Missouri National Guard Officer Candidates, from left, Brian Randolph, Walter Brown and Jeff Hollis climb a hill during a 10-mile road march. Brown had the honor of carrying Wilbur, the Officer Candidiate School Class 49's 18-pound metallic pig mascot, up the hill at Fort Leonard Wood. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)
By Matthew J. Wilson
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Twenty-two Missouri National Guardsmen from the 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute's Officer Candidate School recently completed a 10-mile road march in the mandatory three and a half hours.
After working its way up with shorter road marches in previous drills, Officer Candidate Class 49 finished the 10-miler to clear one of the final hurdles in the second phase its training.
Officer Candidate Walter Brown, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Infantry Division, of St. Joseph, called finishing the march a confidence builder.
"Before I got here, I might not have thought I could do something like this," said Brown, who lives in Troy, Kan. "But now that I have, it's that booster and also a good training experience for when I become a platoon leader. I can say, 'Hey, if I did this, you guys can certainly do this, as well.'"
Officer candidates wore their Army combat uniform and boots, and carried an M-16 rifle, Kevlar helmet and a 35-pound backpack, on the march.
Capt. John Myers, senior instructor for the officer candidates, said the class learns a lot from putting together and completing the road march.
"They are supposed to learn how to make a good operations order before the road march and then they have to have the physical endurance and the intestinal fortitude to make sure they can complete it," said Myers, who lives in Richland. "This group has done pretty well."
Although successful, Myers was disappointed that in the early going the class mistakenly deviated from the road march course. He was, however, able to use the error as a teaching tool to stress how important it is for officers to lead their troops properly.
"The platoon leader, who is ultimately responsible, didn't mark the route well enough," Myer said. "The platoon leader didn't inspire confidence and didn't have the confidence to stop them when they made the wrong turn."
Officer Candidate Jeremy Idleman, from the 1138th Engineer Company, of Farmington, was one of the first to finish the march.
"It's good to be off the feet and have that behind us," said Idleman, who lives in south St. Louis. "It's just good to be finished. Now we can look forward to the challenges of phase III."
Idleman said a key to the class's success was the way each Guardsmen pushed the others.
"We just motivated each other and made sure we all stayed together in small groups," Idleman said. "We also traded the mascot around."
The class mascot is 'Wilbur,' an 18-pound metallic pig statue that was a 'gift' from the previous class's officer candidates, who's mascot was a smaller, lighter, wooden lion that was retired.
"An extra 18 pounds is not fun to be carrying around," said Idleman, who carried Wilbur across the finish line.
With more than three miles to go, the officer candidates encountered a gradual, but steep, uphill trek of about a mile.
"I got to carry the pig all the way up the hill," Brown lamented. "It was a miserable experience, but it's a lot of fun. Yeah, it hurts, but you are out there with everyone working to try to achieve a common goal.
"When I was in the home stretch, I was thinking, 'I'm not going to be able to do this again in officer candidate school.' That's kind of a sad thing, I guess."
Once the march was finished, Brown said he was relieved.
"I feel like I climbed Mount Everest without oxygen," he said. "We've been waiting for this day for more than a year now, and some of us longer. Now that it's finally here and we're done with it, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally. It's a great feeling."
Although he didn't do any additional road marches to prepare, Brown said he did a lot of running and weight training.
"This is a test to show that you have the personal fitness to be a good officer candidate," Brown said.
Mentally, Brown said he just needed the support of his classmates to help him soldier through.
"If my fellow battle buddies are out there with me and doing it, I feed off of their motivation and will power," Brown said. "This was a good team building exercise."
Officer Candidate Jeff Hollis, of the 1175th Military Police Company, of St. Louis, called finishing the march a feeling of accomplishment.
"We've made it this far and have worked hard to get to where we are at," said Hollis, who lives in Bland. "It's a character builder. It's a relief and kind of inspirational to think that you could come this far."
It's also no longer a requirement that hangs over the candidates heads.
"It was always looming out there in the distance," he said. "Now it's already over with."
Because of the wet winter, several spots along the march forced Guardsmen to get their boots wet, which as Hollis pointed out, increases the likelihood of blisters on feet during a long march.
"There's really not a lot you can do to avoid that, you just have to keep going," Hollis said. "You can try to avoid the deeper parts, if you can. There were like four areas where we had to go through water."
Along with the water as an obstacle, there was still the hill.
"The hill was always there in my mind, but it wasn't that bad," said Hollis, who said he finished three- and seven-mile road marches in the last month to prepare for this one.
Hollis also ran and spent extra time in the gym.
"I tried to get my feet up to speed and that little bit of preparation helped out," he said.
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Missouri National Guard Officer Candidate Michael VanHorn proudly carries Officer Candidate School Class 49's flag during a 10-mile road march at Fort Leonard Wood. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)