Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning celebrates 75th anniversary


FORT BENNING, Ga. (WATE) – The Trump administration plans a significant increase in military spending over the next fiscal year, which begins in July. That means more men and women will be needed to fill the ranks – not only enlisted people, but officers as well.

Many men and women in the military have died defending our country. Their names are etched on these monuments. Many more are willing to serve. One such training facility for the Army is in Columbus, Georgia, at Fort Benning.

The Army’s Officer Candidate School is about learning leadership. For 75 years, young men and women have been put to the test here. At Fort Benning, Georgia, OCS challenges candidates to make sure they have agile and adaptive leadership capabilities.

When candidates successfully complete their training and assume command of a platoon, the whole equation changes. In the modern Army, they’re taught to be critical thinkers, capable of executing a command with minimal guidance. To be successful to graduate from this rigorous program, a candidate’s value system has to be straight and narrow.

“Most of all we want them to be of strong moral character. With the demands of combat today, and the fact that within six months of graduating from OCS will be leading soldiers to Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, they absolutely have to be the moral compass of the platoons that they are leading,” said LTC Mark Andres, OCS Commandant.

A group of fellow former candidates who later became Army officers, including Don Dare, got to meet and talk with the men and women who will represent one third of second lieutenants commissioned into the Army. Today’s officer candidates first attend basic training for 10 weeks before beginning 12 weeks of OCS. Upon graduating, the newly commissioned officers do branch training at 16 different Army schools around the country.

“So many places in the civilian world, you don’t have the opportunity to be a leader, you are a follower. I wanted to get the opportunity to get that experience,” said OCS candidate Melanie Duncan.

All candidates are required to be college graduates. Candidate Marcus Ussery says the training has changed him.

“Everything from how to be an effective leader to better understanding myself and keeping strong self-discipline, sir,” said OCS candidate Marcus Ussery.

The OCS of 50 years ago commissioned thousands of officers every year. As the Vietnam war grew, 40,000 to 50,000 new officers were needed, but ROTC and West Point produced less and less. Six new schools were added back then as the demand for junior officers increased. The training in today’s modern Army is different; it’s computerized. Weeks are spent indoors, honing skills by using a computer-fired weapon, which tells you immediately whether you hit your target or not. The idea is to improve accuracy here before you go into the field.

“In the old days when I came through, when you came through, it was a drill sergeant looking at you. Now, it’s, a computer tells you that you are tilting the weapon too far to the left or if you are not getting a good sight,” said Col. Thomas Boone, a former OCS candidate.

“They’re capable. They’re even better trained. I’m fully confident they can pick up the ball and run,” said LTC Charles Kettles, a Medal of Honor recipient.

One thing that hasn’t changed are push ups. However, one thing that will change is the number of candidates coming through the program next year. That is expected to double.

“In our 75 year history, we are the Army’s mechanism to rapidly grow the officer population,” said Andres.

The challenges of OCS are difficult, but the ultimate reward of serving your country can’t be measured.

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