy and laughing. One, a 5-year-old girl in tattered high heels, shuffled around. Past the little fashionista, a mob of people waiting for our medical camp greeted us.

This was our second camp, and we were feeling confident. We set up the drugs and turned on our walkie talkies. I walked back through the maze and encountered a little girl too cute to ignore. She had on a red jumper. On her feet were blue and white tie-dyed Crocs. We played kick the plastic bottle. She scuttled back and whacked the bottle good, stumbling forward from the force. I kicked it back to her, and we had a good, old-fashioned kicking match for five minutes before I headed back to the storage room.

The walkie chirped: “Ben, this is Camille.”

“We need a green box of Metronidazole and Diclofenac gel please.”

“Copy. On my way.”

The Orphaned Elephants

I put on my traditional African shirt. Red, black, yellow and blue interwoven in equal and intricate designs. Next, my bandanna—black base with white designs and red roses—wrapped around my head. I was dressed to meet the stars of Africa, the big babies, the ivory orphans of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

We walked past the gates made of vertical bamboo shoots, down a well-hidden path of stairs to a large opening barricaded off with a yellow rope. Beyond the rope were fresh broken branches with green dewy leaves all about them, a fresh mud bath and a few trashcan-sized water buckets. The handlers had two wheelbarrows full of two-liter baby bottles filled with milk

Soon the orphans with their trotting trunks and giant ears made their way toward us. The elephants knew the routine and quickly headed for the bottle handlers. Some of them held the bottle with their trunks.  They were brown and red, almost the exact same color as the dirt, which made sense with all the dirt-flinging they did with their trunks. They used the little articulation in the ends of their trunks to pinch a scoop of red dirt and sling it up behind and on their backs.

After the milk, they made their way to foliage. When they got close enough, we touched them and posed for pictures with our hands on their hides. Their backs were tough and felt almost like concrete, dusty and caked with dirt. Occasionally, they reached out with their trunks to investigate. The trunks were softer and fleshier, with a funny little sniffer at the end. Gosh, they were cute. The handler told their stories, how they were found. Each orphan had a unique story—starved parents, flash floods, violent demise, panicked abandonment.

Safari on the Masai Mara

Our Jurassic Park-style Land Cruiser kicked up dust as we peeled out in a convoy of five vehicles. The smell of dirt, grass and the occasional waft of wild manure filled the air. From our windows we saw a herd of impala in the tall grass of the sprawling planes. Next on the list was the gentle giant of the Masai, the elephant. Pictures don’t do justice to the sheer mass of these amazing animals. Standing in a Land Cruiser and only feet away, I could see the dirty tusks with white ivory dulled by the working dust of the giants’ work. The smallest baby elephant I could ever imagine was being naughty, flopping his baby trunk on a sibling and running between his mother’s front legs and trunk like a toddler trying to get her attention.

Less than a half mile away, we spied two sleeping lions, probably just after a meal judging by their sprawled-out catnap position. A cheetah looking for his next meal posed for us on a large rock next to a canopy tree. As our convoy rushed the scene, he fled across a ridge. We watched through the raised roofs of our vehicles with binoculars as the predator stalked a nearby gazelle.  His crouched position in the tall grass signaled the gazelle to run for its life, and the chase ended before it began. As we cruised through the bush, we passed giraffes, hyenas, warthogs, ostriches, rhinos, buffaloes, condors and wild birds.


As I contemplated my last day and the time away from family, friends, Marines and most importantly, my wife, I kept thinking back to the people we helped—desperate people who needed medical care. We saved several lives on this trip. We assisted over 5,000 destitute souls. In the slums of Africa, where food is not guaranteed each day, medical help is unheard of. We worked as a team, triaging, treating, arranging for life-saving surgery at local hospitals and prescribing free medication onsite for weeks. In the end, if we saved one person’s life—which we did many times over—we accomplished our mission and made our sacrifice worthwhile. And to the Swain family for providing this unforgettable opportunity to save so many lives that changed our own lives along the way, I say asante sana. Thank you very much.

What I remember most

I remember the beauty of Kenya—the landscape, the animals, the smiles on the people’s faces, the gratitude in the eyes of our patients and our team members. I remember climbing Mt. Longonot and the pictures we took at the peak. I remember the grassy fields of Masai Mare elevated through rolling hills that looked like a painting, the elephants and the other National Geographic animals. I remember the baby elephants at the orphanage, the survivors of tragedy. I remember the hospitality of the workers at every stop we visited. I remember the people of Mathare and Kibera, dressed in their finest to receive free care. I remember the smiles on their faces and a certain look in the eye when a great burden had been lifted. I remember the words they used most often— “asante sana,” (“thank you very much”) and “jambo” (“hello”). I remember working with my team members and the good people of The Citadel. I remember our weekend excursions to blow off steam and take in the culture and way of life of a new and beautiful country. I remember a hot room in a Kenya winter’s day in the tiny home of a woman and her family of five whose home was smaller than the smallest room in most American houses. I remember the tears in Dr. Imam’s eyes when she couldn’t do enough for a person who was going to die and accepted the fact that we couldn’t save everyone. I remember Dr. Yee roaming the stations and making sure we had all we needed. And most of all, I remember that we did save lives and we worked hard to accomplish our goal of helping the people in the slums of Kenya.

Ben Knight is currently a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps and an exercise science major. Following graduation next May, he plans to commission as a second lieutenant and continue his training at the Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.

Mission Essential

With the return of the annual United Nations General Assembly in September, heads of state from 100 countries around the world descended upon New York City with their entourages, limousines and motorcades. The advent of the 77th delegation was the first time since before the pandemic that the assembly was meeting in person. The week of September 19 began in New York with security checkpoints, traffic delays, detours, street closures and gridlock alerts. As world leaders came together
to discuss some of the greatest global challenges, the Secret Service was faced with its own challenge— implementing and overseeing the colossal-scale operation necessary to keep those leaders safe. And yet, for the four Citadel graduates in the Secret Service who work in the Office of Protective Operations, it was just another assignment.

“I knew it was gonna be tough, and I knew it was gonna be a challenge. And I think that’s part of what drew me,” he said. “It’s unique. Not everybody can do it.”

Yates Gupton, ’97, may very well have been talking about his job as the assistant special agent in charge of staffing and logistics in the Office of Protective Operations, but instead he was describing his alma mater.

If you ask Gupton or any of his Citadel colleagues in OPO—Brent Daniels, Andrew Lempp or Ty Yount—what led them to the military college, the answers are almost interchangeable. They wanted to serve.

Yount was a middle school student in Morganton, North Carolina, when the Gulf War played out on the evening news and inspired in him a need to serve. He was a well- rounded student—an athlete, a member of the band and an Eagle Scout. In 1993, in the days before the internet explosion, it was from a bookshelf in his guidance counselor’s office that he discovered The Citadel.

“I was like a moth to a flame,” Yount said. “I went for a weekend visit, and then, of course, I was hooked.”

At The Citadel, Yount majored in physics and served as First Battalion commander. After graduating in 1999, he received a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served for eight years, with deployments to Okinawa and Iraq before separating and applying to the Secret Service.

Lempp also accepted a military commission after graduation. In fact, 20% of the Secret Service’s 8,000 employees are veterans. A Kilo Company cadet, a political science major and a Summerall Guard, Lempp began his Air Force career in 1994 as a logistics officer working on deployment plans. He then accepted an assignment as a command and control officer coordinating airlift missions for the Army.

Similar to Yount and Lempp, Gupton and Daniels had careers in law enforcement before beginning the competitive application process to become a special agent. Gupton, a Tango Company cadet and a political science major, graduated in 1997 and worked for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol in Raleigh for six years before joining the Secret Service. Daniels, a freshman in Tango Company while Gupton served on cadre, began his law enforcement career with the Cobb County Police Department in the Atlanta metropolitan area after graduating in 1999 with a degree in English. From patrol, Daniels worked in a gang investigation unit. After that, he was promoted to detective and worked in counter terrorism with a joint terrorism task force. Four years later, he started as a Secret Service agent in the Atlanta field office.

The Secret Service was created in 1865 by the Treasury Department to combat the rampant counterfeiting wave threatening the nation’s financial stability after the Civil War. Thirty-six years later, after the assassination of President William McKinley, the agency took on the responsibility of presidential protection. In 2003, the Secret Service began operating under the Department of Homeland Security, and today the agency continues its integrated mission of investigation and protection. Investigation ranges from counterfeiting and identity theft to combatting transnational cyber criminals and organizations. Protection includes the current president and vice president as well as their immediate families, former presidents and their spouses, presidential candidates and their spouses, and visiting foreign heads of states, which is why the Secret Service is the lead agency in charge of the oversight and coordination of the General Assembly in New York.

Today, the Secret Service has an exhaustive hiring process. To qualify, applicants must be in excellent physical condition and pass a written aptitude test as well as a physical fitness test. They must qualify for top secret security clearance and undergo an extensive background check. Successful candidates must pass what the agency calls a “super interview” as well as polygraph screening that includes criminal screening and national security screening.

Secret Service training lasts a grueling eight months. Half of the training takes place at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, and half in Beltsville, Maryland, at the Secret Service training facility, a 490-acre compound. The Beltsville training facility houses classrooms and firing ranges, an armorer’s workshop and a canine training facility. Two tactical villages let students practice simulated attacks on protectees. Recruits spend time in the classroom, learning essential investigative and protective procedures, and hands-on time learning skills like high-speed driving and advanced weapons techniques.

“You can’t walk in the door without running into somebody that is way better than you in the Secret Service,” said Yount. “There’s just all these unbelievable people who challenge you to be a better person every day, and that for me is the highlight.

It’s like I keep coming back for more. It challenges you to be a better person. It challenges you to think differently and work harder because you don’t want to let anybody down that’s around you. I think what is so amazingly interesting about the Secret Service is the quality of person who we seek out and find and hire.”

After completing their training, special agents are assigned to one of more than 150 field offices throughout the United States and abroad where they begin the first phase of their career, investigating financial crimes such as counterfeiting, credit card fraud, wire and bank fraud, and a host of other cyber financial criminal activity. In 2021 alone, the agency confiscated more than $51 million in counterfeit currency and charged 937 people with financial crimes.

The second phase in the career of a Secret Service special agent is protection. Daniels, however, took a detour. After four years in the Atlanta field office,h e entered into the selection process for the counter assault program, a specialized tactical division that provides support to the presidential protective division. Following a rigorous two-week selection process largely based on physical fitness and firearm proficiency, Daniels was off for more training—six weeks of the agency’s most rigorous training, which has an attrition rate of 50%.

“The purpose of the counter assault team,” said Daniels, who played football while at The Citadel and served as vice chairman of the Honor Court his senior year, “is to directly support and protect the president of the United States wherever he goes, 24/7, 365 days a year, against a state-sponsored or organized assault. We also support the president and vice president, as well as those directed by the president through executive order who are traveling to high-threat or critical-threat environments throughout the world.”

In 2008-2009 this meant supporting combat zone travel in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were the entity designated to respond to a worst-case scenario,” said Daniels, “something kinetic, organized, well trained, fully funded, directed towards the office of the presidency—an awesome responsibility, but also an awesome capability because of the level of commitment of the people in that program. It felt like a homecoming to me to be surrounded again by driven and measured people, just as I was at The Citadel.”

Depending on the day’s assignment, members of the counter assault team might be outfitted in body armor and helmets, with long guns and automatic rifles. After three years on the counter assault team, Daniels left to work on the presidential protective detail. While the agency was founded to protect the nation’s financial infrastructure, protection detail has become the agency’s calling card. Work on protective detail means six years of long hours, nights, weekends and holidays.

Base during Vice President Al Gore’s visit to Seattle in 1995, was lured to the agency by the promise of worldwide travel combined with law enforcement. During his phase two assignment, he worked on the treasury secretary’s detail for one year and four and a half years on presidential detail. Before joining the Office of Protective Operations in July, he traveled worldwide and oversaw the protective details for heads of state—kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers.

“I always enjoyed history,” said Lempp, “and just seeing some of the things that we got to see. At 11:00 at night, being the only person standing on the south grounds of the White House, looking up at the house lit up is a neat thing. Or serving in an award ceremony for a Medal of Honor recipient or just being next to history as it occurs.”

For the Secret Service, presidential travel is a carefully choreographed undertaking. Normal planning for an event is called a standard advance. A security plan is mapped out. There’s an advance team with a lead agent who oversees individual agents covering various sites and plans (airport, residence, transportation, airspace). Agents work closely with local field offices and other law enforcement. Personnel, equipment and vehicles are flown to destination cities, and when the event is over, it’s all flown back.

“The vice president is going to LA tomorrow,” said Gupton in an interview at Secret Service headquarters in August, “so this morning, the vice president’s detail transportation section loaded her vehicles and other members of our special team. Counter assault or Uniform Division magnetometer support unit—transportation folks—loaded her vehicles and equipment onto a C-17 out at Andrews to fly to Los Angeles today, so they’ll land and get set up to be ready for her to get there tomorrow.”

Then there’s also the spontaneous trip. In Secret Service parlance, it’s an OTR or an off-the-record movement when, for example, the president has a craving for Italian.

“Our job is to provide them a secure environment to do that. Sometimes we have time to plan like we want,” said Gupton. “If we don’t let the restaurant know, if we don’t let everybody else know, then it’s not as big of a production. The chaos starts once we get there.”

Now in the third phase of his Secret Service career, Gupton is occupied in what is known as the “war room,” coordinating all Secret Service protective details to ensure that they have the personnel to carry out their protective missions.

For Gupton, the glamor and intrigue of faraway places and law enforcement began when he was a young boy. Growing up in Supply, North Carolina, a small coastal community 30 miles south of Wilmington, he and his younger brother, Joel, received packages from their beloved Aunt Pat.Postmarks from curious places all over the world sent them scurrying to atlases and encyclopedias to learn more about the countries where Pat, who had a mysterious job with the CIA, was working.

Gupton has been with the agency for 17 years now in an exciting career that’s landed him on the periphery of history and taken him all over the globe—Brussels, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, France, Great Britain, Ireland,

Japan, Laos, Senegal, Tanzania, Vietnam. He was in England for the queen’s 90th birthday in 2016,when President Obama joined her for lunch, and in France on President Trump’s 2019 visit to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion before a gravesite of almost 10,000 American service members.

Like Daniels, Lempp and Yount, Gupton has come a long way from the Southern boy who reported for matriculation, young and eager, ready for a challenge—ready to serve. Their mission, essential. Their hard work and their dedication, an inspiration to scores of Citadel cadets who hope one day to follow in their footsteps.