FORT BENNING, Ga. (Dec. 17, 2013) -- Iowa native Kathryn Estep joined the Army with the mindset of serving her country and inspiring others. The 23-year-old graduate from the University of North Dakota knew the Army would fulfill her goal of helping build strong leaders for the U.S. Army and America while providing her with a solid career.

"I want to lead by example and show that being strong can help you in all aspects of life, " said Estep. "I knew I could come right into the Army and have that stable career."

Like many college graduates, Kathryn Estep joined the Army and pursued a spot at Officer Candidate School, known as OCS. OCS is one of four paths to becoming an officer along with the Reserve Officer Training Corps, referred to as ROTC, the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and direct commission.

College Option Soldiers on the road to becoming Officers attend basic training and then go on to Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga. Here they undergo two phases to complete training that test and push their mental, physical and emotional limits during the 12-week course.

Aspiring officers look to Officer Candidate School as a path that will challenge them on a daily basis and provide a stable career after they graduate the program as second lieutenants and transition into various positions within the Army.

"The challenges coming out of college were I didn't want to have any uncertainty," said Officer candidate Estep. "I didn't want to have a part-time job that didn't actually benefit me."

Joining the Army right out of college, Estep was surprised and grateful for the leadership opportunities she was provided.

"I'm 23 years old and the leadership we've taken on is very surprising because I've been a platoon sergeant in charge of approximately 30 people," said Estep.

To take the path and enter OCS as a non-active duty Solider requires certain characteristics. The OCS program recruits candidates who understand team dynamics and have management experience in different areas. People from all backgrounds and skill sets are appreciated as long as they have shown leadership abilities and growth potential.

Capt. Richard Smothers, D Company commander at Fort Benning, sees officer candidates as future leaders that need to be shaped and molded.

"They came here because they wanted something more," said Smothers. "They wanted to lead and they wanted to do it in an environment that really fosters growth. We are a very selective group. We are the profession of arms, and we're not open to all."

The Army provides an active career that is maintained through professional development, training and routine physical fitness tests. This type of career appeals to college graduates seeking a journey in life that is more than a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. routine.

"You're challenged physically and mentally," said Officer candidate Alexandra Bruer. "That's something you're never going to get working in Washington, D.C., at a desk job. You really learn to work under pressure, work with deadlines and work with a variety of different people."

Bruer, a Cornell University graduate, studied government in college and has an interest in Middle Eastern politics. Before joining the Army, she considered going the civilian route and was looking for positions related to the military. With more research, Bruer realized that the best way to work with the military was to join the Army and become a Soldier.

The first phase of Officer Candidate School teaches leadership skills that build onto what Soldiers learned in basic training. The knowledge taught in the classroom during Phase 1 is taken to the field in Phase 2 with mental and physical exercises.

With a majority of Phase 1 spent in a classroom environment, Soldiers are taught subjects ranging from history to land navigation. They spend time studying and taking exams to familiarize themselves with the information.

Applying classroom knowledge in a field exercise environment, OCS instructors teach Soldiers combat tactics like warrior tasks and battle drills. These types of exercises give Soldiers the opportunity to perform as squad leaders during field training to give them the operational experience and knowledge that will assist them as future platoon leaders.

"Walking out of here, I want to be an officer," said Bruer. "I'm hoping to go forth and lead others and help them see how they can capitalize on their potential."

OCS instructors say Officer Candidate School is about refining leadership and giving officer candidates an avenue to put that leadership to the test to learn more about themselves and what they are going to be called upon to do as strong leaders in the Army or in future careers in the civilian world.