EASTOVER, SOUTH CAROLINA - National Guard officer candidates from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and South Carolina began Phase One of their leadership training at McCrady Training Center June 2, 2018.

Over 80 officer candidates convened in formation on the field behind South Carolina's Palmetto Military Academy, ready to prove their commitment to becoming commissioned Army officers. The air filled with multi-colored smoke and the skirl of bagpipes as they awaited their first introduction to the platoon trainers and instructor cadre who would be responsible for developing their leadership skills and testing their mental agility during the first phase of Officer Candidate School (OCS).

Saturday evening's initiation ceremony, referred to as "gate closing," marked the beginning of an intense two-week training period where the officer candidates are tested on their ability to lead others, think on their feet, perform drill and ceremony and acquire a foundation in Army leadership education, while being placed under stressful conditions.

Phase one of OCS is a combination of classroom learning and field training. The classroom curriculum introduces candidates to concepts of leadership and team development, Army Training Management Systems, Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Army Profession and Military Ethics, among others. Candidates must pass three written exams to move on to the next phase.

"Instructing OCS is a great opportunity to be able to impart knowledge to the next generation of Army leaders," said Maj. Terrence Tysall, Commander of Florida National Guard OCS and third year instructor for the phase one program in South Carolina. "The curriculum provides candidates with Army doctrinal information but also teaches them to be able to think when feeling tired and stressed."

In addition to classroom instruction, candidates spend ample time with platoon trainers (formerly known as "TACs") who teach the science and art of Army leadership. Platoon trainers evaluate candidate performance through the Leadership Assessment Program (LAP). Using a combination of LAP and counseling, platoon trainers identify and develop positive leadership traits and skills in the officer candidates.

"Platoon trainers provide guidance and counseling to the candidates," said Capt. Matthew Summerlin, South Carolina Senior Platoon Trainer. "Being a Platoon Trainer is very rewarding. We know that our job influences future officers in the National Guard and they will take what they learn here with them as they move into positions leading Soldiers."

Developing future officers is the central focus of the program. All effort by cadre is expended to prepare candidates for positions of great responsibility. However, as with any training, the ultimate success of the officer candidate lies within the officer candidate, who must be motivated by their own set of values to thrive and complete the program successfully.

"I want to become an officer so I can lead others using the experiences I have gained as an NCO, combined with what I am learning from OCS," said Keira Rodriquez, an officer candidate from the Puerto Rico National Guard. "I want to teach and lead Soldiers to do the best that they can, to help Soldiers to pursue personal growth and career opportunities."

Matthew Vanfosson, an officer candidate from the North Carolina National Guard said that during his time as an enlisted Marine, he realized that he was a "big picture" thinker.

"I want to be a leader that Soldiers can come to for support. I want to be involved in planning training and executing missions," he said. "That's why I'm here, that's why I came to OCS."

The Palmetto Military Academy (PMA) at McCrady Training Center was established in April 1950 and is operating in its 68th year of training and commissioning Soldiers into the Army National Guard. It is estimated that nearly 2,200 officers who have served in the South Carolina National Guard have come through PMA. The PMA OCS program has a reputation for holding candidates to the strictest standards and only commissioning officer candidates who have proven themselves ready to lead Soldiers by exceeding and maintaining Army standards in physical fitness, education and leadership.

The Palmetto Military Academy is part of The Army School System (TASS), a proponent of the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) out of Fort Benning, Georgia and is accredited every three years by MCoE in accordance with TRADOC regulatory guidance and directives. PMA achieved the rating as an "Institute of Excellence" in 2016.

The South Carolina Army National Guard Assistant Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Jones is a graduate of the PMA program. He is a member of Class 38, earning his commission in 1987. He also spent several years as cadre and is honored in the PMA Hall of Fame. According to Jones, "PMA reinforced in me the sense of principled leadership, discipline and teamwork that it takes, not only to make it through this program, but to lead troops."

Upon completion of the two-week phase one that ends Saturday, June 16, candidates will return to their home states for the second phase of training. During phase two, they attend twelve monthly drills continuing leadership development, classroom instruction and field tactical training. Phase three is a two-week training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, where they must pass their final evaluations by executing troop leading procedures in squad lanes. The members of Class 70 are expected to graduate and earn their commissions in August 2019.