At the Virginia Military Institute, your freshman year is far from fun. You will have an experience unlike anyone else at a civilian college but it will be an experience you will never forget nor trade for anything in the world—I know I wouldn’t.
1. Matriculation Day/Hell Week
Matriculation day is your first day. You receive your uniforms, move your stuff into your room, say a heartfelt goodbye to your family, and then march up towards the barracks to the sound of a bagpipe band, thus marking the beginning of your week of hell. Your first week as a rat is known as hell week and for a very good reason. You arrive a week before all of the upperclassman do in order to be instructed on how to conduct yourself during the school year. Your hair is immediately cut off, guys get a buzz and the girls get a short bob. Your 18 hour days are filled with physical training (PT), rifle manual instruction, instructions on how to set up your room, learning the rules of the institute, and receiving your uniform items. This is the beginning of the end.
VMI matriculation day marchoff
2. The Crucible
At the end of hell week, you are put to the test to see if you are even worthy to start the school year. The last day of hell all of the rats go through what we like to call the crucible. The crucible is a day filled with challenging obstacles and harrowing feats. Once you have completed the crucible, you march up Superintendent’s hill (Supe’s hill) to the sound of the Regimental Band and into the barracks where all of the upperclassman are moving into their rooms. Thus begins, the academic year.
3. The Charge at New Market
In September of your rat year, you participate in what is known as the charge at New Market. Virginia Military Institute is known for fighting in the Civil War Battle known as New Market. As an entire rat mass, you visit the battle field, go through the museum, take the Cadet Oath and then charge with rifle and bayonet across the battlefield replicating the battle scene. This is a very special tradition at our school and one which signifies a step to becoming a cadet.
New Market Charge
4. Visiting the National D-Day Memorial
In the Fall, the entire rat mass goes to visit the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. This is a worthwhile experience and one I found to be quite fascinating. This memorial is honoring the soldiers who fought on D-Day. The statues and monuments are thrilling to look at but really make you step back and appreciate those that served and who are currently serving now.
National D-Day Memorial
5. Rat Olympics
In November, the rats participate in an event known as Rat Olympics. Throughout the semester, each Tuesday and Thursday after classes the rats partake in activities known as Rat Challenge. Some of the activities include rock climbing, rappelling, pugil sticks, and a bunch of obstacle courses. This gets them ready for Rat Olympics. There are nine companies of rats and they compete against each other in order to win Rat Olympics and everyone does at least one activity. It is a great bonding experience with your classmates and also a bit of a stress reliever.
6. 20 Mile March
Also in November, before Thanksgiving break, all of the rats go on a 20 mile march. During my rat year, we were bussed 20 miles out from the New Market battlefield and then had to march the 20 miles there. Once we got there, we had to charge across the battlefield again just like earlier in the semester. It is a very humbling moment and one that really makes you appreciate the amazing things your body can do, even when it is exhausted. Unfortunately, the past two years the rats did not get that privilege of marching to the battlefield on account of the costs of transportation but they still marched the 20 miles at a different location.
20 Mile March
7. Sweat Parties/RDC (Rat Disciplinary Committee) Workouts
As a rat, throughout the semester you will get a chance to go to many parties unlike any you’ve ever been too. This type of party is the only party you’ll be attending your rat year. A sweat party is a term for a strenuous 15 minute workout you receive by upperclassmen in which you will be drenched in sweat by the end of the workout. These parties happen every few weeks while you are a rat. In addition, RDC workouts are somewhat the same thing. They are rigorous workouts each weekend that last a couple of hours long. You will not be in this great of shape again.
This is the best and probably the most exciting event you will do your rat year at V.M.I. Breakout is the momentous occasion where if you survive the day, you will no longer be called a rat and instead a fourth classman and cadet. This is when the entire rat mass is finally recognized as a class—but you have to get through the day first. Your day starts off around 5 in the morning when you are woken up by the sound of canons and gunfire. The rest of the day consists of harrowing physical feats. You are broken down to the point of exhaustion. At the end of the day, once you have completed all of the events you get to go to dinner with your senior mentor and then do a yell for your class in barracks. It will be one of the best days of your life—if you can make it.
9. Jonathan Daniels Movie
In March, not too long after breaking out there is a memorial for an alumnus from the class of 1961. His name is Jonathan Daniels. The fourth classmen get to watch a documentary about him and what he did for the Civil Rights Movement. Jonathan Daniels was down in Alabama participating in a voter rights demonstration in 1965. He was arrested and put in jail because of being involved. Shortly after he got out he was at a local store with two young African American teenagers. A man came up aiming his shotgun at one of them. Daniels pushed her to the ground to protect her and he was killed instantly. The institute honors him every year for his selfless and heroic act.
10. Fourth Class FTX (Field Training Exercise)
In May, once finals are over, all of the fourth classman go on a field training exercise in the George Washington National Forest. Throughout the Spring semester, you participate in New Cadet Military Training (NCMT). You learn skills such as how to shoot a rifle, make a fire, land navigation, and basically how to survive in the wild. These skills are put to the test during FTX. You are put in groups of about five or six with one person as the leader. You are dropped off in the forest for a weekend. You are given a map, compass, the check points, and one Meal-Ready-to-Eat (M.R.E.). You have to build your own fire, which is extremely important because it gets really cold at night, find your way to the check points throughout the day, and avoid the enemy forces, which are upperclassmen on the lookout to take what little food you have. This is another good bonding experience with your classmates and one in which you learn things that might come in handy someday.
Fourth Class FTX