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Guard officer candidates learn teamwork in 10-mile road march
Guard officer candidates learn teamwork in 10-mile road march

Members of the 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute's Officer Candidate School Class 48, of the Missouri National Guard, climb one of the final hills during a 10-mile road march.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 22, 2010) — Five Missouri National Guardsmen who participated in the 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute’s Officer Candidate School 10-mile road march Saturday successfully completed it in the mandatory three and a half hours. In fact, they all finished together, as a group, in three hours.

“It’s just a motivator to finish as a team because we’ve worked so hard,” said Officer Candidate Perry Hoffman, of the 1138th Engineer Company, of Farmington. “We’ve been in this course for a year now and we’ve really become a good, strong team the last few months. This has been our first road march that we’ve all finished together as a group.

“I’m real proud of everyone. It’s just another good phase two accomplishment,” Hoffman said.

The class had previously completed shorter marches in preparation for the 10-miler.

During the march, officer candidates in Class 48 carried full gear, including a 35-pound backpack and an M-16 assault rifle.

The class senior platoon trainer, Capt. Chris Hoffman, who is not related to Perry Hoffman, said teamwork is one of the purposes of the marches.

“Aside from physical fitness, you are looking at the ability to come together as a group,” he said. “It’s really not a group qualification or task, but a lot of time officer candidates try to get it accomplished as a group and it brings them together when they do that.”

Chris Hoffman said physical fitness is also a big part of the training, which follows the parameters set by the Army infantry school for officers.

“This gives them the ability for them to realize they don’t have to be physically fit enough just to get from point A to point B, but they have to be physically fit enough to lead afterwards,” he said. “Because if they are so exhausted after a 10-mile road march that they can’t make decisions or continue on and conduct a mission, then how are they going to be able to lead troops in garrison or in combat anywhere else.”

The officers he helps mold, Chris Hoffman said, will be physically fit enough to stay ahead of the pack.

“These future leaders are going to have to lead other Soldiers in events like that and for them to be falling behind doesn’t come across very well with their soldiers,” Chris Hoffman said. “If they are out leading a platoon and they are falling behind their platoon instead of leading from the front, then they start losing respect from those people that they are leading.”

Perry Hoffman, who is the class president and lives in Rolla, called the 10-mile road march a gut check.

“It makes you realize that you work through pain and stress,” he said. “It’s a feel-good accomplishment — that’s what I get out of it.”

Officer Candidate Andrew Lough, of the 294th Engineer Company, of Carthage, also said he had a sense of accomplishment in finishing the march.

“This is one more big milestone toward the finish line and it’s one of the last milestones before going into the final phase of officer candidate school,” Lough said.

The class began with about 40 candidates, but not all have remained for various reasons, including going through the accelerated course.

“We’re a small group and we’ve lost so many along the way,” said Lough, who lives in St. James. “Throughout the whole officer candidate school program, it’s not about an individual effort. It’s about making sure you take care of your soldiers. Even as a platoon lieutenant, you’re going to have to take care of your weakest link. It’s about troop welfare.”

Chris Hoffman, who lives in Kansas City, commended the six who have stuck with the program.

“There are so many times when you are going through a program like this and you get completely stressed out,” he said. “You start driving down here to Fort Leonard Wood and you don’t want to continue. But these guys did. When you push through it like they have, you are able to balance out the Guard, your civilian job, school and family. That really says a lot about these candidates.”

The class is 12 months into the 18-month course, currently in phase II of the school, which Guardsmen attend one weekend a month. In April, May and June, the school moves into the field for exercises where they’ll learn more about how to work as a team along with troop-leading procedures.

The course culminates in phase III with a two-week advanced training school in July and August at Fort Lewis, Wash. In September, graduates earn the rank of second lieutenant.

Officer Candidate Aaron Shaffer, of St. Charles, also is part of Class 48, but was unable to participate in the march because of an injured knee. He’ll make the march up at a later date, but won’t have to do it alone.

“He had an injury last month, but he’s going to come back strong and we’ll come back out and do it with him as a team, again,” Lough said.

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