CENTENNIAL, CO —
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Warrant Officer Candidates of class 19-001 practiced rich traditions dating back more than a decade for the Colorado National Guard while proudly walking across a stage for a hat removal ceremony Aug. 18, 2019, at the 168th Regional Training Institute, Fort Carson, Colorado.
The class included six Soldiers from the CONG, three U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers and one Wyoming National Guard Soldier.
Each year, candidates take part in the tradition signifying the completion of the second phase of the school. However, to understand the removal of the hat, it must first be explained how they received the hat.
Before they began in-person classes, each person had to pass the online, phase one, portion, and when they reached phase two, the candidates started from the bottom and worked their way up.
In April, they were given an empty pole with no guidon flag until they were able to show significant improvement as a class and work as a team. Teamwork is the key to success according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Gorecki, senior Train, Advise and Counsel officer and course manager for Modular Training Battalion at the RTI.
“It’s imperative as a class going through this program that we gel as a team and work together,” Candidate Kyle Benedict said.
Benedict said coming together ensures the class’s success because it’s not a course that can be completed individually.
Each rotation of WOC school must complete certain milestones, which includes an Army Physical Fitness Test, 10k foot march with a designated weight, two academic exams, and a volunteer project, to name a few.
Gorecki explained the importance of academia and that the candidates are allowed only one academic failure during the six-month course.
The class received assignments to complete between the drills, such as the class sign, the song, and preparing and coordinating the mentorship breakfast and other meetings, and the volunteer project, Candidate Shelby Rosen said.
There was much to do between drills, despite everyone being geographically scattered, Rosen said. Technology is the key to staying in touch and completing the tasks due at drill each month.
When the class showed the necessary teamwork, they earned a gray guidon, and as the class progressed, the class received its colored flag, he said. The color for the current class is always chosen by the previous year’s class, another tradition of the WOCs.
“The program is really candidate-run,” Benedict said. “We know our TAC instructors are there to guide us through this process, but it’s on us the responsibility as a class to come together and really run the class ourselves.”
Hanging of the hat
It doesn’t take long for the class to reach the steps needed, and in June the class was awarded its color and hat, showing the class’s progression. A few months ago, the class hung its hat to show they have made it to the next step.
“Phase two of candidate school at the RTI is no joke … it’s one of the hardest courses in the military … in one of the most unstructured environments,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dominic Marchiano, WOCS commander.
He further explained the roller-coaster that the candidates must go through to complete the course. They must come to drill, set up their rooms, accomplish all necessary tasks for the weekend, tear down their rooms and adjust from candidate mode to being “a mother, a father, you’re a husband, you’re a wife, you’re working your job, drill comes up; you’re back in candidate mode,” he said.
The time management is a difficult task and ensuring short suspense’s are met, Rosen said.
“The hardest part about second phase is managing everything … family life, full time job, the WOC program; because we volunteered to go this route in our careers … we are all here because we want to be here,” Benedict said.
The entire foundation of the hat and its significance has great meaning to the WOCS program. Receiving the hat and color officially established the class, the Blue Class, Gorecki said.
Unveiling of the sign
Class 19-001 also unveiled their sign and sang a song in June. The sign is something the class creates depicting their journey as a class, and they use their strengths and creativity to come up with the sign, which is unique to each class.
Rosen said making the sign and incorporating the entire class’s ideas was challenging but rewarding.
The song was created in a similar fashion, as it takes collaboration and creativity, which is not only a testament to their teamwork but is also a tradition dating back to when turntables were often used, Marchiano said.
Gorecki said the song expresses, “camaraderie, esprit de corps, (and) bolsters their pride and accomplishments in their class.”
The intention of the song is to be for comic relief, and this year’s class created a rendition of “Happy Days,” which pokes fun at their journey through the school and tends to hold many inside jokes based on the class’s experiences, Benedict said.
Removal of the hat
The ceremony Aug. 18 was a short but significant event, which marked the change from phase two to three. The class sang their song and requested to remove the hat. Having been granted the permission to move on, the class took the hat down and exited the stage.
“It feels fantastic (to be finishing the last drill of phase two),” Rosen said. “We’ve accomplished so much in so little time … The way the team has come together, the camaraderie, the team spirit that’s there and it feels great … We are looking forward to phase three.”
The most rewarding thing to come from the class has been the cohesiveness, Rosen said.
“When you go through some struggles and things that are more difficult and situations that you aren’t used to being into, and you see the whole class come together and pick everyone up as a team, that’s the most rewarding thing,” Benedict said.
August marked the end of phase two and in September, about 200 candidates from nearly 20 states will meet at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. This will be the candidate’s third and final phase, a two-week course they must accomplish before graduation.
The candidates are optimistic about phase three, but are confidant with their mentorship from their TACs, Rosen said.