Friday, August 16, 2013

OCS: An Overview

First let me apologize for those of you who were hoping for some information before now. The whole purpose of me starting this was not to capture BCT, but to capture OCS. There are plenty of accounts of BCT.

Let me pick up where I left off and give a general overview of the National Guard Traditional Officer Candidate School. Do keep in mind that states run their traditional program. One state can vary quite a bit from another.

Phase 1:
Phase 1 was two weeks of torture really. I'm sorry if that isn't what you want to hear, but it is what it is. Just like any other experience I've had so far in the military though, it is all about your mentality. If you go there and constantly count the minutes, worry about whether or not you're going to get smoked, etc; it will be miserable. If, however, you keep in mind why you are there and focus on the end state rather than the temporary pain or fatigue, you will be good to go.

Big things for Phase 1, LAND NAV! My Phase 1 was in South Carolina. The land nav course wasn't horrible, but it also wasn't easy. You need to study up on your land navigation before you get down there as you will only have two chances to pass day and night land nav. Some important things to remember about land nav is: don't try something new when you get there - stick with what you know, take your time plotting your points, when you step off - be confident - don't doubt your plotting or pace.

You will take tests that you have to pass at Phase 1, but you will learn what you need to know there. There are other ways to get kicked out as well, like integrity violations, but the biggest killer is land nav. Don't let it scare you though. NC came back with everyone we took down there. Just make sure you are ready.

Other than that, there is sleep deprivation, a lot of death by powerpoint, but if you let it, it can also be a lot of fun. Our first week was garrison time. We had some days where all we did was sit in the class room with "breaks" in between classes. "Breaks" were going outside and getting smoked, but believe me, you'll get to the point where you want to be smoked just to get out of the classroom for a little while. We had a leader's reaction course (obstacle course where different people take charge of the group) and at the confidence course (individual obstacles, rappelling, etc).

The second week was almost entirely in the field. The first few days we practiced land nav with some lane guides. The next days we took our land nav practical. In the evenings, we did some WBTDs (warrior tasks and battle drills like weapons maintenance, basic tactics, etc). The field time wasn't that bad, so long as you could keep your mind off the time.

Important things for Phase 1: LAND NAV, be physically fit and in regs, go with the right attitude, LAND NAV

Phase 2:
Ah, Phase 2, where I spent a year of my life. There are pros and cons to the traditional program. One big con is that it drags on forever, but for me, as an 09S, having no previous military experience, this was the right choice for me. It allowed time for information to sink in between drills. I believe it also better prepared us for a career in the National Guard. Why? Because instead of being stuck in a training environment for 4 weeks, being in leadership where all of our troops are present and in the training mindset, we had to function through the month with jobs, families, and the other normal life events competing for our time and attention.

Phase 2 progressed similar to BCT with regards to treatment. The first several months, you could expect a smoke session multiple times a drill. Then it gets a little better, and by the end, it is truly a mentoring environment.  For NC, it started with most of the first drills being all classroom training. Around the middle of the course, we started having more focus on WTBDs, and by the back third, we were in the field all drill running squad lanes preparing for Phase 3. This was a big difference from many of the other states. NC did a great job training us for Phase 3 as the focused the back part of Phase 2 on Squad Lanes. Each candidate had run 1 or 2 lanes every drill for 4 drills, tailoring their OPORD template and honing their lane leadership skills. On the contrary, other states came having run only a few drills TOTAL, meaning only a handful of candidates ever got to lead a lane before Phase 3.

Phase 2 is your time to step up. Don't be a ghost in phase 2. If there are volunteer opportunities for class leadership, take them! This gives you the opportunity to build experience, make mistakes in the training environment, and, HELLO, it helps you in your peer reviews and in the class ranking! I was the class treasurer and I was always ranked high in the peer reviews with a large part due to the fact that I was highly visible to the class.

Be quick to build a rapport with your TACs. This is not like BCT where they don't want to talk to you or know your name (or at least it shouldn't be). They are there because they want to build officers. The sooner you can show them that you and your class are ready, willing, and able to learn, the sooner you will turn it into a mentor phase from a TAC phase.

Don't forget your PT!!!

This is the phase where we lost candidates. We lost many actually. Phase 2 started with 27 candidates. By the end of the first drill, three were gone. Why? Because they rang the bell and quit when they got yelled at. I'm not saying they would have made it, but they never really tried. Now, for at least one of them, it was because she realized she wasn't ready or didn't want to be there. If that is you, there is no shame in pursuing another course. The OCS road is not for everybody. I don't mean that everyone is not "good enough", it is not a hierarchy thing. I mean people are made for various different skill types. The army needs NCOs, Warrant Officers, and Officers - and probably in that order.

We are getting ready to graduate next weekend - with 18. So how did we lose the others. Well, some just didn't need to be there. They were not going to make good officers regardless of the training. Some failed at their PT. Others - life got in the way.

As for PT, you will have rucks to complete, a release run, and PT tests. Again, you have two chances to pass. If you fail anything (physical, practical, or academic test) you're out of the program. You may or may not be able to start with the next class, depending on the decision of your commander.

Important things for Phase 2: stand out - in a good way, maintain PT, study, be proactive

Phase 3:
There is one thing to know and pass at Phase 3 - TROOP LEADING PROCEDURES. This includes knowing how to develop and brief an OPORD and build a sand table in the field environment. If you have this down, you will pass Phase 3 (again - short of integrity violations and the like).

Use Phase 2 Squad Lanes to develop and hone a good OPORD template that you can use in Phase 3.

Our Phase 3 was Alabama. The first couple of days we were in garrison. They had their rules and SOPs for garrison, and the accelerated candidates were really hard core about them. WARNING - there were a TON of Blue Falcons at Phase 3. Don't trust anyone outside of your state and CADRE! We almost lost a candidate over Blue Falconry.

Make it through the garrison game and you will be in the field quickly. Week 1 is almost all in the field. You perform Squad Lanes all day, every day. You might get two chances at Squad Lanes, so you better pass the first time. Again, don't worry about tactics - that's what BOLC is for - worry about what you have to do before you cross the LD (TLPs, OPORD). That will get you your GO. The rest of it is just for fun. By the way, you time from brief to LD will vary from 20 minutes to over an hour. Just be prepared for the worst case.

You'll do a combat water survival test, consisting of a 15m swim with a weapon, a test where you jump in with a vest and weapon - remove it - and resurface, and a test where you jump off a diving board blindfolded - remove the blindfold - and swim to the wall. It helps if you can swim, but even if you can't, this is an "attempt" event. That means, if you attempt it - if you jump in and sink like a rock - you pass. There are tons of CADRE and lifeguards to save those who cannot swim. If you want to look like a pro though, start practicing now. Swimming is very different in a full set of ACUs (with boots) and a rifle being held out of the water with one hand.

The second week is really just for fun. It consists of Platoon Lanes. Kind of a waste of time in my humble opinion. I really wish the program were restructured so that time was used to learn practical skills for Platoon Leaders. What's not practical about it you ask? Well the lanes utilized Vietnam era tactics. Even if you are branching Infantry, it wasn't enough to really teach you anything. Being that most are not branching Infantry, some more practical training would have been welcome. I don't mean tactics are useless, but just throwing a mission at you and running you through it to kill time did seem pointless.

I did not receive one rep of corrective training at Phase 3. No smoke sessions. Other platoons and companies, however, did. Likewise, other individuals who screwed up, did. But again, don't get hung up on "will I get smoked or not". Is it a smoke session like Phase 1 is? No. If it was though, so what? You made through Phase 1, you can make it through Phase 3. Heck, it is just two weeks, with a year + behind you, between you and that gold bar.

So in a week and a day, I will be a 2LT. So I expect all comments to start with "Sir". (joking) I also got my top pick branch of Engineering - so I get to head back to Fort Lost in the Woods before too long for BOLC.

I may post again after some time as a PL to offer some advice to new PLs. Or I may forget and this will just be a dead blog. If, however, you have questions, feel free to ask them. I'd be happy to help if I can.

- OC Belvin

Monday, June 18, 2012

OCS Phase 1 - Back Home

Well, I am now officially Officer Candidate (OC) Belvin. Many of you have wondered where I've been and why no posts have been put up for a while. For the past few months I've been attending Pre-OCS. I didn't take the time to post because, well, there wasn't much that was post worthy. If you've been to RSP, Pre-OCS is very similar, but you learn a little more to prepare you for OCS Phase 1.
I just got back two days ago from OCS Phase 1, a two-week training period to kickoff the three phase traditional OCS program. The officer candidates from NC met up with candidates from several other states for Phase 1, what I consider the "weed out" period. It was very demanding training. Unlike BCT, where you can zone out from time to time, you always had to be on your "A game" here. Even with three TACs (that's what we call the trainers: Teach, Advise, Counsel) yelling in your ear, you still have to be giving the appropriate direction to your troops.
Our training day ran from around 0415 wakeup until around 0000 lights out most days. Most nights, those four hours were used for personal hygiene and planning (for current leadership) in addition to sleep. Needless to say, I am still catching up on sleep, along with family and work. I will post details about each day over the next few weeks. In the mean time, if you have any questions about BCT or OCS Phase 1, feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pre-OCS Weekend 1

Well I just finished up with my first weekend of Pre-OCS. There will be four weekends altogether before the first phase of OCS begins.
Pre-OCS is just what is sounds like. It is very similar to how RSP was prior to Basic Training. At least it was this weekend. We spent most of our time in the classroom learning important skills we will need at OCS. The primary focus was land navigation. It is pretty obvious this will be a heavy topic at OCS.
Saturday we did get some time outside for drill and ceremony, but not a lot. Sunday we had a partial PT test, but they wouldn't let us complete it due to bad weather. I am sure we won't get the luxury of staying dry in OCS though.
There aren't very many details to share from the weekend or advice to give. Just pay attention to the details and be confident.

Monday, January 9, 2012

November 21, Day 66

This is the last day I have to go without seeing or talking to my wife due to BCT. Tomorrow is family day!
The focus of today was graduation rehearsal and the Command Sergeant Major's inspection.
The rehearsal took all morning. 15 minutes alone was spent learning how to sit and stand properly. We will have more rehearsals tomorrow morning. I didn't mind it too much though because I know it is going to be an awesome ceremony.
We finished our ASUs today and wore them for inspection. We thought the CSM was going to inspect all of our gear, but he focused mainly on us. With the exception of one female who continued calling the CSM "Sergeant", everything went pretty well.
We turned in weapons tonight and will turn in our gear tomorrow. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. We were told if anything is rejected it will cut into our family time for us to correct the issue.
Tonight's going to be like Christmas Eve!

November 19/20, Day 64/65

There's really not much to write about today. The past two days have all been cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. We are cleaning every piece of gear we were issued and have to turn in. It has to be even more clean than when we received it in a lot of cases. Take for instance the kevlars (helmets), there cannot even be fuzz in the velcro that holds the pads. Or take for instance the ponchos or wet weather gear, you have to get out every stain.
This may not sound like much for a few items, but our Drill Sergeants have a method where they assign a small team (3-8 people) per equipment type to clean all of that gear for the platoon. So I and two others had to clean every duffel bag and laundry bag issued to the platoon. Others had it worse though since we could at least put ours through the laundry machines.
In between cleaning, we have also been assembling our ASUs for inspection and graduation. Shaping the beret has become an art form in the bay. It was amazing to see how much work actually goes into preparing the uniform and the beret. I new it was work, but I had no idea really.
We did finally get phone calls tonight and we turned in our platoon issue gear, so we are getting constant glimpses of the finish line.
Everything would be perfect except for on missing component, SLEEP! Sure, I fell asleep a couple of times sitting in the laundry room, but no one here has gotten any real sleep in the past two days. Hopefully though we can finish cleaning by tomorrow and be done with this.

November 17, Day 62

First let me offer a sincere apology for my long absence. Somehow I got in my mind that I had posted everything from Basic and was now waiting to resume posts during OCS. Fortunately, one reader sent me a message that made me aware of my error.

So now I will pick back up with Day 62 - The 16k Ruck March

Everyone in the bay woke up pumped. It was time for us to complete our graduation requirements with the final event: our 16k ruck march.
We started the day by returning to the FTX site to police more brass and trash so that the site was ready for the next group. Once we finished with the cleanup, it was time to have some lunch (MREs) and get on the road. As we ate our MREs, the Drill Sergeants decided to let us have a little fun. We were told that we have now earned the right to impersonate them and they would like to hear the best we had. There were many great skits, hard to describe any here though. Let's just say it was a great way to recap the good times and relieve a little stress.
One thing we did during the skits though was debut the 3rd platoon song. We actually did it twice. The first time, everyone tried to sing it together. The second time, DSO asked me to sing it so that they could understand the words. It was definitely a hit. I was even asked later at the DFAC to sing it to some Drill Sergeants in another company.
It actually wasn't too bad. The Drill Sergeants talked it up, telling us that had picked a route with many challenging hills, etc. And they did! But, knowing graduation was on the other end made it seem to go by even faster than the 12k.
As we arrived back to the main campus, where our barracks, DFAC, etc were, our cadre had us take an unexpected detour. We were formed up outside of a PT bubble, not our bubble. Music was playing loudly, so we knew something was going on. Our Drill Sergeants came by and talked to us about how proud we should be of our accomplishments. Talked to us about how we were now soldiers and gave us more advice about being in the military.
We marched into the bubble with a song playing over the speakers called "American Soldier" by Toby Keith. I am certain I have heard the song before in passing, but I never really paid attention to it before then. That day though, all of us now rough and tough soldiers were having to fight back some emotion.
The ceremony included some great, motivating speeches from the cadre and handing out of challenge coins. But the thing that will stick with me the most was when the 3rd platoon Drill Sergeants came each one of us and shook our hands, congratulating us on completing Basic Training.
Now it is time for what the Drill Sergeants have warned us will be the toughest part of training, preparing for equipment turn-in.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

November 16, 2011 Day 61

FTX 3 - Day 3

After finishing our last patrol mission, it was time to take on FOB security. We were tasked with keeping this large camp, full of holes in the perimeter (some of which our platoon made), secure. The PLs were tasked with running the FOB security, ensuring that the towers, gate, and perimeter were covered as well as maintaining a quick response team and keeping tabs on the patrols led by the other platoon. It would be difficult to ensure security in daylight with one platoon on the large FOB, but we needed to maintain it with much less than a whole platoon since we needed to have shifts to ensure the platoon stayed rested, and we needed to secure it during the dark hours as well.

Shortly after we started our rotation, the attacks began. It started with some pot shots outside of the perimeter, but it quickly escalated into full assaults. There were even assaults in which our DSs and company commander were specifically targeted for capture or assassination. Each time the assaulting force was successful in overtaking the FOB, just as we and the previous platoon were successful, but with each assault, our platoon got better and better at fending off the assault.

The assaults were actually quite welcome as they made our time on FOB security, and our last night on FTX 3, fly by. Soon it was time for us to leave the FOB and begin preparing for one of our final training events, the night infiltration course (NIC).

Night Infiltration Course

NIC was a great event. The entire company executed the course together. The course was approximately 300 meters long with concertina wire obstacles, simulated mortar rounds, and M-240Bs firing live rounds overhead. According to the range cadre, there have been fatalities during this training event, so it did have some amount of intimidation to it, but we were mostly psyched to execute this much anticipated mission.

Third  platoon was assigned as the main assault force. At the end of the course there was a small group of buildings. We were to low crawl the 300m course to cover just in front of the buildings and clear the buildings to complete the mission. First and second platoons crawled the course as well and provided security on the flanks.

When darkness fell on the course, the entire company lined up and got accountability. We moved to the started area which was a 6 ft wall with built in ladders spaced out along the line. We waited for a while as the DSs ensured everything was prepared, then some eerie music came on over the speakers and we were given the green light to start the mission. I was the first one up on my ladder and started towards the objective with a 3-5 second rush for the first 25 yards.

As soon as I hit the first line of concertina wire, the M-240s opened up and I hit the deck. Crawling under the wire was a bit more challenging than I anticipated. We were in full battle rattle with camelbaks on the back of our IBAs as well. I tried low crawling the first line of wire, but my camelbak kept catching the wire. I got through though and face a long crawl to the second line. I didn't imagine the rounds from the 240s would be too close to us, but I looked up just to see and observed a tracer that appeared to be just 10ft above my head. Needless to say, I kept low for the rest of the course.

The majority of the course was on loose sandy soil, but the last 20 yards was compacted into what felt like concrete. Low crawling on concrete is not anyone's idea of fun, but at the end we regrouped and prepared for the assault on the buildings. My fire team rushed forward and laid security as the other team cleared the building assigned to our squad. We moved to the end of the course laying security until all buildings were clear.

In the end, our DS grouped us together and was very pleased with the execution telling us it was one of the quickest executions of the course she or the other cadre had seen. We loaded up on trans and returned to the barracks for the first time in the last several days to get some much needed showers and some rest before our final training event, the 16K ruck march.