Officer candidates brave the elements

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Michigan is currently facing one of its harshest winters in a decade. The below-freezing temperatures and record snowfall has deterred the ability of many people to perform daily activities at a normal pace. For seven Michigan National Guard Soldiers, taking it slow is not an option. In extreme elements, these officer candidates completed a land navigation course as part of Zero Phase of Officer Candidate School at Fort Custer.

To hold the highly coveted title of ‘officer’ in the United States Army, Soldiers must be able to communicate effectively and display exceptional leadership in the field to accomplish their mission. A Soldier’s first step in their pursuit of that title is Officer Candidate School.  Zero Phase, held at Fort Custer, gives candidates an initial look into the life of an officer in the Michigan Army National Guard. This two week course highlights land navigation and other warrior tasks, before Soldiers enter into more advanced training.

“I want to set a high standard for myself,” said officer candidate Ryan J. VanDyke. “There is no way to adequately prepare for every situation we encounter here and you have to be willing to roll with the punches.”

The land navigation portion of training is split into three events throughout the day. It begins with a two-hour practice run in the morning. The candidates are given two hours to plot their course on their maps using protractors. The second iteration is an actual scored test. Candidates are assessed on their speed, technique and execution. The day is concluded by a nighttime navigation. During the night, the candidates work in conditions with low visibility. They are allowed a red lens flashlight, but can only use the light to plot on their map and check direction, not shine on their actual point.

“It is a very difficult task to navigate in areas of low visibility,” said Capt. Adam T. Jenzen, senior platoon officer. “It makes for a very intense and often frustrating learning experience.”

After completion of Zero Phase, the candidates are transported to Ft. McClellan, Ala., to begin phases one through three of Officer Candidate School. Their expected graduation date is March 22, 2014, and the commissioning ceremony will be held at the Fort Custer Education Center.

Story by Spc. Seth LaCount; 126th Press Camp Headquarters, Michigan Army National Guard

Photos by Spc. Brandon Ames; 126th Press Camp Headquarters, Michigan Army National Guard

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