Culver Military Academy’s Officers’ Figure is executed twice each year before a packed house in the Steinbrenner Recreation Center. The first time this year will be during Fall Ball on Saturday. The second will be during the Final Ball in the spring.
But how did it become one of Culver’s most anticipated traditions?
CMA is one of only two educational institutions in the country 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 each November, VMI states the Ring Figure represents a significant milestone in the life of a cadet, second only to graduation in importance. Non-cadet female dates are required to wear a white floor-length dress with formal white shoes and elbow length white gloves. Non-cadet male dates must wear a white tuxedo with a black tie, black cummerbund or vest, black shoes; or mess dress if so desired by respective military personnel.
The CMA Officers’ Figure’s history is not as well-documented. Most of what is known is oral history that has been carried forward from sponsor to sponsor (generally the Commandant of Cadets) responsible for preparing CMA’s Officers for the execution of the Figure. It is believed that General Leigh Gignilliat brought the concept to CMA after observing the VMI Ring Figure. This seems to be the most logical start of the Culver tradition as Gignilliat was a VMI graduate and was known for his use of showmanship to teach his young cadets lifelong lessons.
Only officers and senior NCOs in good standing within the Corps of Cadets are permitted to participate in the Figure. CMA’s Figure is also a formal affair but is not associated with the receipt of class rings.
CMA’s Figure uses a series of “movements” to tell the story of a young man growing up on a military Regimental post, often very isolated and where military service was expected and was a family tradition. As such, CMA cadets begin their life story 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 CMA 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 then 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 the all 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.