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ALLEGIANCE TO GOD AND CORPSThe Life Experiences of a Military Muslim
By Hafiz Naim Ali Camp
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2011 Hafiz Naim Ali Camp
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE FEW, THE PROUD, THE MARINES
While attending Virginia State College (VSC)-now Virginia State University of Petersburg, Virginia-I made a critical decision that changed the course of my life. High above the banks of the Appomattox River, I was about to embark on a lifetime journey that most could only imagine.
A year after graduating from high school in 1977, I was accepted to Virginia State College. At this point, I was faced with the option to attend Virginia State or stay close to home with a dead end job. After reviewing all of my options, I quickly made the decision to make VSC the institution that would prepare me for my future. What swayed my decision were the facts that I had many friends who were already enrolled there, it was a Historically Black College/University (HBCU), and that it was only an hour and a half away from home. This way, if I were to get homesick it wouldn't take long for me to get back to the comforts of where I was raised. Unable to afford a car, I would have to rely on friends to make that quick trip down the back roads of Williamsburg, Virginia to see my loved ones. My first month of school, I went home every weekend. My neighborhood friend that I rode with had been doing it for two years so I didn't feel bad. Although I enjoyed going home, I had to slowly wean myself from making the trip so frequently.
It was at VSC where I experienced my first time being away from home, out on my own, making my own decisions. Although frightening at first, I adapted well and made the best of my experience. While there for orientation a month earlier, the orientation staff related about many who were unable to cope with being away from home in a college environment. I definitely did not want to fall in this category because I had the obligation and opportunity to be the first in my family to graduate from college.
My father, Rudolph Edwin Camp, enlisted in the U. S. Army directly after high school. He had a wonderful career of 30 years, with tours in Korea and Vietnam. He was proud to serve in the military that provided his family with a suitable lifestyle. It also provided our family the opportunity to experience France, Germany, and a few different states. After retiring from the Army, he worked as a security guard at Ft. Eustis, a nearby Army Base located in Newport News, Virginia. Although very intelligent, Dad never went to college and I never heard him talk about it either. He spent most of his youthful days in a small country county called Amelia located about an hour from Richmond, Virginia. I recall telling him that I wanted to go to college and he confidently told me that he would make financial arrangements so that I would be able to go. Quiet most of the time and always reading fictional books, he didn't ask what I would major in and he didn't know if I had researched the school or not.
My mother, the oldest of thirteen children was forced to drop out of high school after the eleventh grade. Marriage and the birth of my oldest brother ended her high school career. I can recall the earlier days while my dad was overseas how she would take us to our grandmother's before she headed off to work. We spent many days at our grandmother's place and most of those days turned into nights. We loved going there because it gave us a lot more to do than staying at our home. Grandma, as we called her, would have us chop wood for the stove, feed the hunting dogs or run errands back and forth to the store. She kept a house full of children, most of them being grand and great grandchildren. It seemed like she could never turn us away regardless of how tired she was. She often fell asleep with a grandchild in her arms. My mother's brothers and sisters had the same idea because in most cases their children would end up there also. We all blended in with my cousins who were always there. Time spent at my grandmother's allowed us all to bond. With a long line of aunts and uncles in that family, I have two aunts and one uncle who are younger than I am.
I guess that working nights and raising four children never gave mom the opportunity to further her education. Even after my father returned from overseas, she worked and focused on her primary role of making sure that us children had what we needed. Mom retired after twenty years of service at the Ft. Eustis Exchange. Between my three siblings and I-me being the second oldest-my older brother opted not to go to college because he was not offered a scholarship after four years of football at Denbigh High School in Newport News, Virginia. A year after graduation, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to try out for the Washington Redskins. He was not successful in that endeavor and later joined the U. S. Army in search of a stable career.
It was at VSC where I was exposed to many people from so many cities and states. The majority of the enrollment at VSC came from the east coast, although there were a few students that came from as far away as California, and one young lady was from Bermuda. It was really strange to me to see how so many of the students gravitated toward the students from New York City and Washington, D.C. The students from these two cities were apparently the trend setters and everyone wanted to emulate them. They were up on all the new fashions and they knew the hip lingo.
It was so interesting for me to talk with students from different states and countries because it gave me a perspective on how it was growing up in their environments. Many of the conversations I couldn't relate to because I had never been exposed to some of the things mentioned in their stories. I heard stories about catching the train over to Madison Square Garden to see the New York Knicks play, or about attending cultural events. I heard stories about shopping in the fashion districts and shopping in stores like Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. I often heard stories of trying foods from Russia, Greece, and the Middle East, and seeing stars and famous personalities right out on city streets. Unfortunately, my upbringing in Newport News, Virginia sheltered me from those types of cultural experiences. I could only offer stories of swimming, roller skating, and watching movies at Ft. Eustis. Although we had a blast growing up, these were the highlights of my neighborhood.
I was able to turn a few heads when I mentioned that I had lived in France and Germany for a few years. My father was stationed in Verdun, France where my younger brother and I were born. My birth certificate is written entirely in French and no, I wasn't given dual French and American citizenship. I have no memory of anything we did there because we left France when I was three years old. My father took us back to Verdun while we were stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany in 1968, to show us where we lived. France and Germany became my topics of discussion because that was the only way that I could conger up any interest whenever we sat down to socialize. Newport News, Virginia could not provide me enough material to compete with the stories told by the other students from the larger and more popular cities.
It was at VSC where I was exposed to social organizations, fraternities, and sororities. While in high school, I heard stories from some of those who pledged these organizations, some of them at VSC. At that time, it seemed like the male college students from my neighborhood were pledging either Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship Incorporated or the Men of Crimson and Cream, which I'll use instead of the fraternity's name for legality reasons. Some of my high school friends and I were so enthused about pledging, we would attend house parties shouting the names of the organizations we were interested in. I figured that I would get to campus and research both organizations to see which one I would be compatible with and which was doing the most for the communities. I also wanted to pledge hard because I had heard that the harder you pledge, the more you'll love the organization. Pledging hard means to endure the hardest mental and physical treatment you can tolerate from those who are pledging you.
When I arrived on campus for orientation, I made it one of my priorities to talk to members of both organizations to get a feel of who I would be dealing with when I decided to pledge. The brothers of Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship Incorporated appeared to be the gangsters of the campus. There was something about them that attracted a lot of interest but with that interest came the fear of how much of a physical and mental challenge I would have to endure to become a member. With nicknames like Rock Monster, Jesse James and Mandingo, it was very intimidating just thinking about pledging that organization, however, I was already leaning toward that group due to influence from my high school basketball coach's son, who had pledged Groove Phi Groove, SFI at Virginia Tech. He used to come to our weekend practices during holidays. Although I never talked with him about it, I watched how he carried himself and I particularly noted the respect he showed to his father, the assistant coaches, and staff.
In 1978, I had the opportunity to watch my first Trojan Chapter line of Groove Phi Groove pledge. Through our National Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, Virginia State was recognized as the Trojan Chapter, coming from the mascot of the school. Each chapter of Groove Phi Groove was named in the same manner. I often saw the three pledges, called Swanxmen, running across campus in line with white t-shirts, blue jeans, combat boots and green Army field jackets. I watched them when they came to the cafeteria for dinner. The "Caf" was where students congregated in the evenings after class. It was the hub of the campus located in the center of the male and female dormitories. Although the food was not too good, it stayed filled to capacity until it closed. I would watch the Swanxmen as the big brothers sent them on errand after errand, carrying books and trays, getting phone numbers, and passing out chewing gum to whomever they were told. It seemed like they didn't get an opportunity to eat most of the time. They always appeared tired, they never smiled and they responded very quickly to everything the brothers uttered. It was so intriguing how the pledges would get so embarrassed and humiliated and they still did all they could to please the brothers.
In fall of 1978, I joined the "MIGs," (Men Interested in Groove) and we began raising money and preparing to go through the pledging process. Two or three times a week we walked through the dorms selling hot dogs and candy to offset the cost of material we needed for the pledging process or "going on line." We concentrated on the late hours knowing that everyone would then be hungry after the cafeteria food wore off. We had about 15 MIGs and the majority of them were from the Northeast. The organization had a Rush at the Student Union Building to see how much interest they had for joining the fellowship. A Rush is a semi-formal gathering by fraternities and social organizations to see how many students are interested in pledging. They explain the history of the organization and they display academic and community awareness. All of this was basically a report card on how and what the organization was doing. They also answered questions for those who were curious. They were overwhelmed with the number of students interested. My next priority was to make sure that I had the grade point average of at least a 2.0 to qualify for initiation. At that time I had a 3.2 GPA.
I chose not to pledge the Men of Crimson and Cream mainly because they thought that they were the pretty boys of the campus. That definitely was not my image. They had many brothers on campus and were known for having many students pledge at one time. I could see their caliber of brothers though. One student from my neighborhood pledged that organization. We used to take his lunch money from him in high school, and watched him do nothing as we walked away. They were more concerned about the quantity of pledges and not the quality of pledges that they were bringing into the organization.
In January of 1979, I decided to take my chance at initiation. I submitted my letter to the President of the organization explaining why I wanted to pledge and what I had to offer the fellowship. They were very pleased with my letter. I made it known to the organization that I wanted to pledge and they informed me that they would let me know if I was accepted. One week later I was told to put on a suit and meet at one of the brother's apartments off campus for the induction into the pledge process. There were eight of us that showed up for the induction. The other seven didn't have the grade point average or they backed down at the last minute because of fear or they just weren't ready to make the sacrifice. We were warned that pledging Groove Phi Groove was no joke. The brothers wouldn't give us first-hand stories, fearing that we would change our minds but a few of my neighborhood Grooves gave me a first-hand description of what to expect. One of them had pledged at VSC three years prior.
All eight of us were blind-folded and led one by one into a dark room for the induction ceremony. From that night on, we were officially called "Swanxmen," pledges for Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship Incorporated. For the next eight weeks we would be subjected to physical and mental torment, humiliation, and sleep deprivation. We lost four Swanxmen the first week and one in the second. They couldn't tolerate the mental and physical requirements. With three of us left, the next six weeks would prove to be a test by all means. We did everything imaginable during this pledging process from passing raw eggs from mouth to mouth, and eating raw onions like apples, to running around campus with paper bags over our head calling ourselves space invaders.
Due to the lack of focus and sleep deprivation, my grades started to suffer. Although we were required to attend the library every night to study, I found myself sleeping at the library and neglecting my studies. Some of the brothers came through the library to check on us. I remember falling asleep in trigonometry class and getting hit in the back of my head by erasers from one of the brothers in my class. He strategically sat behind me because he knew that I would have problems staying awake. At week six I decided to drop line in an effort to salvage my grades and I vowed to return the next semester to pledge again. The brothers were disappointed that I dropped the initiation. I guess I had shown them that I had potential and that I would've been an asset to the organization.
I felt bad for the one Swanxman that I had left on line. The last two weeks he had to fend for himself, vulnerable to a group of brothers who were very energetic and imaginative. I had to do it, though, because my grades were the priority and I was in school to get my education and not to pledge. I would rebound the next semester. A few of my friends mentioned that if I pledged via a graduate chapter, the pledging process would be a lot easier. Those that were scared to pledge undergrad pledged the graduate route. The graduate brothers have jobs and families and they really don't have the time to put into pledging. Basically, you pay your pledging and annual dues, learn the history of the organization, do a few community projects, and you're in. The twist of pledging the graduate route is that many undergraduate brothers don't respect the brothers that pledge the graduate route because they feel that they entered the organization too easily. There is no way that I would've taken that route. I wanted the real challenge of undergraduate pledging.
When I returned to State in the fall of 1979, the organization didn't have an initiation period or line, but in the spring of 1980 they did. This was my opportunity to redeem myself. I basically went through the same procedure as the previous year. The only thing different was that this time I knew what to expect. I was asked by a few of the brothers if I was going to drop this time around and I told them that if they didn't plan on killing me then I would make it. The "Sole Survivor" of the last line told me that he was going to make it extremely hard for me because I left him hanging the first time. This was the name that the brothers gave him because he was the only Swanxman to cross the burning sands into the organization out of the eight of us. I was totally prepared to go the distance, regardless of what I had to endure. I had to go through an entire last summer explaining to inquirers why I didn't make it the first time. I found it very uncomfortable explaining why I had dropped to visiting brothers who had traveled from other schools to see me while I was on line the first time. To them I was an "Eternal Swanxman," and I would remain one until I pledged again and made it. I was pledged this time by two brothers that went to high school with me. One pledged there at VSC and the other at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University.
Excerpted from ALLEGIANCE TO GOD AND CORPS by Hafiz Naim Ali Camp Copyright © 2011 by Hafiz Naim Ali Camp. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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