FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Oct. 8, 2020) -- Released during the start of their third week in training from their 14-day COVID-19 barracks quarantine, the 173 student officers of Army Medical Department Direct Commission Course (AMEDD DCC) Class No. 05-20 spent their entire morning Sept. 25 chasing four sometimes-elusive coded stakes on the land navigation course at Rabbit Hill.A schooled 68W combat medic specialist, Sgt. 1st Class David Tenorio has served the past four years simultaneously as the operations noncommissioned officer in charge and as an AMEDD DCC instructor here, while assigned to C Battery, 2nd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery.“We take civilian health care professionals and accomplish the seemingly impossible task of turning them into Soldiers, in but four short weeks,” said Tenorio. Three, for Reserve Component medical professional student officers, whether Army Reserve or National Guard.Complicating that training task these days is “operating under (myriad evolving) constraints brought about by the COVID-19 environment,” said Capt. Franck Nago, an AMEDD DCC instructor.Designed to build their Soldiers’-in-the-making land navigation proficiencies, Tenorio said this particular familiarization course proves “a little challenging (because) there is no line of sight from point to point, so these students have to use those land navigation skills (that were taught initially in the virtual classroom, then later in the field).”While there are more than two dozen stakes scattered across the terrain, each student officer team was assigned some combination of just four stakes.For each of those four, a battle-buddy team “was given a 10-digit grid where that particular stake is located and marked with a unique alphanumeric code,” Tenorio explained. The student officers recorded those codes and submitted them at course’s end to cadre for grading.“Given the extra stakes out there from previous events, the opportunity exists for students (and especially for those who have never navigated either by map and compass, or by orienteering a map to terrain features) to end up at the wrong grid and to record the wrong code,” Tenorio said. “Has it happened before? Absolutely.”Opting to skip a sumptuous Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) mid-day repast, 1st Lt. battle-buddies Kristen O’Sullivan and Deanna Nobriga instead tarried on the course, and spied so much more than their requisite four stakes.“We saw the sun come up. And wildlife,” O’Sullivan, a licensed clinical social worker from Colorado Springs, effused. Then, turning around to take in — horizon to horizon — yet another of Fort Sill’s early fall natural beauty vistas and that of the neighboring Wichita Mountains, O’Sullivan continued, smiling, “We saw a fawn and giant spiders (tarantulas).”The Rabbit Hill area is well known to sport such native wildlife as bobcat, whitetail deer, and elk. Other wildlife frequently seen in the vicinity include armadillo, coyote, fox, and wild turkey.When asked what they thought of their introduction to the M4 carbine, Nobriga, a registered nurse from Staten Island, New York, noted that Range Operations weren’t scheduled until the following week, their fourth and final week of training.Because of the pandemic, AMEDD DCC cadre modified its Range Week teaching method, and incorporated distance learning via computers, said Capt. Andrew Garey, battery logistics officer and course instructor.Beginning in their third week, the student officers learned how to properly use their rifles — how to break the weapon down and reassemble it, how to aim properly (the application of sight alignment and sight picture techniques), and how to make sight adjustments — all in preparation for firing their M4s at known-distance targets on the weapons range.The cadre has little choice but to rely heavily on virtual learning.“Most definitely,” 2-6th ADA Commander Lt. Col. Brad Hayes concurred. “In this concentrated (barracks and training) area and the short time we have these student officers, we have to take COVID-19 precautions very seriously, for two reasons. We can’t delay the students’ departure to the field, and we can’t lose our cadre, because if we lose our cadre, we lose the students.”Until recently, AMEDD DCC student officer barracks had no Wi-Fi, explained Hayes. With the installation of Wi-Fi, “these students could use their MacBooks at day one, during their basic physical fitness instruction.”Since the course’s inception in 2017, some 3,000 civilian medical professionals have chosen to embrace the Army lifestyle, along with its 245-year-old history of warfare, military customs, courtesies, and traditions; become versed in Army values and the basics of Soldiering; and to enroll in and pursue AMEDD DCC at Fort Sill. Upon their graduation here, they have progressed on to, first, their Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC), and then to various medical specialty courses at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA)-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.Carefully thinking back, Tenorio puts the number of student officers who ultimately decided the life of a Soldier was not the best fit for them at three out of those 3,000.Fort Sill is the only military installation — and the 30th ADA Brigade’s C/2-6th ADA is the only unit in the whole of the Army inventory — that conducts AMEDD DCC.According to Tenorio, “Fort Sill was chosen because of its training infrastructure, world-class facilities, and geographic relation to Fort Sam Houston.”Fort Sill’s AMEDD DCC is tantamount to “a mini version of basic combat training for those officer candidates selected for AMEDD DCC,” said Hayes.“Our cadre here does a remarkable job,” noted Hayes. “We are one of the only units in TRADOC with such a unique mixture of cadre — combat medics, engineers, logisticians, infantrymen, field artillerymen, and air defenders. Our (C Battery’s) particular mixture is charged with training all our future Army health care providers.”Prior to 2017, any number of highly skilled medical professionals reported to BOLC JBSA-Fort Sam Houston not knowing how to be Soldiers, said Tenorio. Under those circumstances, Fort Sam’s cadre was forced to take time out of its BOLC training schedule to teach those students the most rudimentary of Soldier skills.By grooming AMEDD DCC student officers here, by ensuring they have acquired basic Soldiering skills before arriving at their BOLC, Fort Sill’s success is paid forward. JBSA-Fort Sam Houston cadre can maintain focus on its planned as well as on, in some instances, supplemental BOLC instruction.