FORT BENNING, Ga. " It was almost like NFL draft day Friday for E Company, 3rd Battalion (Officer Candidate School), 11th Infantry Regiment.

More than 60 future Army officers marked the midway point of their training by taking part in a branching ceremony. Some got to pick which of the 16 career fields they wanted to enter; in other cases, it chose them.

"The best guy gets first choice, and we go from there," said Lt. Col. John Best, the battalion commander. "But it doesn't matter what branch you choose. It's the privilege of leading our nation's Soldiers as officers in the United States Army."

Human Resources Command allocates the available slots for each group of officer candidates, he said.

E Company made selections according to class ranking, from one through 62. They were placed on an order of merit list, which is determined by individual scores in academics, leadership and physical fitness.

"It's a life decision " this will define the rest of your career in the military," Best told the group. "It's the second-most important thing after volunteering for the Army.

"Sometimes, we'll arrange a branch based on their performance. We do try to put the right guy in the right branch."

About 30 family members attended the ceremony. For the first time, the unit also streamed the event live on the Internet for those who couldn't make it, said Capt. Charles Greene, E Company commander.

This particular class had a shortage of Infantry and Armor branch openings, said Capt. Charles Greene, E Company commander. Normally, each gets 10-12 Infantry and 8-10 Armor slots " numbers that dwindled to only five and one, respectively, this time around.

"We don't know yet if that's a trend. We'll have to check the next class," Greene said. "This is the last class of the fiscal year, so that might have something to do with it."

Mission changes and Army transformation in fiscal 2012 could bring about reductions in battalion sizes and the overall number of officers produced by Fort Benning's OCS, but no specific determinations have been made, Best said.

Officer Candidate Matthew Connell, ranked No. 12 in the class, said he was given a choice and picked the Infantry.

"It's the only reason I came in," said Connell, who spent four years in the Marine Corps as an enlisted Infantryman. "(But) my spot wasn't guaranteed. I had to fight for it the whole way. … You have that dream, and hope it'll be left when you get up there."

The lone Armor spot went to Officer Candidate Trey Coffey, who entered the branching ceremony 22nd in the class. He was separated by four-tenths of a point from three others, including another officer candidate who wanted the same career field. Coffey said being in the class's top third made all the difference.

"I was the only guy among the four of us who got to choose," he said. "I can't sit behind a desk; I get antsy. I like being out in the field, and Armor is one (branch) that's going to let me do that."

Greene said the bottom 50 percent of a class usually doesn't wind up with their first choice, while the last 15 officer candidates must take what's left on the board.

E Company wrapped up its sixth week of OCS on Friday and received weekend liberty for the first time. The Soldiers began a three-week field-training exercise Monday. Graduation and commissioning is Sept. 29.

Page last updated Wed August 24th, 2011 at 00:00