Snookie Parker ’74 came to VMI for football, but he stayed because of the relationships. After 25 years as a class agent, Parker reflected on what keeps him continually tied to the Institute and the lessons in leadership from his cadetship.
VMI was not his first choice. In fact, the Institute had not even crossed young Parker’s mind until his mother suggested they stop by on the way back from a prospective visit at the United States Naval Academy.
“Interestingly enough, [VMI] was not one of my first picks. It was actually really not on my radar screen,” said Parker. “I was thinking I was going to play football for the University of Florida, the University of Georgia—something like that.”
Weighing a mere 150 pounds, however, Parker was not being recruited by major football colleges. He did, however, receive an appointment from the Naval Academy. But after meeting football players who were significantly larger than himself, he worried he wouldn’t be able to play well with them.
“I thought, ‘These guys are big. I don’t know if I could play here,’” said Parker.
Meanwhile, his mother, who was a VMI fan, encouraged him to stop by post on their way home. With that one visit, Parker knew he was going to VMI. “We got a chance to meet the coach and some of the players, and I thought, ‘I might be able to play for these guys,’” said Parker. “I walked on. Rat football was a great experience.”
At that time, rats could not play varsity sports, so when they matriculated, everyone played on junior varsity, and they called this “rat football” at VMI. He played a year of varsity basketball, as well.
Though athletics swayed him to attend VMI, Parker remained there through the challenges of cadetship because of his brother rats.
“It’s tough emotionally, physically. It’s a shock,” Parker reflected. “It’s tough that first day, week, and month. You ask yourself what is it that keeps you there. And what I think about what really kept me there were my relationships with my roommates and my brothers in Bravo Company.”
“Your brother rats [are] why you’re there,” continued Parker. “And that gets you through the Institute, is what it boils down to.”
Parker said he internalized many good habits as a cadet, including good posture and time management, but he said the greatest skill gained was leadership.
"Probably the most important thing from a leadership perspective that you learn: It’s the ability to lead your peers. You get that in spades at VMI."Snookie Parker ’74
“You get to be in a lot of leadership positions [at VMI],” said Parker. “You end up getting into positions where you have the opportunity to help guide a leader. You have to have the moral courage to be able to respectfully and diplomatically speak your piece.”
Most importantly, Parker emphasized that VMI taught him to lead his peers. Leading your equals requires more than a skill set; it requires a level of personal character that earns the respect of others.
“The most important [skill], which gets glossed over, but it’s probably the most important thing from a leadership perspective that you learn: It’s the ability to lead your peers,” said Parker. “You get that in spades at VMI. As a senior private trying to get your VMI brother rats to do something, you better have your stuff together.”
As a retired U.S. Army colonel, Parker found these leadership capabilities served him well in his military career. While a captain in the army, Parker became the chief of operations for the 24th Infantry Division at the time. In his new role, Parker was put in an uncomfortable position leading and advising his superiors.
“I was the junior guy in the division telling majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels what to do,” said Parker. “It does require a lot of diplomacy and, in some cases, a lot of moral courage to be able to tell somebody diplomatically, ‘Here is what we’re going to do.’”
“It takes more courage to say: ‘I think that this is a really important issue and here are some things I think ought to be of concern; I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if I were in your shoes, this is exactly how I would approach that.’ And lo and behold, you wouldn’t believe how many times that’s exactly what they decide to do.”
Decades after his cadetship, Parker’s bonds with his brother rats remain strong. Serving as his class’s agent for the last 25 years, Parker describes his efforts to maintain connections as a “labor of love.”
“My relationship with my brother rats is probably one of the most important things in my life,” said Parker. “When you actually see a brother that you hadn’t seen in a long time, you just happen to run into him somewhere, I can’t begin to tell you how thrilling that is and how satisfying it is to sit down and chat with that particular brother rat and just to catch up.”
For Parker, these values of brotherhood, leadership, and character learned at VMI are lessons you can only come to learn by being at the Institute. “You can’t learn that in the book. You gotta be there,” said Parker.
Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content
The director of digital content is responsible for creating original video and multimedia materials, as well as developing and editing web and digital content. The director is responsible for platform coordination and troubleshooting, to include the VMI Alumni Agencies’ primary websites, digital newsletter and other digital platforms.
Mattie Montgomery Assistant Editor
The assistant editor assists the editor-in-chief in various tasks relating to the production of quarterly and monthly publications, as well as prepares written materials for publication. The assistant editor serves as liaison between class agents and chapter presidents and the Agencies’ publications, as well as provides backup photography for events.