Guest Post by CPT Michael Kane
As a Soldier for over 23 years, I always inadvertently find some way to reference one of my Army experiences in a conversation that I’m having with someone. Once I make the connection, I usually get the question, “So are you in the military? What branch are you in and what do you do?” I always answer that I’m an Infantry Officer in the Army National Guard (ARNG) and they either perk up or give me the look of “you’re an officer, I wouldn’t have guessed!” Sometimes it hard for me to believe, even after 8 years commissioned service, but it’s been a life changing ride!
As an Enlisted soldier, I saw my officer leaders as very competent and respectful towards me. There were also the ones that had me wonder, “how did they earn their commission and who blessed off on their commissioning certificate?” In most cases, the Army Officer is a highly competent, capable and caring Soldier that leads by example and empowers others to do the same. The officer understands that he is only as strong as his team of Soldiers and they either make him successful or unsuccessful.
The United States Army’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) program, located at Fort Benning, Georgia, trains, assesses, and evaluates potential commissioned officers in the U.S. Army. The Army National Guard OCS uses the same Program of Instruction (POI) as the Fort Benning course, also known as the “Federal Program” and is taught at the Regional Training Institute (RTI) in each ARNG state.
The ARNG RTI’s are accredited every three years through Fort Benning. I earned my commission in 2006 through the ARNG OCS Accelerated Program, a 56 day course that truly tests the physical, mental and emotional states of a prospective candidate. The option that most candidates take is the Traditional Course, which is 16 months long and is broken down into 4 phases: Phase Zero (Preparatory Phase for Phase One) Phase One (2 Week Active Duty for Training), Phase Two (10-12 months of Inactive Duty for Training- “Drill Weekends”) and finally, Phase Three (2 Week Active Duty for Training). I was 33 at the time and wanted to earn my commission as soon as I could in order to lead troops and to progress my military career.
I always wanted to mentor Soldiers, ever since seeing my Senior Drill Sergeant in Basic Combat Training. I admired the ways in which my Drill Sergeants would project high levels of confidence, competence and fitness. They excelled in their trade (turning civilians into warriors) and would not release a Soldier into the Army that could not effectively play their part within a cohesive team.
In OCS, this role is emulated by the Platoon Trainer, formerly known as the T.A.C. Officer. The term T.A.C is an abbreviation for Teach, Assess and Counsel, which is the general job description of the OCS trainer, both Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s) alike. Each officer commissioned through OCS remembers their T.A.C. Officer VERY WELL because that officer played a pivotal role in them becoming an Officer in the US Army. My Senior TAC at OCS encouraged us to return as TAC Officers later in our careers to give back to the program. I took her up on the offer!
In 2012, I arrived to my current assignment as a Platoon Trainer/Instructor with the Virginia ARNG’s 183rd RTI at Ft. Pickett, Virginia, the same program that I had graduated from in 2006. I was very excited because I would be given the opportunity to train and mentor the next generation of officers and share some of my experiences and simply put, set them up on a stronger foundation than I was placed on. In order to become a Platoon Trainer, a prospective candidate must attend the following courses:
- TAC (Platoon Trainer) Qualification Course- 3 Days
- Small Group Instructor Training Course- 3 Days
- Army Basic Instructor Course- 1 Week
- Tactics Certification Course- 3 Days
These are the BASIC requirements to become a new Platoon Trainer. Along with these courses, I had to complete the Combat Lifesaver Course as well, because we must always have the capability to provide First Aid to our candidates while we are going through training and when medical support is minimal. On my Officer Evaluation Report (OER), my actual job description is as follows:
“Directly responsible for the overall development of Officer Candidates which include, but is not limited to: leadership development, training, and evaluation of the Officer Candidates (OCs), the welfare, morale and discipline of the OCs, monitoring the OCs academic progress and making recommendation for improvements when needed, maintaining records on each OC. Set a positive example of the traits and characteristics of a successful National Guard officer. Ensure that graduates of the VA-ARNG RTI OCS Program are self-confident, loyal, and trustworthy leaders.”
According to this description, a Platoon Trainer must be a trainer, mentor, counselor, coach, judge and record keeper! I have to wear many hats as a Platoon Trainer, but I proudly wear all the hats well! During my time as a Platoon Trainer, I learned that I am truly the deciding factor in whether a candidate becomes an officer or not. Most importantly, I, as a steward of the Army, affect the future of the Army based on the caliber of officer that I allow into the force. In order to take the pressure off of myself, I just set the standards of performance based on the unwritten OCS standard of “doing your best and constantly improving/moving forward from where you currently are.”
My Challenges as a Platoon Trainer
The biggest challenges that I faced as a Platoon Trainer were:
- Knowing when to raise my voice/provide “corrective training”
- How to effectively interact with candidates that I knew from previous assignments and all the candidates in general
- Always being in a peak state (physically and mentally), because you never know when the candidates and peers are watching you.
I am a generally laid back and patient person, so using the proper voice to “motivate” candidates to perform was something that I had to work on. I could be perceived as being the “candy TAC”, or the “softer TAC” when compared to the other “styles” that were displayed.
Since the Platoon Trainer Qualification Course does not provide an absolute “standard” as far as how you react as a Platoon Trainer to the candidates, it is all usually based on your personality. I have found that the main goal is to provide purpose, direction, motivation and clear guidance so that the candidate can learn how to make decisions on their own.
While at OCS, I have had candidates that I have formerly worked with, some from full-time positions, others that were my former squad leaders and some from previous deployments. This has not been a major challenge because I am a professional first, but it did take getting used to when I had to counsel them or interact with them.
The final challenge was being in a peak state at all times. To be honest, we are never ALWAYS at a peak state, but in the OCS environment, it can be perceived as a slight weakness when you are not. I found myself, at times, not in my peak state when it was needed. I had to make sure that I constantly make an effort of improving my mental and physical endurance, although with 23 years’ worth of “mileage” it can become challenging. The goal is to emulate constant improvement.
Highlights of my OCS Experience
Some of the highlights of my experience as a Platoon Trainer were:
- Watching OCS Option Candidates (no prior service) become officers
- Coordinating a Meet and Greet with a former candidate/new Officer and Candidates with English as their second language
In the US Army, there is an option for people to enter the service in order to attend the OCS program and become Commissioned Officers in the US Army. In the last 2 years, I have seen these OCS Option soldiers (MOS 09S) come and go from the program. These Soldiers do not have any prior service in the Army and are coming into the program at a seemingly disadvantage. But some of the highlights of my time have been seeing these Soldiers rise to the occasion, much of which is based on the fact that they do not have any “bad habits” and just learn and absorb what the standard of an officer is.
I must admit, there was a time of transition for me when I commissioned because I had served for 15 years and was an NCO for 8 of those years prior to commissioning. I know a few officers that were 09S candidates, including a fellow Platoon Trainer that I work with, that are doing great things as officers.
During a recent OCS Phase One, I had the opportunity to speak to a former candidate who was born and raised in Kenya, East Africa. He had recently graduated from OCS and was now serving there as a Lieutenant. We had an instant connection when we first met because I had traveled to Kenya as a lower enlisted in the past and properly pronounced his name.
I was the Senior Platoon Trainer and I had five candidates that had English as a Second language. During lunchtime while out in the field, he agreed to speak to them as a recent graduate of the program and provide them with some experiences that could potentially assist them in their OCS journey. The feedback from their meeting with the new lieutenant was very good, many of the candidates thanking me for the opportunity. It felt great to add value to a candidate’s experience and set them up for success!
Words of Advice for New Platoon Trainers
Being an OCS Platoon Trainer has been one of the most rewarding assignments that I have ever had in my career! Where else can you train, provide advice and mentor the next Army Leaders that will have an impact on the world? If you are considering taking the step to become a Platoon Trainer, I offer the following words of advice:
- You Are a Steward of the Army– Becoming a Platoon Trainer should not be taken lightly. You have a direct impact on mentoring and developing the Army’s future leaders. You must train them to standard in order to prepare them to take charge and lead the same warriors into combat and perform at their highest state, in an efficient manner.
- Think Outside the Box– The training plan already exists, but you can add value to the candidates’ experience by sharing some of your experiences and innovative ways to set them up for success, like in my example of the Meet and Greet above. Look for the potential in all of your candidates and ensure that you are giving them your best effort! Even when your peers might not see the value in your ideas, if it will set the candidate up for success, make the judgment call.
- Always Strive towards Controlling Your Peak States– You are the example of what an Officer should look like. While no one can truly ensure that they’ll be at their peak state at all times, as a Platoon Trainer, you must push yourself because people are watching you, from the candidates to your peers. The initial presentation of yourself can make or break the perceptions of you, both spoken and unspoken. Always strive to be the best that you can, which will speak volumes to your candidates.
In closing, being a Platoon Trainer is hard work, but it is worth it in the end. Simply being selected for the position says a great deal as to your potential as not only a leader, but as a trainer, advisor, mentor and more importantly a steward to our Army. As always, I hope that my experiences have provided value to you! Please comment and share this with those that you know that are pursuing this position! FOLLOW ME!!
About the Author
Michael A. Kane is a 23 Year veteran of the Army, having served in the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. He is a combat veteran of Iraq as well as Afghanistan. Michael enjoys being with his family, personal development, promoting strong marriages, music and entrepreneurial endeavors as a Network Marketing Professional. He has been married to his wife, Yanick for almost 16 years and they are the parents of four kids ranging in age from 12 years to 1 year old. He is currently serving as a Captain in the Virginia Army National Guard on Active Duty at the National Guard Bureau as a Mobilization Analyst and in his traditional role as a Platoon Trainer/Instructor at the Officer Candidate School, training the next leaders of the Army National Guard.