VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Twelve Virginia Army National Guard officer candidates completed Phase I of Officer Candidate School and launched their training into Phase II during a recent drill weekend, held July 16-18, 2021, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Virginia’s OCS is taught by cadre assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute and the first drill of Phase II was held at SMR as a nod to the program’s historic past.
“The reason we come to SMR every year is to tie back to the roots of the schoolhouse,” said Capt. Richard H. DeKeyser, OCS course manager, who explained that the program first began at SMR. “We teach them the history and legacy of the schoolhouse and give them a good academic class, both on the federal program and Virginia’s heritage."
After learning the history, the candidates conducted a road march to the beach and participated in field training, and then rucked back to receive their guidon.
“If there was one part of the program, this is probably the one that stands out the most,” said 1st Lt. Kristen R. Healy, one of the Training, Advising and Counseling Officers, or TACs, for OCS. “This first weekend of Phase II is probably the most important, not only because they are getting the guidon, but because they are learning to be cohesive and work together as a team.”
Healy stated that Phase II is where the candidates begin to meld together with their Virginia peers since Phase I is conducted regionally with candidates from other states.
“This is their first time hitting the ground running as the Virginia class,” Healy said. “That’s what makes this weekend such a cool exercise.”
For officer candidates, there are two routes to commissioning – traditional or accelerated. Both programs include pre-OCS, and Phases I-III. The candidates drilling at SMR are enrolled in the traditional program, and Healy said the total duration is 18-22 months, depending on how long the candidates spend in pre-OCS.
“It's a long period of high expectations and requirements,” said Maj. Matthew C. Guyer, commander of the Virginia National Guard’s OCS. “There's a lot of stressful situations, especially in some of the earlier phases."
Guyer explained that pre-OCS and Phase I are both in a basic training-like environment, with strict rule enforcement and protocols the candidates must follow. Pre-OCS, held over regular drill weekends, focuses on getting the candidates administratively ready for OCS and preparing them for the rigors of Phase I, which is conducted as a two-week annual training in the summer. Phase I of OCS concentrates on the foundations of leadership and teaches the importance of teamwork, with a field training exercise, or FTX, and land navigation serving as key events.
Once the candidates complete Phase I, they return to their home state to begin Phase II, which is conducted over 12 months of drill weekends. This phase is academics-heavy, with lessons on leadership, fire support, military history, supply management, operations orders, troop leading procedures, communications and tactics.
“During this time, the candidates are constantly being fed information,” said DeKeyser, explaining that the candidates have responsibilities and tasks to complete outside the confines of their regular OCS drill weekends. “They are working throughout the month on top of their IDT.”
After they successfully meet the requirements of Phase II, the candidates conduct another two-week training period for Phase III, after which they receive their branch assignment and, ultimately, their commission.
“My favorite part of the school so far is learning how to be an effective leader under high stress and pressure,” said Officer Candidate Joshua A. Tomes. My expectations for myself coming through OCS are to become a highly qualified leader of Soldiers who is capable of looking after their welfare and leading them effectively through whatever role I may be given.”
Tomes was assigned the role of platoon leader for the first drill of Phase II and stated that this enabled him to push himself to become more efficient with communication directives towards his peers.
“I learned how to effectively communicate directives to the student leadership beneath me so that we all emerged successfully from the weekend,” he said.