My National Guard Traditional State OCS Experience
There are a few different commissioning sources for becoming an Officer in the Army including ROTC, USMA, and of course…Officer Candidate School (OCS). Depending on your current situation and where you are in life plays a huge factor in determining which commissioning path you choose. If you are an A+ student under the age of 18 and want to set yourself up for long term success, then drop a application to go to West Point. If you’d like to go to college and have it paid for then you can choose to do ROTC. If you have already graduated and decide to join the service later in life or are much older then your only option is through federal or state OCS. I chose the National Guard Traditional State OCS route.
Federal OCS is 12 weeks long at Fort Benning. Traditional state OCS is either an 18 month program consisting of 3 phases; phase 1 being 2 weeks over the summer, phase 2 consisting of 11 ‘drill’ weekends, and phase 3 consisting of 2 weeks over the following summer. There is also an accelerated state OCS option that is only 9 weeks long which is the better option if you can get a slot, however be prepared for 9 straight weeks of suck. Some people would prefer this however over 14-16 months of ‘suck’. Even though you only have to tough it out over 3-4 day drill weekends, there is often a lot of homework and essays and OPORDS that need to be written in between drills as well as the leadership evaluation portion and the worry of whether or not you will make it out of phase 2. I’ll be covering my own experience going through the NY National Guard state OCS route.
Phase 0 consists of the drill before you go to phase 1 where you focus on putting together all your paperwork needed to become an officer. You will need to work with your recruiter on getting a Secret security clearance as well as work out the details of your contract. If you are an new to the Army, then you will enlist as a 09S and go to Basic Training first and then come back and start phase 0. Prior service guys transfer to your respective state’s RTI’s and begin going to phase 0 drills. My Phase 0 drills consisted of a lot of classroom instruction, land NAV, and APFT’s every drill. You will see a lot of turnover at phase 0 as many people will sign up thinking that OCS is a gentleman’s course and while it certainly isn’t Ranger School, it’s not for people who don’t seriously want to be leaders in the Army. Again, every state is different, however at one phase 0 drill we had 45 people attend. For context at graduation there were 10 of us left that got pinned. As with any course in the Army, come to phase 0 already in shape and it will make your life 10x easier. You will get smoked but as long as you don’t drop to your knees as soon as you hit the front leaning rest, you’ll be fine. You will get used to being in the front leaning rest as well as doing flutter kicks. Just suck it up, it doesn’t last forever. My mentality was “they can smoke me all day but they can’t stop time.”
Regardless of how crappy each drill started off, I just remembered that it was only 3 days and as long as I can make it to Sunday I’d be fine. Also, be sure to brush up on your land nav skills. I recommend you go out and buy a good compass because the last thing you want to rely on is getting one from supply. We also had our own protractors as well. It’s also recommended that you have a copy of the Ranger Handbook and you bring it to every drill. It will help you when you have to brief your OPORD, WARNO, and has good reference material for battle drills. You will need these in phase 1 so it’s better to buy them early on. Another thing to do in phase 0 is make sure you are squared away in regards to your TA-50 gear. You WILL need everything on the phase 1 packing list and in NY we had multiple showdowns each drill and we had a showdown as soon as we got to phase 1. God help you if you didn’t have every single item on the list as cadre were looking for any excuse to mess you up. If the packing list says 10 white hangers, make sure you have 10 white hangers, not metal and not not black. Make sure your ACH doesn’t have chipped paint and the straps and frame on your ruck are secure. Our duty uniform for phase 1 and 2 consisted of ruck, ach, flc, and weapon. We also had to label our all of our gear but depending on your state, it will be METT-TC dependent. We also conducted an APFT each drill during phase 0 and cadre were checking each month for improvement. They wanted to see that you wanted to be there. As a brand new 2LT, there was a lot of emphasis on making sure you sure up to your unit in shape as it sets the standard for your soldiers. Buy a good pair of running shoes and get a watch that tracks pace and distance. I personally like the Apple Watch as it’s GPS is pretty accurate. Be sure to check out my other article on how to improve APFT score where I give a detailed training plan.
Phase 1 sucks. It’s the first thing I’ll mention. From the moment we stepped foot at Camp Niantic in Connecticut, I knew it would be the longest 15 days of my life. In processing was in an administration building and everything was hurry up and wait like most things in the Army are. If you’ve ever been through 30th AG then you will know what I am talking about. While there wasn’t a shark attack like at basic training, there was a pretty intense showdown after in-processing. Right after in-processing there was a showdown with the TAC Officers from whichever platoon you were assigned to. As with many schools in the army, everything depends on your cadre and unluckily for me, my cadre took a disliking toward me from the beginning. Then again, it was their job to make us make decisions under pressure. The showdown was very specific and my cadre spot checked each item line by line down to the size and number of plastic bags we were to have. They would make you question every decision you ever made in your life with questions like “Are you sure you have everything on the packing list? If you lie to me, that is an honor code violation and grounds for being removed from the program.” and “You aren’t cut out to be an officer” as well as the “Beat your fucking face candidate” because I took too long to re-pack my gear into my duffle and ruck after it was all dumped on the floor. Here is also where we handed in our cell phones and car keys. Safe to say we all got very familiar with our cadre from the start.
We then went over to the barracks were we had a couple hours to set up our wall lockers, get linens, come up with SOP’s, etc. It can be very difficult coming up with SOP’s when each state has been doing their own thing the past couple months and then you combine 5-6 state and 100-110 candidates. This is also when rotating leadership positions began. We had a company CO, XO, & 1st Sgt. and then platoon level PL’s, PSG’s, & SL’s. God help you if you were given a leadership position one of the first few days. We went to chow and then had a meeting with the Battalion Commander. There was a locker inspection nearly every night and each wall locker had to be identical. If they weren’t you and your chain of command were going to be in the front leaning rest. If you’re canteens weren’t full or your weapon not labeled correctly, then that was ground for punishment as well. As you can see, there was a big focus on attention to detail.
The next morning we were woken up by our cadre around 5am to the sounds of banging and screaming to hurry up and get outside. I made the mistake of rushing and not putting on my socks and not shaving during the middle of the night like some guys did. Once we were outside we began the usual back and forth between front leaning rest, push-ups, flutter kicks, squats, and running about 200 meters out and then running back. Cadre took notice that I didn’t have high white socks on like everyone else and then scolded me and told me that I now had to run barefoot across the field and back with a battle who also had to do it barefoot. I felt bad for the guy but he didn’t seem to mad about it which was good for me. After I got back, cadre again took notice that I hadn’t shaven so I was punished for that as well. The next couple days consisted of classroom instruction on TLP’s, Military History, Ethics, UCMJ, Sharp & EO, METT-TC, etc. We also went out in the field for a 6 mile ruck march which normally is easy but after being smoked so much, not sleeping, and not getting enough food, there were a lot of individuals that dropped out. Some elected to do it again the following week while others were so hurt, they were forced to leave the program. In NY we started with 18 and came back from phase 1 with 14. We then went into the field for 3-4 days practicing land nav and then completing the night into day land nav course. You had to find 5/6 points which wasn’t too bad. If you sucked at land nav, you could have waited until daylight and then did a brisk walk to each point and still passed. I took my time and made sure I plotted my points correctly. Measure twice, cut once..am I right? Passed the course and then it was back in the classroom for more instruction. I was PSG after the critical events which helped as I could focus more on being a leader than worrying about passing land nav. Keep in mind that this whole time not much is changing in regards to locker inspections, formation inspections and spot checks etc. Everything on your FLC had to be tied down and if the tie down was loose or hanging off then whatever the item was got thrown very far across a field. I had the experience of low crawling in the hot July sun to go get my canteen that wasn’t tied down. My advice is to be squared away from the beginning and cadre won’t pick on you as much.
We spent one night in the field setting up a patrol base and then finished up phase 1 with a ‘celebratory’ run into the river nearby. I didn’t run because I had accidentally cut my finger off about halfway through phase 1. Luckily it was after all the critical events took place which were the ruck march and land nav. I had slipped and fell coming down the stairs and my ring finger got caught between my ruck frame and my rifle and was nearly severed. I went to the nearby hospital where it was stitched back together. I spent the next couple weeks waiting for it to heal. Thankfully the nail grew back but I still don’t have 100% feeling back in it yet. It was a freak accident that nobody ever expects to happen to them. Worst part was probably that I had to write a 1000 word hand written essay on the Army values with my left hand after lights out with a red lens flashlight. I had never been more excited to leave a place then when we finally got to go home. It was the longest 15 days of my life and I couldn’t wait to get back home. Nothing was going to stop me from becoming an officer – not a severed finger and certainly not anything that would be thrown my way.
Your phase 2 will very greatly based on which state you are from. In New York, our phase 2 experience wasn’t much different from phase 1. The only benefit was that you could just suck it up for the 3 days you were there. And while we hoped things would get better as we progressed throughout the months they very much didn’t. Our December drill still had us in the front leaning rest at around midnight in the snow and ice with out rucks on. We were constantly reminded that we “did this to ourselves” and while it was true for the most part, if cadre wanted to smoke you, they could find any reason to. So instead of getting smoked less, our cadre got more picky about what they smoked us for. I had colleagues in other states who would describe their drill weekends to me and it sounded very much like a gentleman’s course. There are pro’s and con’s to both. Getting smoked does help you pay more attention to detail and helps with discipline but their is a point of diminishing returns. After a while, everyone was freaking out all the time about it which made it hard to actually learn how to be a good leader. We would be in the field going over TLP’s and running lanes and a lot of us were afraid to ask questions out of fear of getting smoked. On the other end, I don’t think it’s appropriate to be smoking and joking with your cadre in phase 2 either.
Our phase 2 consisted of the following and in no particular order; 9 mile ruck march, 12 mile ruck march, 2 record APFT’s, exams on military ethics, army leadership military history, machine gun theory, military intelligence, supply, call for fire, tactical combat casualty care, as we as numerous STX lanes and 3 FTX’s. We had a 3 day FTX in NY, 3 day FTX in CT, and 4 day FTX in New Hampshire. They key to getting through phase 2 is making sure you get a ‘go’ on your leadership evaluation as well as maintaining your fitness. We had a couple guys not make it because they couldn’t pass the last APFT. The last thing you want to do is make it to the very end and not end up commissioning over your 2 mile run time. Also, you will end up missing something important that coincides with one of your drill weekends. It’s bound to happen. You can’t really miss any drill in OCS. On a very rare occasion, it is possible but it’s a pain having to make everything up.
Phase 3 consisted of 16 days summer training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. At this point, the only thing left between you and earning your commission was getting a “Go” on STX lanes. Mainly, getting a ‘satisfactory’ on 6/8 TLP’s (troop leading procedures). There wasn’t really any smoking unless the whole platoon screwed up. The first couple days were spent with your squad going over SOP’s and working with your Squad TAC on what their expectations were. Luckily our TAC went over what his expectations were for each of the troop leading procedures. At this point, you should also have had a good OPORD template shell made out and preferably laminated. You should also have worked with your squad to collectively put together a squad terrain model kit. Each grader has different expectation for the terrain model kit so make sure you pay attention to what your grader wants to see. Some graders were fine with a quick terrain model using MRE cardboard while others wanted to see the finest details up to where the windows were on a building.
During the first couple days we also did the Combat Water Survival Test which really wasn’t too bad even if you couldn’t swim. It consisted of 3 events which were 1) Swim length of the pool with full OCP uniform on including FLC & rifle. 2) Walk off the diving board in the deep end blindfolded with full OCP uniform on including FLC & rifle and then swimming to the side. 3) Jumping into the pool with full gear on and then proceeding to remove FLC while underwater and then swim to the edge. You had to at least attempt each event in order to get a ‘go’. Overall, it wasn’t too bad.
The remainder of the first week was spent running STX lanes as well as playing OPFOR and praying that you got a ‘go’ on your troop leading procedures. Out of the 100+ candidates there for phase 3, only 1 person did not get a ‘go’ so the odds are certainly in your favor. The days were super long and you will spend countless hours in the prone position trying to stay awake. Breakfast and dinner chow were hot and lunch was usually MRE’s.
The second week consisted of night ops, leadership reaction course, obstacle course, calling in a 9 line to a bird and practicing using a litter, 10 minute ride in a blackhawk, weapons maintenance, and lastly a staff ride to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Night ops weren’t too bad except you knew you weren’t getting much sleep that night. LRC & obstacle course were fun other than the sweltering heat. Weapons maintenance was all day and even if you thought you were done, you just ended up cleaning the OPFOR 249’s. Altogether, it was a good feeling knowing you already got a go and that you were just checking the boxes during week 2. Phase 3 was what it was a supposed to be, a learning environment. Your state won’t send you to phase 3 if they don’t feel you are ready. So if you make it this far, then you are on your way to commissioning.
Commissioning was big for me and should be big for you too. You are a leader now and even though you are a ‘butter bar’, people are always watching. Your soldiers are looking up to you. You now live in a fishbowl where no matter where you go, somebody will be able to see you. Don’t do anything stupid that will cause you to lose your soldiers trust and even worse, lose your commission. We hear all the time from enlisted colleagues and from our own experience how important leadership is. I still talk to people from basic training that tell me how much they hate their unit due to lack of leadership. Even though you are in the National Guard, that doesn’t mean that being an officer is part time. You need to be working in between drills to make sure drill weekend is successful. You will come home from your civilian job tired and then have meetings with your company commander. This is what you signed up for. There’s a quote I like and it goes “If you can’t get out of it, get into it,” and I apply it to many aspects of my life. Carry yourself with pride but be humble. Listen to your NCO’s and learn from your mistakes. Pay it forward and help out new LT’s as you progress in your career.
Getting pinned was one of the best days of my life and it should be for you too. State OCS will make you earn your Gold bar but I believe what’s great about it is that it will show you the kind of work you will need to do as a PL between drills and will make sure you pay attention to details. There are only Army standards, not National Guard standards, so be sure to continue learning and growing on areas that you need to improve. I am currently waiting to go to Transportation BOLC but I know that after going through OCS, I am ready for all of the challenges ahead of me. Less than 1% of the population joins the Army and then a small percentage of that decides they want to become officers. Feel free to reach out to me via instagram or the contact page on this website if you have any questions.
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can!”