The Military College of South Carolina Dare to Lead

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Cadet Collin Hicks

The Citadel is a college rich in tradition. One of the earliest traditions, that still holds true, is that the Corps leads the Corps, in other words, the members of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets (SCCC) lead each other. The highest position of authority in the Corps is Regimental Commander. During the 2013-14 academic year, that position is held by Collin Hicks. He was appointed to that position by the Commandant of Cadets who works with leaders campus-wide to identify the top performing cadet. What follows is a conversation led by Regimental Public Affairs Officer, Nolan Moore, as Hick’s addresses questions about his experience as Regimental Commander (RC).

Moore: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Would you describe your younger years, thinking back to high school?

Hicks: I grew up in a town called Winder, Ga., in between Athens and Atlanta, pretty small town. My dad is a small town lawyer; my mom is his office administrator. Growing up it was me, my parents and my older brother Palmer. It was a pretty normal childhood, nothing too extraordinary, but it was great growing up in a small town. I am really appreciative of how I was raised. High school days, I ran cross country and track, had pretty good grades but nothing spectacular.

Moore: Is it true you had really crazy hair?

Hicks: Oh yeah! I had long hair up until about 10th grade and then I cut it to basically what it is now, but it was pretty long back then.

Moore: Why did you choose to come to The Citadel?

Hicks: I wanted to be a military officer, so that is a large part of it. The Citadel stuck out to me as being different. I knew it was not the typical college experience. A lot of history and tradition. You can read about The Citadel and look on the website, but you don’t know what it is like until you get here, and that appealed to me since it was the unknown.

Moore: Did you pre-knob? Come for a visit to see what it was like?

Hicks: I did, I pre-knobbed in Bravo Company.

Moore: Being RC for our entire Corps of Cadets seems really demanding. What is your typical day as Regimental Commander?

Hicks: When I wake up in the morning, I start by going over my list of things to do that day. Get ready for formation, go to breakfast, come back before I have classes, and try to knock out as many emails as I can and make sure I am on top of my tasks for that week and the following week. I am only taking 14 credit hours this semester, so I have morning time to study and do what I need to do. There are usually meetings throughout the week, with the top 9 ranking cadets in the Corps, or General Rosa, or the Commandant. I try to stop by the Commandant’s office as much as I can, just so I can know what’s going on. Making sure battalion commanders are all synced-up with what we are doing for that week and the weeks to come. Usually pretty busy! Go to noon formation, come back, try to get some PT in after lunch, then more of the “handling tasks, studying, staying on top of it all” routine and going around making sure we are all good to go on the next day.

Moore: It’s probably hard to find the time, but do you have any hobbies?

Hicks: I grew up near Lake Lanier, so I love wakeboarding and waterskiing, although I haven’t done much of that recently. But when I can, I love to do it. I like being in the outdoors, running, and reading. I love military history. My favorite war is probably WWI. I love traveling. I love reading about new places and I am particularly fascinated with China. I love Chinese culture and history.

Moore: What most interests you about the RC’s position?

Hicks: Initially I didn’t even apply for it; I didn’t think I was under consideration for it. But what interested me was the opportunity to see more of the school and get something more out of my senior year. There are more opportunities to serve and to help people with this position. There’s a lot more on your plate in some regards, but you’re not just restricted to your company or your battalion, you get really a bird’s eye view of the Corps as a whole, which is really interesting. It presents more challenges in that respect, but more opportunities as well.

Moore: You touched on it a little bit, but what would you say is the most rewarding part of leading the SCCC?

Hicks: Seeing other cadets succeed. We can come up with all the plans or committees that we want, but actually seeing individual cadets become successful − that’s the most rewarding − being able to help them achieve their goals.

Moore: And the reverse? What is the most challenging part of leading the SCCC?

Hicks: Honestly, prioritizing. There is a lot being thrown at you at once, so breaking it down to strategic long-term goals and then day to day goals. There’s a lot that I want to do for the long-term plans, but when something needs immediate attention, it’s about de-conflicting the two and making sure they are all synchronized. Organization is the key.

Moore: What has surprised you the most about being RC? Is the position different than what you were originally thinking it would be?

Hicks: (Laughs). It is very different than what I thought. I’ve been surprised by the amount of work. I thought there would be some work, but I didn’t think it would be as challenging as it is. But again, it’s what you make of it, so if you just wanted to skate by, then you can just do what you’re told and appease people, whether it’s the Commandant’s Department or Bond Hall (administration) or your classmates, and it’s not hard. If you actually want to make some change and try to do things better, then you’re going to have to put in some effort. I’m pretty goal-driven and I want to be successful, so there is work that has to go into that.

Moore: As a knob, who did you look up to, whether it was a cadet or a professor?

Hicks: I looked up to a lot of older cadets. My cadre squad sergeant was a really locked-on guy. There were probably two people that I looked up to the most, my cadre squad sergeant and my cadre platoon leader. Both were great leaders and helped shape me into the person I am now. I think without them I wouldn’t be the man that I am now. They pushed me to go past the limitations that I thought I had. They were hard on us and that was needed. At the time I didn’t understand a lot of what they did, but in hindsight I am very appreciative of the lessons they taught me.

Moore: How has The Citadel shaped your leadership style? I know last year you were Palmetto Battalion’s 1st sergeant, so looking back on your junior days, and then at your time now as the top ranking cadet here, what is different about it?

Hicks: As a company 1st sergeant, your view is a little bit more myopic. You’re centered on administrative tasks mostly, you’re really not having to think big picture and strategically, and that’s a big difference. I was really about the day-to-day as a 1st sergeant, which has its own unique opportunities as far as leadership goes. It’s more focused on direct development of the people in your company and with the cadets assigned to your unit. An RC must think long-term and broad impact. Most of the goals that I set for the Corps aren’t going to be accomplished in time for me to see it because it is going to take time for them to progress. My responsibility as RC is making sure that next year’s team is able to transition easily and be successful. As RC I am concerned with combining our priorities, standards, and goals with the tools necessary to help the next command team push that ball a little bit further ahead.

Moore: Can you tell about some things that you learned as 1st sergeant that helped you be a better RC?

Hicks: Absolutely. You get to see firsthand how decisions made at the top will affect the decisions at the squad and company level, where it is really going to matter. As a 1st sergeant, we would have these orders issued and tasks assigned and sometimes it wouldn’t make sense. It would be frustrating because you might think that it won’t work and that the higher ups are ‘out of touch’. Having to deal with frustrations and challenges at the company level gave me appreciation, so as RC, I am coming up with plans that drive execution, keeping in mind how it will work at the company level. Honestly, it crafted my leadership style to make leadership very decentralized. I may be the RC, but I want people to be able to accomplish their jobs and do them successfully on their own. If that means I need to take a step back and loosen the reins a little bit, and let people do things in their own way, that as long as the mission gets accomplished, in a good and honorable way, why not loosen the reins a little bit? It’s about knowing your people, so that’s what I took away from being a 1st sergeant. Leadership is a people business.

Moore: What person has influenced you the most?

Hicks: I know it sounds cliché but honestly, my dad. He taught me more about life and what it means to be a man, than any other person, just by how he lives his own life. He is a very hard worker and he rarely gets discouraged. When he does, he picks himself right back up and keeps going. He’s had a lot of challenges in his life but he has been very successful. He is self-employed; he runs his own business and gets up every day and he goes at it. He’s been doing that for close to thirty years now. He’s been going at it non-stop, without rest, and relentless in that sense but he’s a very giving person too. He’s very involved in the community and giving back to people and helping people. He taught me a lot about what it means to be a man and a gentleman and how to conduct yourself or live your life in a way that is not only fulfilling to yourself but also fulfilling to other people. He taught me the value of hard work. He always would tell us growing up that “you’re not always going to be the smartest, fastest, strongest, but you can be the most successful if you want it bad enough and you work hard for it.”

Moore: What is the most important thing that you have learned being in a command position?

Hicks: I’ve learned that you can never make it about yourself. It has to be about your people. You must find a balance between being self-focused and focused on others. I’ve learned that if you focus on your people that you will ultimately be successful too. That will motivate you to do more and to do better. When I was a squad corporal my sophomore year, after recognition day, the knobs in my squad came up to me and thanked me for what I had done for them. That was rewarding to me. Not the recognition, but knowing that you did help someone and made them better.

Moore: What are your plans for after graduation?

Hicks: I have accepted a position with a firm in the Washington D.C. area called Leidos. They do work in national security, health and engineering. I will start in June. The president and COO, Stu Shea, was a Greater Issues event speaker here at The Citadel, so I had the privilege of meeting my future boss. I am thankful that I must have left a good impression.    

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