FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Missouri Army National Guard Soldiers from the Show-Me Guard Officer Leadership Development, or GOLD, program traded in their university backpacks for military rucksacks to spend their first two weeks of summer break training on Fort Leonard Wood.
The Show-Me GOLD program allows Missouri Army National Guard Soldiers to earn a degree while preparing to serve as future officers.
“The Show-Me GOLD program is specifically for Missouri National Guard Soldiers. Candidates will receive an enlisted military occupational specialty prior to joining the GOLD program, and they are able to build on that experience while they train for the rigors of Officer Candidate School,” said Capt. Nelson Tillman, the officer in charge of the Show-Me GOLD program at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
According to Tillman, about 30 Show-Me GOLD officer candidates from across the state received training here this month.
“Fort Leonard Wood is centrally located and provides numerous training facilities at one location that greatly benefits the GOLD program in getting our officer candidates trained,” Tillman said.
While on post, the officer candidates’ training included Soldiering skills, such as land navigation, rucking, field preparations, patrol base operations, air assault operations, situational tactical exercise skills, operation order instruction, force-on-force war games and an obstacle course.
“Fort Leonard Wood offers a one-stop shop when it comes to training our Soldiers that you do not find anywhere else in Missouri. The entire planning and training process was made easier by the post personnel and we are grateful for that,” Tillman said.
Missouri Army National Guard Spc. Jared Heap is a signal support specialist for the 3175th Military Police Detachment in Hannibal, Missouri, and a Show-Me GOLD officer candidate at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. He said he has been looking forward to training at Fort Leonard Wood since he found out about it last fall.
“We can train better here because there are more specific training areas on Fort Leonard Wood. For instance, like the training area we are at today, a forward operating base training area, we wouldn’t have this anywhere else in Missouri,” Heap said.
Currently, there are 65 candidates in the Show-Me GOLD program spread across five Missouri schools: Southeast Missouri State University, Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Northwest Missouri State University, William Woods University in Fulton, and the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout.
Participants in the program must satisfy admissions standards of both the university they attend and the Missouri Army National Guard.
Tillman said candidates in their freshman and sophomore years need to maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0. Candidates in their junior year must have more than 60 credit hours and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5.
“The Show-Me GOLD Program is an OCS preparatory program similar to Reserve Officer Training Corps. The GOLD programs are designed to prepare qualified enlisted Soldiers for Accelerated OCS in order to serve as commissioned officers in the Missouri Army National Guard,” Tillman said.
Heap said he joined the Missouri National Guard specifically for the Show-Me GOLD program. The 22-year-old husband and father of one, lives near St. Louis and goes to school online. He said the Show-Me GOLD program allows him to simultaneously provide for his family while getting a bachelor’s degree and reaching his goal of being an officer.
“In your junior year, you get slotted for OCS. I am slotted to attend OCS next summer. Candidates go to OCS before their senior year. Then during your senior year, you are an officer. After graduation, I will go to my unit and then take the Basic Officer Leadership Course,” Heap said.
In addition to being a full-time student and National Guard Soldier, Heap works full-time. He said with his busy schedule, Show-Me GOLD makes the most of his training opportunities.
“With Show-Me GOLD, we get to drill with the GOLD program at school. I think it is helpful because the Show-Me GOLD military training is tailored to my specific goal of becoming an officer.”
Heap said he is getting his degree in financial management and wants to be an accountant or a financial advisor. After crunching the numbers, he realized how much being a Soldier while going to school was benefiting his family financially — especially when it comes to health care.
“Tricare has been a blessing for our family. The coverage we get for what we pay for all three of us is so much better than what we would be able to afford in the civilian world,” Heap said.
Tillman said school-specific benefits vary from program to program.
“All Show-Me GOLD officer candidates are in a non-deployable status for the duration of their time in the programs,” Tillman said, noting other benefits include scholarships or reduced fees, local drill on campus, a Military Science minor added to their degree plan, networking within the Missouri Army National Guard, camaraderie with peers and federal and state tuition assistance.
“The last three years, we have averaged 12 accessions per year from the GOLD program,” Tillman said. “I enjoy seeing a Soldier grow as a person and a Soldier as they serve in the program. The confidence and knowledge they gain during their tenure with the program makes the long days and weekends worth it.”
Tillman said he hopes more Soldiers will be inspired to join the program.
“We invite any interested high school students or college students to inquire about joining a Missouri GOLD program near them,” Tillman said.
More information on joining the Missouri Army National Guard can be found here.