FORT PICKETT, Va. – In a ceremony held Oct. 26, 2013, 10 officer candidates enrolled in Class 55 of the Virginia Army National Guard’s Officer Candidate School earned their commissions at Fort Pickett’s 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. The ceremony marked the end of a nearly two year journey for the candidates as they received their OCS diplomas, took their oaths of office and earned their second lieutenant bars.
“It’s been a long road,” said 2nd Lt. Jacob M. Mayes, who will be assigned to 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team as an infantry officer. He previously served six years in the Air National Guard before joining the Virginia Army National Guard to become an officer. “We’ve put a lot into it and we’ve gotten a lot out and so it feels really great to be achieving the goal and also moving on to the next step and becoming an officer.”
Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, acted as the guest speaker for the event, and spoke of the pride he felt for the officer candidates, reminding them that only one percent of the population serves in the military.
“We’re extremely proud of you all and you should be proud of what you’ve done,” Long said. “The military men and women that we have today, and in the Virginia National Guard especially, are committed to excellence and we’re committed to being the very best that we can be. The men and women that you’re going to lead are going to count on your commitment to excellence as well.”
Long also spoke to the candidates about the importance of earning the trust of their subordinates, and told them, “In this business, that less than one percent of us do, we ask people to sometimes put their life on the line and you want to make sure that they can trust you as young officers.”
The process of becoming officers for Class 55 began almost two years ago, with Phase Zero, a “weed out process,” according to Mayes, comprised of physical and mental challenges. Phase 1 consisted of a two-week training period, also replete with challenges designed to test candidates in a variety of ways. Phase 2 included a year of monthly drill periods that included classroom time as well as time and effort spent outside of drill weekends working on class and community projects. Phase 3, the final phase, consisted of a final two week training period that acted as a final test of the officer candidates leadership abilities and tested the knowledge they had gained over the previous months. Class 55 began with 44 officer candidates and finished with just 10.
“It feels fantastic to be here,” said 2nd Lt. Allen P. Smith, a former infantryman who deployed to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT and who has branched field artillery and will serve in 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th IBCT. “We’ve put a lot of work in and I’ve been looking forward to this for two years. It’s one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever had to do in the Army, but it’s been absolutely worth it.”
With the rigors of OCS behind them, Long reminded the candidates of the challenges that lie ahead. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “It’s not the end of anything – it’s the beginning of becoming a leader and making a commitment”
Following the remarks from Long, seven awards were presented – six for the candidates and one for a staff member.
The Harry Q. Rose Award, named for the only graduate of the Virginia Guard’s OCS program to have given his life in the service of his country, recognizes the candidate who most distinguished himself in leadership throughout the program, as chosen by the OCS cadre and staff, was presented to Officer Candidate Christian J. Tobe, who has branched infantry and will serve with 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT.
The Physical Fitness Award was an Army Achievement Medal and went to the candidate with the highest Army Physical Fitness Test score and was presented to Officer Candidate Samuel T. Goldman, who earned a score of 290, out of a possible 300, and has branched field artillery and will serve in the Illinois National Guard.
The Commandant’s Award for Academic Excellence recognizes the candidate with the highest academic average and went to Officer Candidate Christopher J. Griffin whose academic average of 95 was also the highest academic average in the entire region. Griffin branched field artillery and will be assigned to 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT.
The Leadership Excellence Award goes to the candidate with the average highest leadership rating through the different stages of OCS and went to Griffin.
The Colonel James B. Moore III Award, named for the first commandant of the Virginia Guard OCS, honored the officer candidate who showed the most progress throughout the program and was awarded to Officer Candidate Matthew D. Engel, who has branched quartermaster and will be assigned to Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th IBCT.
The Erickson Trophy was the final and most coveted student award presented and was awarded to Mayes as the distinguished honor graduate.
The final award presented was the Maj. Tom Bell Award, named for a former commandant, and was presented to the OCS staff member who best instilled the seven Army values and was awarded to Capt. Bradley W. Churchill, based on a blind vote from the candidates. For the first time, the vote was unanimous.
Following the presentation of awards, the candidates came on stage one at a time to receive their OCS diplomas and take their oath of office, administered by an officer of their choosing, before having family members and loved ones affix their new rank to their uniforms. The new lieutenants then received their first salute as officers from a noncommissioned officer before returning to their seats as lieutenants.
The officer candidates who completed the course and graduated were 2nd Lt. Matthew D. Engel, from Mechanicsville, Va. who works a history teacher; 2nd Lt. Samuel T. Goldman, who joined OCS to follow in his father’s footsteps and to make a difference in the lives of the Soldiers he will lead; 2nd Lt. Christopher J. Griffin, from Washington, D.C.; 2nd Lt. Joshua N. Hillsman, a Virginia Military Institute graduate who branched engineer and will serve with the 276th Engineer Battalion; 2nd Lt. Matthew A. Leybold, who branched armor and will serve with 2nd Battalion, 183rd Cavalry Regiment; 2nd Lt. Jacob M. Mayes, who branched infantry and hails from Roanoke, Va.; 2nd Lt. Gregory Redmond, who branched infantry and will serve with 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT; 2nd Lt. Justin R. Robey, a student at Virginia Tech who branched military intelligence and will serve with Company B, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 116th IBCT; 2nd Lt. Allen P. Smith, from Daleville, Va., currently a student Virginia Tech studying international studies; and 2nd Lt. Christian J. Tobe, a D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer who branched infantry and will serve with 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT.
“If you want to be an officer and go through this program,” Smith advised, “you need to examine yourself first and decide whether you want to serve people or whether you want to be served. If you come in with an attitude of wanting to be served, you’re not going to make it through, but if you come in with a genuine servant’s heart for people, then you’ll excel in this program.”
The Virginia National Guard Officer Candidate School was established in 1957 and officially began operation on April 19, 1958, and graduated its first class of 23 graduates on May 23, 1959. The school focuses on developing strong leadership skills among the enrolled candidates, along with rigorous physical development and consists of a branch immaterial program of instruction from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga.