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West Virginia's Officer Candidate School provides tough, but worthwhile challenges

By Staff Sgt. Justin Hough | West Virginia National Guard | June 02, 2017

KINGWOOD, W.Va — The United States Armed Forces are comprised of many traditions. For more than 365 years the Citizen-Soldiers of the Army National Guard have come to the aid of their neighbors, state and country during times of crisis and need. One such tradition, and one that plays a vital role in the ARNG and its mission, is the U.S. Army officer.

In the West Virginia Army National Guard, there is an opportunity for Citizen-Soldiers to achieve such a position while continuing to live their civilian lives and remain active in their families.

"The state Officer Candidate School (OCS) program is beneficial in comparison to the accelerated OCS program because duties continue between drills, with training meetings and class projects that are facilitated by student leadership," said Capt. Ryan Rectenwald, platoon trainer in the OCS program at the 197th Regional Training Institute at Camp Dawson, Kingwood, West Virginia.

"This directly relates to the time commitment outside of the drill weekend that is required by a National Guard officer. The state program provides a more realistic experience because the program requires you to find the balance between civilian career, family life and duties as an officer in the National Guard."

Rectenwald said that successful graduates have said that the course teaches them the level of detail of planning prior to a drill weekend, and that they are confident they can successfully plan and coordinate training at a high level when they arrive at their first assignment as an officer.

The state course is 16 months long and is broken down into four phases consisting of two, two-week periods of active duty training, one at the beginning and end of the course and weekend drills throughout to complete the rest of the course requirements. Training requirements include: physical conditioning, to include APFT, PT and ruck marches; drill and ceremony; land navigation; both written and practical exercises; leadership; operations; supply; field artillery; military intelligence; tactics; military justice; military history and training management.

"By the start of Phase III, officer candidates are expected to be performing at the level of a second lieutenant," said Rectenwald.

Officer candidates will attempt a three-event culminating exercise and an obstacle course, said Rectenwald. They will demonstrate squad and platoon level tactics and be evaluated on the Troop Leading Procedures. If the candidate passes their Field Leadership Evaluation and completes all other Phase III Program of Instruction they will commission as officers.

"The course is physically, mentally, academically, and emotionally challenging," said Rectenwald. "If you are going to attend OCS, come out in shape, not to get in shape. With the physical and mental challenges of the course, being in good shape will help with your ability to operate at a high level under the stress the course will place on you."

Once a candidate commissions, he or she becomes the managers, problem solvers, key influencers and planners who lead enlisted soldiers in their respective units and assignments. According to, being an officer in the U.S. Army not only serves as a point of pride during service but can also be useful in a civilian career. Employers place a high value on the discipline and leadership skills that the Army fosters in its Soldiers. Army Officers are often looked to as prime candidates for management roles and executive positions.

Prior to commissioning the officer candidates will receive their branch (known as a professional field). Once they receive their branch and commission they will attend Basic Officer Leadership Course for their respective branches. Each BOLC course is roughly four months in length. The newly commissioned officers will attend BOLC with fellow active, reserve and guard officers. At BOLC they will learn general knowledge required as a commissioned officer as well as information specific to their branch that will help them successfully serve as a platoon leader at their follow-on assignment.