The Alarm Clock was Not Set Properly by John L. Neel

The young cadet's special was for Late to Class, 15-minutes. She answered it, "Correct but wish to Explain."  On the flip side, it read, "The alarm clock was not set properly."  Signed, Cadet Smith.

At VMI, Cadet life is ruled by the Blue Book, a particularly strict and adversarial document with more rules than the Mosaic Law.  It is impossible to follow this book perfectly, so the School has a very strict honor code which is harder, though simpler to follow.  VMI's Honor Code is single-sanctioned, with no second chances.

Both of these systems are meant to build or enforce integrity, character and personal responsibility in Cadets.  Good behavior is never rewarded; That is Duty.

Failure to follow the Blue Book and being caught results in a series of graduated penalties-the more serious the infraction, the greater the penalty.  Penalties are "awarded" in the form of Demerits, Confinement, and Penalty Tours. 

One Hundred Demerits in a semester may result in suspension from school.  

Confinement keeps the Cadet on Post for an assigned period of weeks and sometimes months.  Breaking Confinement may result in Suspension or Dismissal.  

Penalty Tours are spent marching around in circles in front of barracks.

It is part of the VMI System of Leadership to break the Blue Book rules. The Trick is, Don't Get Caught!  This system teaches audacity, risk-taking, and risk management,all great skills to have in War and Business.

However, the Honor Code rules!  When Caught in a Blue Book infraction, Cadets take their medicine, but they will never sacrifice their Honor.  This is why VMI graduates are so valuable; they will not lie to you, cheat you, steal from you, nor will they tolerate such things in their business, unit, or life.

Once caught, they are sent a Special Report which must be "answered" to the Commandant's Staff, in person, wearing Cadet dress uniform, within twenty-four hours.  They may answer this piece of paper Correct (guilty a charged), Incorrect as Stands (not guilty), or Correct but Wish to Explain (for mitigating or extenuating circumstances).  A Commandant Staff member adjudicates the case, scratches specials that should not have been produced, metes out the proscribed penalty listed in the Blue Book, or modifies that penalty depending on the circumstances.

So, this Cadet, a track athlete, we'll call her Smith in this story, was late to class by fifteen minutes.  This earns a penalty of 5 Demerits, 1 Week Confinement, and 5 Penalty Tours, called a "5-1-5." 

She brought it to me...the new guy.

Her answer, written in her handwriting on the back, and signed, wasn't a lie, but it was a not so veiled attempt at showing she was not at fault and therefore this Special should be scratched.

It was the passive voice of her answer that irritated the shit out of me.  The conversation went like this:

So, Cadet, you were late for class?  Yes, Sergeant Major.

More than 10 Minutes?  Yes, Sergeant Major.

And, whose Clock is it?  Mine, Sergeant Major.

And, Who Set the Clock?  I did, Sergeant Major, but...

Stop.  Why am I asking you all these questions? 

I don't know, Sergeant Major.

Well, I can't tell what happened from your answer, which is written in what we call Passive Voice.  Let's rewrite this in Active Voice which shows Responsibility.  Help me out.

Who set the Clock?  I did.

Ok, "I set..."

Whose Clock is it?  Mine.

OK, "I Set My Clock..."

When you set your clock, did you set it properly?  No Sergeant Major.

OK, Then, "I Set MY Clock, Incorrectly."  Does that sound right? 

Yes, Sergeant Major.

When you set your clock incorrectly, did you do that intentionally? No, Sergeant Major.

OK, Now, Sign right here.... 5-1-5.  Good Day.

She was not happy.