Capt. Jefferson Davis, U.S. Army Officer Candidate School /
Commissioned officers in today’s Army are a diverse, competitive and battle hardened corps.
Officers don’t just wear rank, they bear the burden it brings. They excel under pressure, and every decision and action taken by every person under their command is their sole responsibility while building a highly trained cohesive team and developing skills to exceed every standard.
Every rank and position of authority comes with a commensurate responsibility to lead, develop and achieve through moral character, affirmative presence and exemplary intellect. Being an officer is a demanding profession and becoming one can be even more challenging.
The U.S. Army currently has three paths to a commission: the United States Military Academy at West Point, Reserve Officer Training Corps and the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
All three routes demand the same rigorous standards of training prior to receiving a commission. So what’s the difference between the three commissioning paths? Answer: About 3 years and 9 months. Since its inception in July 1941, the OCS motto has been “Standards! No Compromise!” and that applies to holding graduates to the same standards in 12 weeks as the other commissioning sources do in four years. OCS hopefuls are challenged from day one physically, mentally and emotionally.
Prospective officer candidates can expect early mornings, late nights and a lot of hard work. Even the best leaders are challenged to complete the pre-commissioning requirements within extremely compressed timelines.
At OCS, your physical and mental capabilities will be put to the ultimate test. If you are not exceeding the physical fitness standards upon arrival, fatigue and injury from constant physical exertion will likely end your journey.
If you arrive and your personal life is not in order, the constant activity and lack of personal time compels many to ring the bell.
If you show up and think, “How hard could the classes be if it’s only 12 weeks?” You will fail academically and will have to fulfill your obligation at the needs of the Army, or return to your unit if you’re already serving on active duty. At OCS, you can expect all of these challenges throughout the entirety of the course … not separately, but continuously.
Throughout OCS, a candidate’s typical day starts at 5:45 a.m. with physical readiness training and ends at 9 p.m., with continuous training or classes throughout the day.
At first, this is just a long day, but compounded by the physical rigors of PRT in the morning, being on the move at all times and absorbing four years of military instruction contracted into 12 short weeks, even the most competent and fit Soldiers feel the fatigue.
As the physical and mental exhaustion sets in, OCS transitions from a school to a course; a means to assess the candidate’s character.
When fatigue sets into the body and mind, your inner character begins to show. Without a weekend or afternoon recess to recharge both physically and mentally, weary candidates are thrust into leadership positions and evaluated under the ever watchful eye of uncompromising mentors and trainers.
Can your actions, planning processes and decisions stand up to the scrutiny of comparison against Army doctrine, values and leadership competencies?
An exemplary Soldier recently commissioned from the Officer Candidate School at 27 years of age with a wife and young child.
Like all other OCS applicants, he had earned a bachelor’s degree, was a U.S. citizen, was under 33 years of age, easily passed the physical fitness test and passed the accessions board.
He was the ideal candidate, and like all other candidates, his time at OCS marked the beginning of his commissioned officer career. One of the traits that set this candidate apart was that OCS also marked the end of his noncommissioned officer career.
Every Soldier in the Army accepts and expects his comrades to uphold the Army values, but the NCO is known as the standard bearer. There are few that can claim to hold the same deference to the standards of the Army.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that a successful NCO would be successful at OCS, whose motto, remember, is “STANDARDS! NO COMPROMISE!”
Now, in a time of force-shaping boards and reductions in force, it is more important than ever to promote our leaders from within. Commanders, first sergeants, and sergeants major should develop junior leaders, not just to be outstanding senior NCOs, but to pursue a commission.
“From my experience, officers are the epitome of composed professionals,” wrote one NCO OCS candidate on his entrance exam when describing some traits of good officers. “The most impressive trait I have observed is the energetic determination to accomplish any task that lay before them.”
These are the same characteristics we expect from our NCO corps.
More than 70 years ago, Capt. Michael “Iron Mike” Paulick saw the same traits in a young sergeant under his command. In 1944, Paulick issued a battlefield promotion to Sgt. Audie Murphy as a commissioned officer. As a second lieutenant, Murphy went on to earn our nation’s highest award – the Medal of Honor.
Every leader has the opportunity and responsibility to identify exceptional noncommissioned officers and to mentor them about pursuing a commission. Guiding our nation’s best toward the commissioned officer corps does not minimize the importance of NCOs. They are the “Backbone of the Army.” Every Soldier deserves a great leader, and every NCO deserves the best commanding or supervising officer possible.
During fiscal year 2015, Army accessions policy limited applicants to six years of prior active federal service. This policy, coupled with the required bachelor’s degree, prevented many experienced and talented NCOs from applying to OCS. A four year degree is still currently required, but the restriction to time in active federal service is no longer applicable.
If you are one of the many talented and driven NCOs who has earned a degree before or while on active duty, this is the self-development and initiative expected of OCS candidates and commissioned officers.
If you or someone you know lives by the Army standards, without compromise, has the energetic determination to accomplish any task and wants increased responsibility, then visit https://www.hrc.army.mil/Officer/Officer%20Candidate%20School and start preparing for a career in the commissioned officer corps today!