FORT PICKETT, Va. – The first phase of becoming a commissioned officer in the Virginia Army National Guard began Jan. 24-26, 2014, for 33 new officer candidates. The weekend was Zero Phase for Class 57 at the Virginia Army National Guard’s Officer Candidate School, located at the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute.
“The first weekend of Zero Phase introduces candidates to the OCS environment,” explained Capt. Jonathan J. Fair, training officer for the Virginia National Guard’s OCS program. “Many experience culture shock because being an officer candidate is different from anything that they may have previously experienced in the military.”
For the new officer candidates the weekend included meeting the senior leadership for the first time and learning about the steps that lie ahead for them as they continue along the path toward receiving their commissions. The majority of the class has no prior military experience beyond completion of Basic Combat Training.
The major training event for the weekend was day and night land navigation training, conducted on the snow-covered hills of one of Fort Pickett’s land navigation training areas. The candidates partnered together in teams of two, plotted their points on a provided map and then set off for their start points before heading into the woods to find their points, being mindful of pace count and azimuth as they went.
“I personally enjoy land navigation as it is quite similar to hiking, which is one of my most enjoyable hobbies,” said Officer Candidate Kenneth Wilson, who previously spent four years in the U.S. Navy as an enlisted Sailor. “There is always a small sense of achievement when you come across that point you were assigned to locate and the overall experience is very gratifying.”
After completing day and night land navigation training, the candidates returned from the field and received teaching feedback from the platoon trainers on their performance and guidance on how they can improve, both as individuals and collectively.
“The weekend went extremely well despite the extremely cold conditions,” Fair said. “The candidates persevered and showed the desire and heart that is necessary to complete OCS. They have a long road ahead and significant leadership challenges to overcome, but they have collectively and individually taken those important first steps.”
The candidates all have unique and personal reasons for joining the Virginia Army National Guard’s OCS program. Some, like Officer Candidate James Greenhow, hope to commission in order to follow in the footsteps of family members.
“I am excited about receiving a commission,” Greenhow explained. “I know the government doesn’t owe me anything, but I’ve always wanted to become a commissioned officer ever since my father served in the Army.”
Requirements for entering the Virginia National Guard’s traditional OCS program include successfully passing the Army Physical Fitness Test, meeting Army height and weight requirements, the completion of at least 90 college credits, as well as Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training or have received the OCS option when joining the Guard and a GT score of 110 or above. Those interested in entering the OCS program must also have a birth certificate or proof of citizenship as well as a current physical, and must have submitted a request for a secret security clearance and have an expiration of time in service, or ETS, beyond the date of their projected commissioning.
For the candidates, their zero phase weekend was only the beginning of a long process toward a commission. Over the next several months, the candidates will be tested physically and mentally as they learn how to be leaders and make their way through the program. Not all the candidates will succeed, but those who do will earn their commission in the fall of 2015.