We were slated to leave Camp Swift in Texas early in the morning, so most of us went down the night before to do a gear layout and save ourselves from waking up in the middle of the night to drive to Austin. That turned out to be a good choice. The people that didn't were scrambling the next morning to unpack and repack all their gear to ensure they had all the items on the packing list. [Note: they didn't send anyone home for packing list deficiencies but it makes you look bad when you give the excuse that you weren't issued something. Plan on spending a good amount of your first few drill checks on buying things your supply sergeant won't issue you.] We left in two charter busses with 43 officer candidates on schedule. Per Texas tradition we made a "say goodbye to Texas" stop at the first rest stop in Oklahoma and got smoked there before continuing on. About 11 hours later we arrived at the Kansas Regional Training Institue (KSRTI). It wasn't what I was expecting- just a few buildings in the middle of Salina, KS. Immediately after arriving, we got smoked for about three hours by the Texas cadre. Long day.
Welcome to Kansas
Day two started out with in-processing and the opening ceremony. From there, 130 candidates representing Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois were marched onto the parade field. That's when everything broke loose. The hot afternoon sun already bumped temps into the 100's and the TAC's just had at us. It was an hour of low crawling, push ups, flutter kicks, front-back-go's, 3-5 second rushes, and any other forms of exercise the individual TAC's felt like throwing in. At breakfast we were told to take a piece of fruit for a snack later on- when I went through bananas were all that was left. Needless to say, it did not survive this event and it destroyed my brand new OC Guide and training schedule... outstanding. A few people were immediately dropped from the program as heat casualties- you have to show up hydrated and in excellent physical condition. We finally got into our assigned squads and platoons which had an even mix of people from all the represented states. The rest of the day was more smoke sessions and getting our lockers and beds inspection ready. Usually we'd come back to our bays looking like this:
You'd think a week they call classroom week would be relatively easy, and in some aspects it was, but they found every opportunity to smoke us. Lights out was between 2230 and 0430. Usually you were lucky to be in bed by 2330 and then there was generally fireguard that would take up another hour in the middle of the night. Four hours of sleep was the average most people got each night. Add on top of that the physical exhaustion that came from the activities outside the classroom, and heavy meals right before and it made staying awake a constant battle. Each day was about eight hours of death by Powerpoint and tests were given at the end of the blocks of instruction. Each test had to be passed with a 70% or above to continue in the program and none of the tests were a cake walk. The hardest test was probably the LandNav test. I would consider myself to be confident in my skills but this test also required speed. If you couldn't finish the problem in two minutes you weren't going to complete the test (the sleep deprivation also added a fun twist to this dilemma). I ended up passing all the test but I probably won't be up for any academic honors at the end of OCS.
Early on in classroom week we also completed a 5 mile ruck march. The time standard is the same for males and females and it must be completed in under 1:45:00 with a 35-40 lb ruck, not including water, helmet, and load bearing vest. The fastest male finished in 59 minutes and the fastest female finished in 1:18. Average time was probably in the 1:25 range. The course was half pavement and half fine gravel roads and all of it was extremely flat. A lot of people had blisters after the event. I'd spent a lot of time preparing my feet beforehand so I was fine.
I also had my 48 hour leadership position during the first week. Be ready for failure and for everything to be your fault. No one on in our platoon got a "satisfactory" on their overall evaluation. Fortunately you don't need one until Phase II. I was a squad leader, so I was fairly low profile compared to the people that were 1st sergeant or company commander.
My favorite part of OCS was the five minute helicopter ride to our bivouac site for our field training. I've never ridden in a helo before, so it was quite the experience. We got to ride in UH-60 Blackhawks with the doors open- I had a seat on the edge facing aft. I've never experienced anything like it. It was old hat for those who had been deployed but it sure beats a day at the office.
The rest of the week was largely dedicated to LandNav training. This is where a pair of well broken in boots was worth their weight in gold. Each day we were on the course twice- once during the day an once at night. Each course had us walking 4-6k of hilly, uneven terrain. (Somehow they actually found a hilly, vegetated plot of land in Kansas). We did the course with instructors, then small groups, then we did an individual diagnostic test, then the final day in the field we did our test. I got 7 out of 7 points in the day course but only 3 of 5 points at night. I got stuck on my 4th point. Pretty sure somebody moved it before I got there... Fortunately, the night course only required you to get 2 of 5 points to be a "go" for the test. We did all of our training exercises on the north course but the final test was on the south course. Everyone seemed to agree that the north course was harder overall but the south course was more difficult to use terrain association to navigate as the terrain wasn't as prominent. If you were fortunate enough to have trained at Camp Swift in Texas on the LandNav course the Kansas course shouldn't give you any trouble.
The weather out in the field was typical of Kansas. Temps in the 100's and sustained winds of 30+ mph all day long. We had one storm roll in that I got to watch while I was roving around the camp on fireguard. Watching the lightning dance across the open prairie was spectacular. They moved us into busses for a few hours until the lightning had all passed. We also got to enjoy the blanket of stars that stretched across the sky each night. I've never seen stars that clearly- even to the point that I could see the gaseous trails of the Milky Way. The field site was nothing short of a spectacular display of God's beautiful creation.
We had a church service out in the field on Sunday night, and it was quite heavily attended. Throughout the two weeks, I ran into a lot of people who were committed Christians. Three out of 40 people in our platoon were pastors on the civilian side and weren't there to be chaplains, but officers in combat arms. I was really encouraged to see so many believers stepping up to lead. The military truly is a mission field, and it looks like God is preparing a crop of officers to be salt and light to a community that needs to know him.
By the end of the two weeks I've never smelled so bad. The unhygienic ripeness was a badge of honor- earned by hard work and determination. We moved back to KSRTI for recovery ops by bus. We got back around 0200 after our night LandNav test and the TAC's were quick to remind us we weren't home yet. We were yelled and screamed at until we had all of our gear off the trucks and we were in bed. The next day we played "Combat Dodgeball" in place of our normal PT. That was actually really fun. From there we started getting everything ready for the battalion commander's inspection. Orders kept constantly changing as the deadline got closer and it was a struggle to get everything laid out like the TAC's wanted it. At the time the inspection was supposed to begin, they dragged us all outside and smoked the living daylights out of us. I was on the verge of puking my guts out when it was finally over. Apparently, there would be no inspection and we were ordered to secure all the gear we had laid out and go to sleep.
The last day was fairly chill. We cleaned everything, turned in our weapons, had a closing ceremony and were turned back over to our state's control. Immediately following the closing ceremony we boarded our busses back to the Lonestar State. We got smoked again after we crossed the Texas border at the first rest stop we came to. By that point it didn't phase any of it- we knew we were done. We came back with 39. We lost one soldier to paperwork issues, one female found out she was pregnant, one didn't pass LandNav, and one was a heat casualty on the first TAC attack on day one. And from here Texas Class 56 moves on to Phase II.
If you're going to Phase I, here are a few things not on the packing list that you'll want to have.
- Fox River Socks- Yeah, they're expensive, but when you spend days on your feet you can't put a price tag on blister free feet.
- Protractor- Because the standard issue one sucks.
- Ranger Beads- An essential for LandNav.
- Master Lock Speed Dial- Perfect for operating under pressure and in the dark. I HIGHLY recommend getting these. Follow the instructions precisely when setting it up. Also available at Lowes.
- Super Fine Map Pens- The smaller your points are on the map, the more accurate you can be. And when you're looking for a square 4 inches by 6 inches on a course that's a square mile in size, precision matters.
- Baby Wipes- Most days showers won't be an option. Especially out in the field.
- Name tapes/patches- To make your life easier, set up your uniforms (including patrol caps) with all the patches, name tapes, and rank insignia you need. You'll be glad you did.
*All photos taken from Kansas Officer Candidate School Alumni Association Facebook page