The Citadel's top 100 cadets rose before sunrise every day this past week, threw on their physical training uniforms, laced up their sneakers and ran toward the stadium lights on Wilson Field.

After physical training they moved to the classroom, where they took personality tests, talked about leadership styles, brainstormed solutions to real campus problems and learned to function as a team.

After five 10- to 12-hour days of intensive leadership training, carved out of their summer vacations, the students said they were ready to inspire, guide and push their 2,000 peers in the Corps of Cadets through the school year.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Weart, director of the school's Krause Leadership Initiative, said that if The Citadel was simply about military training and discipline, it could hire retired officers to instruct cadets. But it's about training leaders, about "the corps running the corps."

The Post and Courier last week got a first-ever inside look at how The Citadel trains cadets to lead their peers and carry on the school's traditions.

Strides in professionalism

Cadet leaders and staff trainers talked often about physical fitness in the week's classroom sessions.

But in the rooms full of muscle, no one talked about force.

At 5:30 a.m. on the first day of training, cadets had to take a physical fitness test, which included two minutes of push ups, two minutes of sit ups and a two-mile run.

If they failed to meet the minimum standards, they had to take the test again Friday with members of the cadre, the next wave of leaders to arrive on campus.

It was the week's first lesson.

Cadet leaders can't require a subordinate to do something they can't do themselves.

Col. Greg Stone, who said an embedded Associated Press reporter once called him "the meanest man in Bosnia," said the school is teaching cadets a more professional style of leadership.

"We want you to treat your subordinates in a way that makes them excel instead of simply obeying," said Stone, The Citadel's commandant of cadets.

"Inspiring a new cadet can get more than obedience to the minimal standard," he said.

But, he added, "The type of leadership we want does not imply softness. We're not going to sit on the floor Indian-style and sing 'Kumbaya.'"

Cadet Clinton Handelson, a junior majoring in business administration, said after the training ended Friday that the experience had smoothed some of his rough edges. Before the training, he was "a little more blunt than maybe I should be," he said.

But now he's going to try to be more tactful. He'll give his subordinates the chance to take personal responsibility for their actions, to "let their imaginations run a little bit."

He came to those conclusions after many classroom hours of assessments, motivational talks and hands-on physical activities.

Weart said a panel of school leaders selects the top 100 from a pool of applicants the previous spring, and he said the leadership training comprises the best practices from military, government and corporate settings.

He regularly encouraged cadets throughout the training to think about how they will incorporate what they've learned into their leadership roles. He punctuated sentences with the phrase "connect the dots."

'Razor-fine line'

While ideas like being more professional and leading by example resonated with cadets, some said such lofty goals were sometimes tough to put into practice.

The top cadets will supervise the cadre, the next wave of leaders who will directly handle the freshmen's entry into the Corps of Cadets. Freshmen are known as knobs for their extremely short haircuts.

When the knobs arrive, their heads will be sheared and they'll be given conflicting orders and pushed to try to follow them. And they must survive a week of grueling military training known as "Hell Week."

Weart said cadets in this past week's leadership training already knew the school's standards. They understood what knobs go through in their first year because they've been through it themselves. Many of them have been members of the cadre.

Cadet Andrew Rolander said the entry process is designed to provoke stress.

"If you take someone out of their comfort zone, you can really see what they're made of," Rolander said.

Cadet leaders know it's important to recognize the limits, he said. But sometimes the limits make it hard for leaders to do their jobs.

The school's definition of hazing includes provisions that prohibit striking, any unauthorized touching and any treatment that is tyrannical, abusive, shameful, insulting or humiliating.

Creating a stressful environment for knobs, supervising members of the cadre and staying within the school's limits on hazing is like "tip-toeing on a razor-fine line," Rolander said.

Marching forward, co-ed

When Shannon Faulkner, the first woman to enter The Citadel, came through the Lesesne Gate in 1995, Elisha Woienski, one the school's top male cadets, was only 7 years old.

The process of admitting women into the all-male Corps of Cadets didn't roll along with military precision. It stirred conflict among alumni, fanned tension in the corps and created a media frenzy around the campus.

Thirteen years later, some gender tension remains.

Stone told cadets that improving gender relations was one of his top expectations for the year. The Citadel has improved in that area, he said, "but we could be better."

Woienski, a third-generation Marine, is attending The Citadel under a military contract. He wants to lead in the infantry when he graduates, to be "the tip of the spear."

Some of the school's companies have a reputation for being unwelcoming to female cadets, Woienski said.

But, he said, he thinks the emphasis on gender relations in the leadership training makes it appear that the rift between male and female cadets at the school is bigger that it really is.

Gender issues remain in more subtle ways, he said. He recalled an incident when a female sophomore walked across the quad, the open area in the center of the barracks with a red-and-white-checkerboard floor. Cadets must earn the privilege of walking across the quad, he said.

The Citadel is a small, isolated world, he said, where rumors spread quickly, like echoes off the stone walls of the barracks.

"Everybody was flipping out" about the female cadet's transgression, he said. And some male cadets said the woman thought she could get away with it because she was female, and the school would protect her from consequences.

Maybe she just got lax about the rules over a break, Woienski said, but "the fact that she was female became part of the equation."

Female cadets in last week's training said they always feel pressure to demonstrate that they can keep up academically and physically.

Cadet Lauren Fleming, a pole vaulter on the track team whose father graduated from The Citadel, said you have to work to earn respect from male cadets. But if you do, "you become like a sister to them."

Delta Nunez-Rojas, a biology major attending school under an Army contract, said The Citadel prides itself on tradition, and being a legacy carries weight. She looks forward to the day a cadet will say, "I came here because my mom came here."

The next step

Cadets came into last week's training much more clear about the traits of a bad leader than those of a good one.

They had been subordinate to many upperclass cadets in their years at The Citadel, and they knew what they didn't want to become.

Even though many said at the end of the training that they couldn't tolerate making one more list on a big flip chart, they all said they were eager to take what they had learned and put it into action.

Cadet Elizabeth Penn-Sanders, a senior, said when she sees new students enter the school, she knows their lives often will be difficult over the next four years.

But she's also excited for them because she knows they're becoming a part of something, not just starting college. And she's proud to be part of leading it.

She said she feels moved at the start of each school year "as the traditions just continue to roll." And when she hears the first powerful note of the year from the school's iconic bagpipes, she said, "You just get chills."