Wednesday, June 5, 2013

National Guard Officer Branching Process (From the Limited Perspective of an Officer Candidate)

This month we got our branches- one of the most exciting parts of OCS thus far. The process seems more magic than method, and our class had a lot of questions about how it was going to work, so here's a basic timeline of how it happend.

Early this spring we had a branch briefing- essentially an overview of each of the 16 officer branches in the Army. The title of the presentation should have been "99 Ways the Army Will Take the Branch You Thought Was Going to be Cool and Suck All the Fun Out of it", subtitle: "And How Fast You'll End Up Behind a Desk." It was disillusioning at best. (See editorial comments at the bottom.)

As an Officer Candidate you're at the mercy of the National Guard. It's not like the enlisted side where if you don't like the MOS slot that's open to you at the MEPS station, you don't sign the papers. As an officer you take what you get and do your duty. The state fills 2LT slots with OCS and ROTC graduates, so each commissioning source is given a proportional amount of paragraph and line numbers (equivalent to job codes in the civilan world) to fill.

The exception to that rule is that you can be a go-getter and find a 2LT slot in a unit and branch you want and get that commander to put it in writing and send it to your state HQ. This can be done at any time up to the time you leave for BOLC. Just don't expect it to be an easy route and there are still no guarantees it will work. We had a female in our class who secured a paragraph and line number only to be re-assigned by the state. On the other side of the coin, we had someone who changed branches after being assigned (which you can do before BOLC begins).

Two months after the branch brief, we were given our branch preference sheet. There are 16 branches available to junior officers. The branch preference sheet asks basic questions like where you live (with the option of asking if you're willing to travel over 250 miles to your unit), what your degree is in, which unit(s) you've been a part of (they won't let you go back to any of the units you were serving in as an enlisted soldier, even if you were just there for one drill between BCT and OCS), and as the title suggests, what your preference is for branching.

Of the 16 branches, Aviation and Medical Service Corps require that you've already been working with a recruiter from that branch, so start that as soon as you get into OCS if those are routes you wish to pursue. From there you number your top 13 choices from 1-13. Males must have three combat arms branches in their top five slots.

We turned those in April, and in May we were given our branch and unit assignment. What happened in between, no one really knows. We think our cadre did most of the branch sorting and then the state HQ assigned us to our units. The top performers in the class got their top picks. The inverse was true for the bottom of the class.  (UPDATE: Cadre informed me that all the decision making was done on a state level without their input.) Most got what they put into their top three.

After OCS I'll be moving on to an Engineering unit- I'm excited about that. Initially, I didn't want to do what I did on the civilian side, but over time I realized its what I was good at and professionally it won't hurt to have parallel career paths. It took about two minutes for us to embrace our branches and the banter carried on like we've been doing those jobs forever.

We've spent a vast majority of our time in the field the last two drills. That will make for much more interesting reading and I intend on summarizing all that into one post. As a class, we know we're close to being done with this, but as a whole we haven't started acting like "short timers." We're still working hard to the end, it doesn't get any easier and there are sill a few key hurdles in between us and Phase III.  And though no one will admit it, we're getting nostalgic. We just have two drills left with this close knit group before we're all sent on our separate ways. We've developed close friendships and they're ones I'm exceedingly grateful to have.

Feel free to shoot me any questions that weren't clearly answered in the comment section and I'll to my best to answer them.

Editor's Note: These opinions are strictly my own, calling them like I see 'em. The Army spends a lot of money on propaganda to keep the slots filled; take it with a lot of salt. 

The number one lie that's fed to the civilian populous is: "Join the National Guard and you'll get to do all the high-speed things you see in the commercials!"

Here's my response to that:
  A) Go active duty, the weekend warriors don't get the budget to do cool stuff. Best I can tell we're the B-team. 
  B) Don't be an officer- go enlisted and lead as an NCO. The higher you get in rank the farther you get from the action. Don't let people tell you that because you have a college degree that you need to be an officer. I've met plenty of NCO's that have graduate degrees. There is no correlation between a degree and leadership. If you're doing this for the money, you'll be disappointed regardless of which side of the house you're on. 
  C) Join the Army eight years ago. Read the news- combat ops are winding down in Afghanistan. The American people have no more appetite for sending our troops to another country. So if you're joining to satisfy your Call of Duty fantasies you're pretty much out of luck unless something crazy happens (in which case see subparagraph A). 
  D) Seriously, read subparagraph B.  


  1. What are the chances of branching Infantry in Texas? I am specifically interested in the airborne battalion (143rd Infantry).

    1. That's not an easy answer because the needs of the state are constantly changing. My graduating class commissioned several infantry officers- most of the candidates that wanted infantry got it, but that is in no way a hard and fast rule.

      As far as getting a specific unit- that's even harder. Your best chance is to get with the highest brass in that battalion that will give you five minutes and get him to give you a paragraph and line number for a PL slot in that unit. Even then the state may give you a totally different assignment (this scenario happened to two candidates in our class- one trying to go aviation and the other military intelligence).

      If you're wanting to be a hooah type and jump out of airplanes on drill weekend every month you're probably going to be very disappointed. Very few NG soldiers in Texas jump enough to keep their status current.


Please feel free to leave comments. OPSEC is everyone's responsibility. As a security measure, please do not use my name or the names of my family members in your post.