FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The North Carolina Army National Guard welcomed 19 new second lieutenants into its ranks during a graduation ceremony of the 139th Regiment's Officer Candidate School (OCS) Class 62 and the Accelerated Office Candidate Class (AOC) 30, at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Oct. 16.
Aside from the traditional challenges during officer candidate school, the candidates had an additional challenge to overcome this year: the COVID-19 pandemic.
"During my time as an instructor and now commander, there's no other year that I'm aware of that compares to what happened this year," said Maj. Zachary Rucho, 139th Regiment's OCS commander. "When you throw something like the COVID-19 pandemic halfway through OCS, it takes a lot of adjustment and a whole lot more coordination and communication between the staff and officer candidates because the schedule and guidance were always changing."
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the second half of the OCS Phase II training, which is the bulk of a candidate's OCS experience, pushing training an additional two months to prioritize the safety of the cadre and candidates.
"We had to lengthen our whole program to adjust for restrictions and safety protocols for staff and students," said Master Sgt. Zachary Pitts, chief instructor of the North Carolina Military Training Academy. "It required more adaptability and flexibility to an ever-changing schedule."
With safety parameters covered, the next challenge was making sure the candidates were ready to take on Phase III, in Alabama, for their final field exercise.
"I can't emphasize enough how proud I am of our cadre that made sure the students were getting the training they needed to complete Phase III," said Rucho. "And I'm proud of the students that were able to adapt from in-person training to virtual training with a positive attitude."
Overall, this year's OCS with the added challenges made a very tough course even more difficult. The candidates that made it through came out even more confident as they transfer to their new leadership positions.
"In the long run, I think these additional challenges made the students even more resilient leaders that can adapt to change under pressure and take on any difficult situation," said Pitts.
North Carolina Army National Guard's Officer Candidate School was established at Fort Bragg on Dec. 19, 1957, and has commissioned over 1,800 officers. The school trains and evaluates potential commissioned officers in leadership, military skills, professionalism and physical fitness ethics, and commissions those who qualify as second lieutenants in the Army Total Force.