When Regimental Commander Jacob Kanak ’16 (Marshall, Wis.) leads the other Culver Military Academy officers in the traditional Officers’ Figure Saturday night, he will do so before a packed house in the Steinbrenner Recreation Center. It is considered one of Culver’s best traditions, and one of the most anticipated.
But how did it evolve to become such a popular part of Culver’s culture?
The Officers’ Figure is conducted three times each year at Culver. It is performed during the Fall and Final balls during the school year, and again at the Culver Summer Schools & Camps Commencement Ball. Culver is one of only two educational institutions that execute the “Figure.”
The other, Virginia Military Institute (VMI), originated the “Ring Figure” in the 1920s as way to formally present members of the Second Class (juniors) with their class rings. Conducted in November, VMI states the Ring Figure represents a milestone in the life of a cadet, second only to graduation in importance. There is a very strict formal dress code for both cadets and their dates.
Culver’s Officers’ Figure history is not as well-documented. It is believed that Gen. Leigh Gignilliat brought the concept to CMA after observing the VMI Ring Figure. It seems logical since Gignilliat was a VMI graduate and was known for his use of showmanship to teach his young cadets lifelong lessons.
While Culver’s Figure is considered a formal affair, the dress code is not nearly as restrictive as VMI’s nor is it associated with the receipt of class rings. Only CMA officers and senior NCOs in good standing within the Corps of Cadets are permitted to participate in the Figure.
Using a series of movements, Culver’s Officers’ Figure tells the story of a young man growing up on a regimental post, often very isolated and where military service was expected and a family tradition. As such, the cadets begin their life stories with their mothers, the primary caregiver, as their fathers were often out training or fighting one of the nation’s many wars. Each floor movement tells part of the story of the cadets growing into young men.
- Movement 1: Cadets escort their mothers through a cloverleaf, representing the times of joy.
- Movement 2: The cloverleaf is followed by a crossover, representing times of stress and challenge.
- Movement 3: The NCO chain of command forms two columns on the floor and the cadets and their mothers pass between the NCO columns. The NCOs represent the backbone of the regiment – on duty, watchful, and prepared to take a role in a young man’s growth. Throughout the rest of the Figure the NCO chain of command will be posted behind the officers, quietly awaiting orders from the officers and always ready to protect and defend.
- Movement 4: This movement is perhaps the most subtle but dramatic actions in the Figure. The cadets and mothers form in one formation. The mothers are then escorted off the floor and cadets escort their dates onto the floor. This represents that moment in a young man’s growth when another woman enters into his life.
- Movement 5: The formation then marches out, splits into two columns and in the course of the march the officers and their dates form a Culver “C” as they move across the floor. This represents the journey of the young men as they progress through their years at Culver.
- Movement 6: The entire formation then moves around the floor and forms two columns with the Head of Schools (representing the old Commander of the Regiment) at one end of the column and the cadet Regimental Commander at the other. The order of “present arms” is given and the cadet Regimental Commander and his date pass under the arc of swords (the only other time this is done is upon marriage). Greetings are exchanged and it is at this moment that the officers pass from “boyhood” into “adulthood” as they assume command of the regiment (in this case the Corps of Cadets).
- Movement 7: The CMA Officer Corps then loops around and forms to salute the Head of Schools, symbolic of the respect held for all the adults who helped them arrive at this point in their life. This then concludes the Officers’ Figure and the story of the lives of young men and the women so important in their development.