The Making of a Warrant: Potential warrant officers get head start at Virginia’s Pre-WOCS

Virginia Guard Soldiers hoping to become warrant officers attend Virginia’s Pre-Warrant Officer Candidate School Feb. 23 at the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute at Fort Pickett. The weekend-long course enables prospective warrant officers to gain an understanding of what they can expect when they attend WOCS, either at Fort Pickett or Fort Rucker, Ala. The course is a requirement for all Virginia Guard Soldiers wishing to become warrant officers and includes an Army Physical Fitness Test, familiarization and training on the standard operating procedures candidates can expect to find in WOCS, and a land navigation course. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Virginia Guard Soldiers hoping to become warrant officers attend Virginia’s Pre-Warrant Officer Candidate School Feb. 23 at the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute at Fort Pickett. The weekend-long course enables prospective warrant officers to gain an understanding of what they can expect when they attend WOCS, either at Fort Pickett or Fort Rucker, Ala. The course is a requirement for all Virginia Guard Soldiers wishing to become warrant officers and includes an Army Physical Fitness Test, familiarization and training on the standard operating procedures candidates can expect to find in WOCS, and a land navigation course. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – At the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, Soldiers hoping to one day become warrant officers gathered Feb. 22-24 for Pre-Warrant Officer Candidate School. The course allows Soldiers with an interest in joining the warrant officer corps a chance to experience the challenges they’re likely to find should they go on to WOCS.

“The Pre-WOCS program is designed to give [reserve component] Soldiers who might have aspirations of becoming a warrant an opportunity to see what it’s like and it gives them a snapshot of what it’s like to be a candidate at either Fort Rucker or at the reserve component WOCS program here in Virginia,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian Temple, course manager for WOCS and Pre-WOCS.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Sgt. Kathleen Hopkins, from the 266th Military Police Company, who was undeterred by the rigors of the course and who came at the suggestion of her company commander. “You kind of expect what’s coming, but it’s all a surprise at the same time.”

The course acts as a condensed version of WOCS and began on Friday, Feb. 22, with an Army Physical Fitness Test that all students are required to pass in order to successfully complete Pre-WOCS. In the following two days, academics focused on standardization and attention to detail, as well as the procedures found in the most important chapter of the WOCS Standard Operating Procedure, chapter three. The course also included a land navigation course, the assignment of additional duties, just like the candidates would have in WOCS, as well as time for the Training, Advising and Counseling , or TAC, Officers to counsel the students and for the students to give feedback to the TAC officers on their experience at Pre-WOCS.

“This is the biggest class we’ve ever had and we’re almost at maximum capacity,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 William Lyles, the state command chief, of the course that had a starting roster of 21 candidates. This course was also the first Pre-WOCS taught in the newly-opened buildings at the RTI.

Just two other states have a Pre-WOCS program; Pennsylvania, which the Virginia program is built upon, and Louisiana, who adopted Virginia’s Pre-WOCS program after a site visit.

“In my opinion we have an extremely stellar program. A lot of people get a lot of benefits out of it,” said Temple.

In the Virginia Guard, attending Pre-WOCS is a requirement for all Soldiers interesting in submitting a packet to become warrant officers and Temple said he notices a difference during WOCS between candidates who have taken Pre-WOCS and those who have not, and has received the same report from many new warrant officers as well. During a recent conversation with a newly-pinned warrant officer, Temple said, “He told me that he could tell the people who were prepared and that he was one of them. He was very thankful that Virginia has this course and that he got to attend it.”

Several of the instructors at Pre-WOCS are former graduates of the program themselves. They returned to teach in order to give back to a program that helped them succeed as they began the path toward becoming members of the warrant officer corps. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Thompson completed both Pre-WOCS and WOCS at Virginia’s RTI and said, “Staying involved in the course was something I wanted to do, to come back and help other potential warrant officers and help guide them through the process.”

Thompson said the program is a great chance for Soldiers to figure out how serious they are about attending WOCS and can help weed out those Soldiers who aren’t up for challenge. “It’s not going to hurt our feelings if you come through Pre-WOCS and decide not to go. We want you to be 100 percent sure that this is the career path you want to take before you go to WOCS,” he said.

Weeding out unprepared students at Pre-WOCS before sending them on to WOCS, whether at Fort Pickett or Fort Rucker, also allows the state to save money by ensuring that candidates who do attend WOCS are as ready as possible for the challenges of the course, according to Lyles.

Candidates who attend the course do so in a normal drill status and attend the course in lieu of attending their scheduled weekend drills with their units. Soldiers who take the course who aren’t ready to go to WOCS or who must leave the course for any reason generally have the option to return and try again when they are more prepared.

Soldiers who would like more information on becoming a warrant officer should contact Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Martin, the Virginia Guard’s warrant officer strength manager, at 434-298-6140 or 540-717-4666 or by email at joshua.g.martin5.mil@mail.mil.

This story is the first in a multi-part series on the Virginia National Guard’s Warrant Officer Candidate School.

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Photos: Prospective warrant officers gain preview of WOCS – Feb. 23, 2013