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Guard officer candidates learn value of teamwork in ten-mile road march
Guard officer candidates learn value of teamwork in ten-mile road march

Officer Candidates Kendall McDaniel, left, and Johnny Robey ascend one of the final hills during a Missouri National Guard Officer Candidate School 10-mile road march. They were first in the class to cross the finish line.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 16, 2009) — All eight Missouri National Guardsmen who participated in the Regional Training Institute’s Officer Candidate School 10-mile road march Saturday successfully completed it in the mandatory 3.5 hours.

Capt. Erin Slawinski, a primary platoon trainer for the school, said there is more to be learned from the march than overcoming the physical challenges.

“It’s just for endurance and to teach teamwork,” she said. “They have to come out and recon the route, so all of that is included.”

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

Slawinksi said she was pleased with how the officer candidates performed.

“I think they did really great. They were motivating each other,” she said. “They went in buddy teams, which I really think helped keep them motivated.”

One officer candidate was cutting the mandatory time close. Officer Candidate Rick Branson, saying it was a class mission for everyone to finish in time, led Officer Candidates Johnny Robey and Kendall McDaniel back about a third of a mile to motivate the struggling candidate.

“He started to get a leg cramp so we had to just keep motivating him to rise above it,” Branson said. “We just ran back there and told him to rise above it and show some mental toughness.”

The move worked and the candidate finished with less than a minute to spare.

“We start together and we finish together,” Branson said. “We do everything together. If one person fails, then we all fail.”

That everyone finished was the most important thing about the march for Branson.

“Everybody succeeded in making our time and everybody worked together with a battle buddy and made sure that they made it across,” he said.

The class is 12 months into the 18-month course, currently in phase II of the school, which guardsmen attend one weekend a month. The course culminates in phase III with a two-week advanced training school in August at Fort Lewis, Wash. In September, graduates will earn the rank of second lieutenant.

Robey, of Jefferson City, and McDaniel, of Pittsburg, teamed as battle buddies to finish in about three hours, four minutes and defend their title earned previously as the class’s seven-mile road march champs.

“I felt much better,” said Robey of the difference between the this march and the seven-miler. “We even said that when we passed the seven-mile mark. The last time McDaniel and I finished we were like just dying. When we hit seven miles today, we felt so much better.”

Robey said the obvious obstacles were being able to overcome the foot and back pain, as well as a half-mile steep hill at about the six-mile mark.

“About mile seven, my feet were really burning,” Robey said.

“And at about mile nine, you felt great again because you knew you were almost finished,” McDaniel said.

For Robey, the march taught him mental toughness.

“It’s just to show that ten miles is not a huge distance, but if you do this program once a month, you may think 10 miles is kind of a big thing,” Robey said. “But you persevere through it. Everybody’s feet hurt — I guarantee it. But you finish, because that’s what you do.”

McDaniel agreed.

“You tell yourself you’re going to do it and keep putting one foot in front of the other,” he said.

The second pair in was Branson and Officer Candidate Caleb Keltner of Galena, followed by Freddie Hill of Cape Girardeau and Anthony Traber of St. Louis.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Keltner said of the march. “It’s just one more step in completing phase II and, essentially, OCS. It’s a group effort and a team effort and I feel a lot of camaraderie. It feels pretty good.”

The toughest part for Keltner came at the very end.

“My feet were getting really tired,” he said.

Up next for the course is a dining in, which is an event to mark their status change from an intermediate candidate to a senior officer candidate.

In May, June and July, the school moves into the field for exercises where they’ll learn to work as a team and also learn procedures to lead troops.

Officer Candidates Kendall McDaniel, left, and Johnny Robey ascend one of the final hills Saturday during a Missouri National Guard Regional Training Institute Officer Candidate School 10-mile road march at Fort Leonard Wood. McDaniel, who is from Pittsburg, Mo., and Robey, who is from Jefferson City, were the first in the class to cross the finish line.

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