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Officer candidates graduate under the gaze of presidents

By 1st Class Aleah M. Castrejon | Colorado National Guard | Aug. 14, 2018

Mount Rushmore National Park, South Dakota —

​As the rain began to fall, the graduating officer candidates of Class 60 cared less about the weather and more about the milestone that they just achieved. More than 100 Soldiers from across the nation sat with smiles on their faces and minds set on receiving a graduation certificate July 27, 2018, at Mount Rushmore National Park, South Dakota.  

The officer corps is a unique group of Soldiers who made the commitment to become commissioned officers – managers, problem-solvers, key influencers, and planners who lead enlisted Soldiers. 

Twelve months earlier, the candidates from approximately 16 states met at Fort Meade, South Dakota, for a two-week training, then dispersed back to their home states for additional training until reconvening in South Dakota for the final phase and the graduation ceremony.  

"I traveled over 6,700 miles and crossed eight time zones to make this speech," said keynote speaker U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Roderick R. Leon Guerrero, the adjutant general of Guam. "It's a privilege to be here to provide remarks and congratulate you on the admirable and honorable choice you have made to accept a commission and continue your military service in the officer corps." 

The Soldiers and family members who traveled many miles were just as happy to sit in the bleachers, as the rain fell harder, to see their Soldier graduate from a long grueling training experience, lasting 18 months. 

"Congratulations on a great achievement. You have made your family and your unit proud," Leon Guerrero said, before the ceremony was moved to Camp Rapid, South Dakota, where the Soldiers received the certificate of completion. 

Colorado and Wyoming candidates worked together to complete the phases of OCS. While both states have their own OCS program, they both benefit from combining forces for the purpose of this program, according to U.S. Army Maj. Sean Burke, commander of the OCS program, 168th Regional Training Institute, Fort Carson, Colorado. 

"Alone, our classes are so small that the Soldiers just don't get the benefit of running enough people, so we actually combine [the states] to get a bigger class," Burke said. 

"With the larger class, Soldiers get the leadership training that they need," he said. "Having all of the states consolidate in South Dakota is an exceptional benefit because the number of troops increased to more than 100 and the platoon trainers increased to accommodate the numbers. The larger numbers make for better experience and training."  

"It is an advantage to them to lead a bigger unit and practice company operations instead of just squad operations," Burke said. 

Six Colorado Soldiers and four from Wyoming became graduates at the national park. 

The CONG will hold a commissioning ceremony for the new graduates sometime in September.  

CONG Officer Candidate Isaiah Daniels, will be going into the Military Intelligence branch as a second lieutenant.  

While Daniels had little experience compared to other OCs, he was still able to contribute to the group with what he learned from basic training.  

Daniels enjoyed working with the Wyoming National Guard and echoed the same positive points as other candidates.  

"It's very helpful to have more than just one group together.  It builds up numbers.  It allows us to have more people to be outsourced for different tasks," he said. "It's more of a community, as well." 

According to Daniels, having the two states partner contributed to the overall goal, and the candidates were able to learn a lot from each other. He said that the platoon trainers from both states also had an overwhelming wealth of knowledge.  

Daniels came from a military background with many family members having served. Not sure whether to join as an enlisted Soldier or as an officer, his dad was able to push him to use his college degree and become an officer.  

Daniels said that he hopes to be a good officer, a role model, and a good influence, which is what he strived for in basic training.  

"I was that role model [in basic training], that leader to those around me, and a good influence," Daniels said. "I realized, because of my experience at basic training, I can carry that over to the officer realm as well. I had the confidence, afterward. I just want to be the officer who can contribute to and mentor those who are new to the military and show them that there is hope in the darkness. There are people who care about them." 

Daniels said that he hopes to expand his knowledge beyond MI and into the space or cyber fields in the future. On the civilian side, Daniels is a third grade teacher who looks forward to sharing his military experiences with his students. 

OC Christopher Kirk, Wyoming National Guard, will join the ordnance branch after a commissioning ceremony Aug. 4, 2018.  He had been enlisted for about eight years. 

From Kirk's standpoint, the partnership between the states was unique because it gave the candidates real-world experience into managing meet-ups between two states and outside of drill dates.  

"Being able to coordinate over such long distances really helped us understand what it's going to be like to be traditional M-day officers … and how that coordination has to be handled," Kirk said. 

Kirk said that some of the Wyoming Soldiers are already enrolled in the next course for career progression and look forward to getting their military careers started as an officer. 

"I decided to do OCS because I always wanted to get into a role where I could make a bigger impact," Kirk said. 

Having started out as a Non-commissioned Officer, Kirk said that he has seen many different types of leadership and that he looks forward to putting his own leadership style to work helping to expand some of the better aspects of the military. 

A prior public affairs NCO, Kirk said that he would like to serve as the commander of a PA unit someday. 

While the day started with a drenching at Mount Rushmore National Park and ended at Camp Rapid, that did not lessen the motivation of the officer candidates. After receiving their certificates, the graduates let out one last "hooah" and were released.