Duncan's uphill struggle ends with bars of gold
December 8, 2011
Every month Christopher R. Duncan transforms into a lean mean fighting machine as 2nd Lt. Duncan, New Jersey Army National Guard.
Duncan a security specialist with the Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., joined the Guard on Feb. 18, 2010 as an officer candidate then two days later reported to Sea Girt National Guard Training Center, N.J. to begin phase zero of his training.
Officer candidate school is divided into four phases during an 18-month period. Phase zero is a two-month, weekend preparatory phase to prepare a candidate for the OCS commissioning process.
"At the start of phase zero, the environment immediately changed to a stricter climate," Duncan recalled. "There weren't any more full night's sleep and no more addressing others as 'yo'. We went right into physical training and at the time a two-mile run was a big accomplishment for me. I pushed myself to the extreme and as a result I almost PT'ed myself to death."
By the end of the first weekend he was in physical pain but attributed it to sore muscles from the physical fitness s training sessions. He continued training but became concerned when his urine was black and thick like motor oil, according to Duncan.
After immediately contacting a doctor, he was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition which damaged muscle cells are released into the body causing potential harm to the kidneys. Duncan was hospitalized for five days.
"I was told that if I had waited one more day before seeking medical help that my heart would have stopped," stated Duncan. "I was scared because the hospital staff discussed possible kidney transplants with me. Fortunately I had no lasting damage from the ordeal but the doctor advised me not to continue with my OCS pursuit. I was stubborn and had to continue."
When Duncan left the hospital, he was physically drained and had difficulty walking due to weakness. He had just four weeks until his next drill weekend to be ready for the PT test. Prior to transitioning to the next phase he had to pass this test -- the pressure was on!
"The anxiety was the worst part," Duncan commented. "I was most concerned about my upper body strength and passing the push-ups. It was the first event and when I passed I knew I could handle the rest. Although I received a low score, I did pass the test to the surprise of my instructors."
In the summer of 2010, Duncan reported for phase one of OCS at Camp Rell, Conn. During this phase he received land navigation and leadership training conducted under demanding mental and physical conditions. It was the hardest 15 days of his life, according to Duncan. During this time he continued to be plagued by health issues.
"I had a cold when I arrived for phase one and it developed into pneumonia," stated Duncan. "I was having difficulties breathing and was ordered to see a doctor. I was treated with a respirator to clear my lungs and again I was encouraged to go home. I took two ibuprofen and returned to training, determined to continue."
At the end of this phase, Duncan's feet were covered with blisters from the continual running through the land navigation course. He was tested in both day and night navigation and he passed both events. Duncan demonstrated that he was ready for phase two.
Phase two was the longest phase and was conducted once a month for a 12-month period at Sea Girt. The emphasis was on tactical and small unit leadership skills. The classroom instruction consisted of ethics, leadership, logistics, military intelligence, fire support, communications and tactics. "Progressively during this phase the instructors assumed more of a mentor role," Duncan said. "The training also transitioned from physical to more leadership-focused."
The summer of 2011, Duncan advanced to phase three which was the final step in the OCS commissioning process that consisted of 15-days of training at Fort McClellan, Ala. Phase zero began with 40 candidates. By the beginning of phase three, 17 remained. As one of 17, Duncan prepared for the final challenges of his training, leadership skills and tactical operations.
"When it was over I was proud that I accomplished what I set out to do. I was also nervous. I knew that I was now responsible for leading Soldiers in an infantry environment," said the newly commissioned second lieutenant who completed the training and received his commission.