The summer has gone by fast and we have been busy. First, I want to welcome our new OCS commandant and commander of 3-11 Infantry, Lt. Col. Dave Holstead. Dave is a very experienced leader. He is a combat veteran who has experience with training officers as a TAC at West Point. We are very lucky to have him. Dave has already shown a great interest in the history and traditions of OCS.
Second, I want to say goodbye to Lt. Col. Matt Chitty. I heard from him today as I write this article. He and his family are settled in North Dakota and he is ready to start training young officers again. This time he will be the Professor of Military Science at North Dakota State University. Matt, thanks for your service and a job well done.
Vice President of Operations, Dan Johnson, is doing a great job planning the next reunion. Specific information about the reunion will be published by November so we can start registration then. Remember we will conduct a formal dedication of the OCS Heritage Center Wigle Hall at the next reunion.
It is time to start the submission for the 2020 Hall of Fame group. Make sure your justifications are thorough and in conjunction with the published guidance. For individuals who are not retired colonels or recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, it is necessary to clearly demonstrate that the nominee’s public service is substantial and worthy of Hall of Fame recognition. DO NOT MAKE THE BOARD GUESS.
It is also time to nominate members for the Board of Directors. It has become an expectation that board members are also project directors. Bottom line if you want to work to help us meet and achieve our USAOCSAA goals and objectives, please throw your hat in the ring and let us know how you want to help.
We get a number of contacts on data base errors on the members’ list. Any help is appreciated. Data base management is an ongoing project and process. Ultimately it is an individual member’s responsibility to ensure his/her information is correct.
We have been approved by AUSA to have a kiosk at their annual meeting in October in Washington, DC. The DC Chapter volunteered to man the kiosk so if you are attending the AUSA annual meeting come by and see the team. We will have lapel pins for all OCS graduates or cadre who visit the kiosk. Hope to see you there.
Remember we have quarterly board meetings. At the board meetings, all of our projects and activities are briefed and evaluated. That information is available to all members on the website so you can track how we are doing to meet our goals and objectives.
I hope the rest of your summer goes well and we look forward to your calls and emails. We hope to see you in DC or at Fort Benning this year.
Frank L. Harman III
Colonel (USA Retired)
Greetings from Fort Benning!
First and foremost, please allow me to introduce myself as the new 3-11 IN (OCS) commander and OCS commandant. My name is Lt. Col. David Holstead. I assumed command of the battalion in June 2019. I came from Washington, DC, where I spent the past two and a half years working as a Department of the Army liaison in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I cannot begin to convey how honored, proud, and humbled I am to be serving in this role. After one month in the chair, I am just beginning to appreciate the scope and strategic importance of this mission. I couldn’t be more excited to serve in this role for the next two years.
The OCS Battalion continues to train officer candidates at a high tempo, with three classes currently in session and another beginning in August. I have focused my initial efforts in three areas. The first area is ensuring our cadre are equipped and prepared to lead candidates, teach effectively, and provide meaningful feedback to our prospective officers. With HQDA accreditation around the corner, the second area to focus on is ensuring our battalion functions with sustainable systems that will govern our operations going forward. The last area is instilling a sense of pride in our battalion, and especially our candidates, with regards to the history and legacy of OCS. I want our graduates to be proud of OCS and represent us well as they go forward into their branch-specific training and beyond.
Again, I cannot stress how proud, yet humbled, I am to be the OCS commandant and to command this great battalion. I also appreciate all our robust and distinguished alumni give back to the battalion. I aim to serve you well. Please feel free to visit the OCS footprint any time.
Standards!! No Compromise!!
David T. Holstead
Lieutenant Colonel, Armor
Office Phone: 706-545-3507
Email: [email protected]
Do You Have Any Feathers to Find?
The greatest instruction in life often comes through the most common experiences. As a child, my father would often point out something growing in the field on our farm or an animal going about its daily routine—something I had seen a number of times but had never observed. He would tell me a story or quote a scripture and that scene would never be the same! Before his all-too-early death, he filled my young and eager mind with visions that remain until this day and that still speak to me over a half-century later!
There is a story about a woman in a tiny village in Switzerland, though it could have happened anywhere. She comes to the realization that she has sinned against her neighbor by passing on some malicious gossip. Heartbroken over her mistake, she went to her priest at the local parish to confess her sin. The wise old priest heard her confession and told her that before he would give her absolution (forgiveness), she had to do penance for her sin.
Her penance, so the story goes, was to go home and take feathers from a down pillow and place a single feather on the doorstep of every house in the village. The lady rushed home, found the pillow, and, after placing the feathers on the doorsteps, returned to the church to receive her absolution.
“Before I give you absolution,” the wise old priest said, “you must do one more thing. Now go throughout the village and collect the feathers you have placed on the doorsteps.” The woman looked deeply troubled and exclaimed, “But by now the wind has scattered them so it is impossible to recollect them!” “So it is with gossip,” the wise old priest mused. “So it is with gossip.”
Take a moment to think. Do you have any feathers to find? I do.
Chaplain (Colonel, USA Retired) Sam Boone is a graduate of OCS Class 2-74.
Follow Me! How Vietnam War Era Veterans Found Success and Led A Nation by Example
This compilation of untold stories tells how one of the most successful classes to graduate OCS endured the horrors of war, returned to an ungrateful nation, and went on to live very successful productive lives, largely due to their training at Officer Candidate School. This book can be a catalyst for parents, educators, business leaders, and clergy to tell future generations about these Vietnam War era veterans who made us proud to be Americans!
Nick Snider talked about writing this book ever since I met him in 2004. Ten years later, while convalescing from major back surgery, Nick decided to write the book just in time for the 50th anniversary of OCS Class 4-65. When asked to coordinate the efforts that would bring this book to publication, I must say I was flooded with emotions. Nick was flat on his back. I was a West Point mom, not an OCS mom. I knew little about OCS. However, I had met many 4-65 class members at the OCS reunions we hosted in Atlanta, so I truly was delighted to write this book.
I assumed everyone would be as excited as I was to get this book written and have their stories told. Well…it didn’t quite go like that. For the most part, the guys were very nice to me, applauded the effort, and had nothing to say. I quickly realized I was in trouble. How do I get veterans of an unpopular war engaged in telling a story they didn’t want to participate in telling? After badgering them with a barrage of phone calls, emails, and text messages, I had to find the angle to get them to engage. I was later called “relentless,” at least to my face.
I quickly realized it was combat they were not interested in talking about. But this book was about the class, not combat. And I also realized they are not writers. So I started by presenting three questions to each of them individually to answer. Thanks to George Hughes, who kept helping me to get messages to class members, I sent the questions and they started sending the answers. I figured they were happy just to get me off their backs!
The questions had to be relevant to future generations and they had to be about their lives after OCS:
1. How did your time and training at OCS impact your life?
2. How would you like your family and friends to remember you?
3. What advice would you like to offer future generations?
Before long, we had a book! I was so honored to present the book at the 50th anniversary reunion in 2015 and for the warmest welcome from all the class members who labored with me to get the book to print! And the look on my West Point officer son’s face when I showed him the book I wrote about OCS: PRICELESS!
Pat Stansbury is the executive director of the National Foundation of Patriotism.
Nick Snider, the founder of the National Foundation of Patriotism, was the keynote speaker at the reunion dinner in May.
Candidate Justin Voithofer
“We come from all walks of life, from different cities and towns, different levels of education and experience, all united in the common goal of serving and giving back to the country we call home.”
Five months ago, I couldn’t tell you my expectations of Officer Candidate School. I had only read about OCS in articles and heard accounts of the men and women who had attended. Before joining the Army, I worked as a military historian and was lucky enough to conduct interviews with veterans about their service. After interviewing over a dozen veterans, many whom were OCS alumni, they all unknowingly focused upon three things about their time at OCS: the people, the common mission, and the legacy. I put those three things in the back of my mind and began looking to see if what they said was true. The last ten weeks here have shown emphatically that OCS has exceeded my expectations in those three regards and set me up for success for the rest of my life and career.
Out of all of the answers that alumni gave me, the one thing they missed the most about their time here was being surrounded by dedicated and motivated people. From the first moment I stepped on the OCS footprint, I have been honored to be serving alongside such individuals. From farmers from Illinois to immigrants from South Korea, the men and women who make up class 006-19 show the best of America. We come from all walks of life, from different cities and towns, different levels of education and experience, all united in the common goal of serving and giving back to the country we call home. The selflessness of those around me and their continual strive to push those around them towards being better than yesterday has made me a better leader, follower, and a person overall. Looking back on our situational training exercises, I realize in the moments I did well, a big part was having motivated and dedicated people around me. People, who through nine exercises a day, brought the same energy to the last one that they did the first one. They did this not for themselves or their grade, but rather for their squad mates whom they cared for and wanted to succeed. We have been taught that throughout history what has made the U.S. Army successful has been the people among its ranks. One only has to look around in formation at OCS to see it is still true today.
While we may have committed people, we would still be nothing without the mission and sense of duty that has been instilled in us by the cadre and curriculum here. Being educated on the technical and tactical aspects of life as a commissioned officer and a Soldier has inspired confidence in myself and those around me going forward. The course has been challenging in ways I didn’t even imagine before arriving. Writing and then executing my first operations order taught me a lot about who I was as a leader and gave me confidence in myself and my plan. The course has tested me mentally, physically, and emotionally. In the end, it has prepared me for the privilege of leading the finest commodity the United States has to offer: its sons and daughters. It is this aspect of OCS that has instilled in me the duty to do what is right, not just for myself, but for the Soldiers I will be tasked with leading into combat. OCS taught me to push myself to exceed the standard in order to properly lead from the front, not for outside glory but because my Soldiers deserve my best. That sense of duty has been imparted in me here and from it I look to meet all tasks my country may call upon me to meet.
Each one of those veterans talked with pride about the legacy of those who went before them. The history books are filled with the heroic deeds of OCS graduates and the tremendous heritage they created and fostered. For 78 years, this institution has created leaders in the United States Army. To be able to walk under the same arches as those who have gone before gives me a profound sense of honor and passion going forward. For the historian in me, this is perhaps the most impactful and inspirational aspect of OCS. Knowing that the heroes throughout history that I idolize, like Dick Winters or Rick Rescorla, at one time were in my exact shoes. Not a day goes by that, when I put on my uniform, I don’t think of all those who wore this same candidate rank before me. I count it as one of the highest privileges of my life to be able to exceed standards and make those who came before proud.
My OCS experience has instilled in me three things that I will forever carry with me in my personal life and Army career—the community of dedicated and selfless people who I have trained with, an appreciation of the tremendous burden of command that OCS has prepared me for, and finally the legacy of all who have walked before us. These past ten weeks have been without a doubt the most formative and influential weeks of my life. They have been tough and the days have been long but looking back on them now, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Wherever I go in my military and personal life, the cornerstone of everything I am and will become rest with what I have experienced these last ten weeks at Officer Candidate School.
Candidate Voithofer is scheduled to be commissioned in August.
Editor’s Note: In this edition of the newsletter, we have two articles from OCS graduates who will begin their Sandhurst training in September.
2nd Lt. Morgan A. Cooney
I was first introduced to the idea of attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) during a briefing to my OCS class, Class 004-19, in Nett Hall. I was immediately intrigued by this prestigious opportunity to join ranks with our foreign allies at a military academy that has been the source of many of the world’s current and future leaders. The world-class instruction I would receive while attending the program, as well as the challenge of completing a difficult course requiring nothing short of 100% effort, are just some of the reasons I desired to compete to attend RMAS. I believed while it would be easier to stay and begin my career as an Infantry officer by attending Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course (IBOLC) with my year group, I would greatly benefit from the relationships and experiences RMAS would afford me. Not only would it distinguish me from my peers, but more importantly, I would gain experience that would continue to build the foundation for my Army career. RMAS, combined with IBOLC and Ranger School, will better prepare me to lead my first platoon as an Infantry officer. It is my duty to be the best leader I can be for my future Soldiers. I would be mistaken not to take the opportunity to grow and hone my leadership abilities at RMAS.
After being selected to attend Sandhurst and graduating OCS, I have several months until I leave for the United Kingdom. This period between schools brought many other opportunities to grow my leadership skills and gain necessary experience to be successful in future leadership positions. I was tasked to Delta Company, 3-11 IN as the company Executive Officer (XO). In this position I planned, resourced, and executed training in support of the company. I learned the administrative responsibilities required for the company to function, such as building concepts of operations and deliberate risk assessment worksheets for training events. This experience has allowed me to learn the organizational and logistical side of working as a lieutenant and will help me arrive prepared to immediately contribute on day one as a platoon leader.
Two months prior to the start of the commissioning course at Sandhurst, 2nd Lt. Kilgore and I traveled to the United Kingdom on a six-day trip for the Sandhurst Pre-Commissioning Course (PCC). While attending PCC, we familiarized ourselves with the campus and surrounding area, met the Americans already at RMAS, and received an orientation of the course we will begin in September. At the London airport, we were greeted by U.S. Army Maj. Quinn. He facilitated our movement to Sandhurst and briefed us on expectations during our short visit. That evening, we went to dinner with the American cadets. They shared their experiences in the course thus far. British and Irish cadets joined us at dinner as well. I enjoyed learning about their perspective on RMAS. The following day we went to lunch with another American cadet, listened to his experiences at RMAS, and visited a nearby town.
On Monday PCC began with lectures and briefings about what to expect when we begin the course in September. They went into detail about the field exercises, class structure, and academic portions of the course. In the afternoon, we were fitted for the uniforms we will wear at Sandhurst. We were issued two pairs of boots and a pair of running shoes to break in before the course begins. Dinner followed and we ended the evening at the dining hall’s Colours Bar where we interacted with other future cadets. I particularly enjoyed that part of the course because it opened up genuine conversation with my future peers. I was pleased to have the opportunity to develop friendships before the beginning of the course. The second day was similar to the first and consisted of lectures, briefs, and a tour of the RMAS campus. The final day we were given medical evaluations, a physical fitness test, and a closing lecture. Afterward, PCC was officially over. The next morning 2nd Lt. Kilgore and I met with retired Col. Winser, the gentleman in charge of the international cadet program. Our meeting made it apparent how passionate he and his team are about international students at RMAS. Col. Winser took the time to get to know us personally and answer any remaining questions. His interest and attention to detail reflected his dedication to his position. I look forward to working with him in the future.
With PCC complete and less than two months before we begin at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, I am nothing short of ecstatic for the adventure I am about to experience. I am looking forward to growing my leadership abilities and preparing for my future role as a platoon leader. I am thankful for the time I have between OCS and RMAS and the opportunity to work as an XO. PCC has prepared me to begin the Sandhurst commissioning course and I cannot wait to arrive in September. Until then, I look forward to my continued service with Delta Company and preparing myself physically and mentally to represent the United States of America at Sandhurst.
2nd Lt. Roger Kilgore
A grueling 36-hour, 70-kilometer land navigation course through the Black Mountains of Wales (Exercise Long Reach); a five-day defensive operation with little sleep (Exercise First Encounter); and an 11-day counter insurgency operation which culminates with maintaining public order during a large-scale riot (Exercise Broadsword) were but a few of the field exercises highlighted in Col. Woods’ (the British Army liaison to Fort Benning) initial presentation about the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) during the early weeks of my time at Officer Candidate School. In hindsight, that was all that was needed to sell me on applying to the program.
The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is located in England, 35 miles southwest of London. It is a 44-week program divided into three phases, each 14 weeks long. The first phase, Junior Term, sets the foundation for life as a military officer. During this phase, RMAS cadets learn barracks administration, basic drill and ceremony procedures, and how to operate as a team. The second phase, Intermediate Term, focuses on leadership in garrison and the field. During this phase, cadets refine their small unit tactical abilities (i.e. squad operations) while additionally learning the tenets of both platoon and company operations. In the final phase, Senior Term, cadets are expected to take everything they have learned up to that point and apply it to complex scenarios in urban, rural, and civilian populations. This opportunity seemed like an exciting challenge.
I entered Officer Candidate School in February 2019 with a strong desire to become an Infantry officer. The desire could be traced back to my formative years as an athlete on the football field. The physical nature, competitiveness, and brotherhood that I grew to love as a collegiate football player made it an easy decision to select Infantry. Furthermore, the opportunity to serve my country, in what I considered the highest capacity, filled me with a desire to be great for not only those I report to, but also for those whom I will have the privilege to lead someday. Following Col. Woods’ presentation, I viewed the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as another opportunity to grow as a military leader. Serving with international units happens frequently in today’s Army, so having the opportunity to train with British cadets as well as other international cadets from over 25 different countries will better prepare me for life as an Infantry officer.
The RMAS application process consisted of two rounds of interviews—the first of which was presided over by my OCS company commander. Following the first round of interviews, the initial applicant pool was reduced to six candidates. The final interview was presided over by the OCS commandant as well as Col. Woods. At the conclusion of the second interview, I was fortunate to be one of two officer candidates selected for the program.
Attending the weeklong RMAS pre-commissioning course in early July was a humbling experience. To walk the same historic grounds that Sir Winston Churchill walked from 1893-1895, and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge walked in 2006 filled me with an immense pride and joy in my selection to attend RMAS as well as burning desire to excel so that I could best represent the United States of America.
Days one to three of the pre-commissioning course consisted of medical screenings, uniform measurements and boot issue, as well as various briefs by British officers, colour sergeants, and civilians. These briefs centered on dispelling some of the myths associated with RMAS and most importantly set the expectations for my class, Regular Commissioning Course 193. Throughout my three days at the pre-commissioning course, I found myself most fascinated with the academic aspects of the course. As an international cadet, I have the opportunity to take part in the graduate degree program at Sandhurst which partners with the University of Reading. After completion of the academic course, I will earn one third of the credits needed to obtain a master’s degree in leadership.
Overall, the pre-commissioning course proved invaluable. I left the pre-commissioning course with a clear understanding of what is expected of me, familiarity with the RMAS campus, and a group of international friends who will make the transition to a foreign country that much easier. I greatly look forward to this opportunity ahead. Ten weeks of Basic Combat Training, 12 weeks of Officer Candidate School, and 44 weeks at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst seems like an extended period of training time, nevertheless I am confident that upon graduation from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst I will be prepared to excel as an Infantry officer in the United States Army for decades to come.
Editor’s Note: This newsletter is dedicated to our history—to capturing our stories, to preserving that history. We all have a story to tell. Some of us have war stories to tell; some of us do not. But we all have a history of service to this nation and that story must be preserved. It starts with you. Have you told your story? Have you preserved your story for future generations?
Retired Lt. Col. James Wright participated in the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress.
Interview with Retired Lt. Col. James Wright
1. Why did you participate in the Veterans History Project? What motivated you?
Family and friends who were familiar with my military service encouraged me to start writing it down. My daughters and grandkids continually kept up the pressure to document my experience. In addition, several of my former Soldiers felt their experiences and perspectives were tied to mine and were encouraging me to record my history. In addition, they were convinced the media and so-called documentaries were distorting their experiences and perspectives and, in many instances, were a gross inaccuracy. Consequently, I felt a desire to document my service as it included and affected these courageous individuals who dared to serve their country during a turbulent and trying time in our history. I subsequently received calls from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and the Texas Tech University Vietnam Archive Oral History Project further encouraging me to submit a paper. I suspect that my contact information had been provided by one of my Soldiers or family members familiar with these archives. The Veterans History Project appeared to offer an ideal repository that could be referenced and accessed by others. They subsequently provided the form, format, and procedures.
I also had become involved in a high school Vietnam History Project being sponsored by a local high school history teacher. This project included a series of events and circumstances that brought me into direct contact with the students. It soon became apparent that these students were eager to hear about our experiences and perspectives. Most indicated that much of what they were hearing was simply not included in any history about the Vietnam War. They were fascinated to hear about the existence of Donut Dollies, the environment, the animals and the people, and not just war stories. In essence, their interaction with a live Vietnam veteran was viewed as a significant supplement to their learning experience and filled in between the lines of their history books. Their visit to the Vietnam Wall was a highlight. I was impressed with their interest and countless questions. This further reinforced the need to document the experience for future students.
2. What did you hope to accomplish by writing your personal narrative?
I wanted to convey my experience in a manner that also significantly impacted the lives of others. I forwarded a draft to several former officers and NCOs to ensure some accuracy and to ensure I did not offend anyone before I subsequently forwarded it to the Library of Congress. Vietnam consumed the better part of my military career and brought me into contact with countless Soldiers, leaders, and situations that had life-changing impacts. I have participated in numerous ceremonies at the Vietnam Wall as well as organizational reunions. Many names on the Vietnam Wall have personal connections to my experience. I was fortunate to have survived when so many of them did not. Everyone who went to Vietnam had a personal and unique experience that differed on many levels to include dates and times, organizations, locations, responsibilities, circumstances, events, and other considerations. No one who served in Vietnam went through the experience alone. In many instances, those who served with me were the reason I survived. Their selfless courage and sense of duty were interwoven with my experience. Education, training, and background can mitigate but not eliminate uncertainties in combat. Simply stated too many situations, circumstances, and events were beyond my personal control. There is no other situation that can compare to direct combat operations on a day-to-day basis. Personal confidence underpins leadership but it must correlate with confidence in others. Those who dealt with continuous direct combat operations faced constant danger, experienced the loss of friends and colleagues, endured constant misery and dangers, dealt with fear, and made life and death decisions were profoundly impacted. Their stories, experience, and courage deserve to be preserved for posterity in the hope these situations can be avoided and lessons can be passed to future generations.
3. What was the hardest part of writing the narrative?
The hardest part was doing justice to those Soldiers who shared my experience and ensured my personal welfare and survival. Also, it was a challenge to recall and filter specific details worth including while also dealing with memories long passed or faded. There were many circumstances, events, incidents, details, people, personal experiences, and memories that were excluded and subsequently recalled. This paper, in essence, was simply a snapshot of my experience and how it may have impacted others. The aforementioned family and friends now want me to further expand the narrative and include details that were previously excluded.
4. In hindsight, would you do anything differently in writing your narrative?
A more comprehensive outline would have aided the effort. I simply sat down and started writing from memory. I should have also discussed the effort with former Soldiers who shared my experience to better ensure it included more of their thoughts on how this experience impacted their lives. I have subsequently had the privilege of meeting many wives, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, other relatives, and friends of my former Soldiers. In several instances, these encounters have been a really emotional experience for me. Several have hugged me and sobbed unconsolably while thanking me for contributing to their loved one’s survival. I also heard stories from them conveyed by their loved ones but long since suppressed or forgotten that would have added to the narrative. Unfortunately, I wrote the original narrative off the top of my head whereas in reflection I should have been more systematic.
5. Was writing your narrative worth it?
This will have to be adjudged by others. Family, friends, and former military colleagues have indicated their approval. If nothing else, it will become a documented legacy of my experience that will serve as a reference for future generations. In addition, I trust it contained some data points that will enlighten others who will face a similar experience in the future. If it contributes to a reader surviving or mitigating the loss of another, it will have been worth the effort.
Retired Lt. Col. James Wright graduated from OCS in 1966. He is a member of the OCS Alumni Association Board of Directors and was inducted into the OCS Hall of Fame in 2018.
Where to Publish Your History
The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress, collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. The Veterans History Project accepts personal narratives, correspondence, and visual materials. Approximately six months after submission, all donated materials are available to researchers, scholars, students, Congress, authors, filmmakers, and anyone else visiting the Library of Congress. The Veterans History Project website contains an individual web page for each veteran who contributes. This page includes service history and other information about each veteran. Currently, only about 10 percent of the collections are digitized so that they may be viewed online.
The National Museum of the United States Army hosts a registry to recognize and honor those who have served the U.S. Army. The registry will be on permanent display at the museum, currently scheduled to open in 2020 at Fort Belvoir, Va., and will be accessible via the museum’s website. Information includes name, rank, hometown, and service activity. The museum is dedicated to capturing the history of Soldiers’ service to America, at home and abroad, so that future generations will not forget.
The OCS Alumni Association is also interested in preserving the history of its members. We have a section of the website for yearbooks, programs, and other memorabilia about OCS or its members. Retired Lt. Col. James Wright participated in the Veterans History Project and provided his article to the Association for uploading to the website. If you would like to have your history preserved on the Association’s website, please contact [email protected].
A REMEMBRANCE: MEMORIES OF MY OCS ROOMMATE
In 1972, I was a college-option officer candidate. After completing basic training in October, I reported to Officer Candidate School Class 3-73. I was obviously green in Army things. I didn’t realize how green I was until I was assigned my room on the top floor of 50th Company barracks. I recall it was on the far corner of the 5th platoon area. When I entered my room, I was face to face with a stark reminder of how green I was. Standing before me was a staff sergeant in full greens. He was wearing a Distinguished Service Cross and four Purple Hearts amongst a large variety of skill badges from various countries. But most notably was that he was a Green Beret with multiple tours in Vietnam. Staff Sgt. Eldon Bargewell was the first experience of my six months in 50th Company. It was to be the first of several positive interactions with Eldon. I found out through the years that followed that no matter what level this man achieved, he always used his first name in our communications. When we met, Eldon was courteous but professional. He was also focused on the task at hand, a trait that he demonstrated in his long career. He welcomed me and wanted to get to know me. I came from Montana and Eldon from Washington so we had a bit of geographical connection. But beyond that it was quite obvious that we had very different backgrounds before OCS. But Eldon didn’t make an issue of that. We got to know each other and shared stories while in our bunks. I learned from these discussions.
I recall a few events and stories Eldon either told me or I observed. The first was when Eldon reported in and went to the mess hall for our first meal. Standing at parade rest in the chow line, Eldon stood out. The TAC officers were a bit puzzled and questioned who this guy was and if he was for real. After a few records checks and discussions, the matter was settled. Eldon proceeded to carry on with the expectations of being lower than whale s*** right along with the rest of us. I watched as other prior service candidates washed out, but Eldon exceeded expectations in all areas. Eldon was a humble man; he didn’t make much of his young but eventful career. He did tell me about some of his missions, his experiences, his work with Montagnards, his less-than-known locations, a couple of his close calls, and others. His many scars were a visible demonstration of his four Purple Hearts. Eventually the always-dreaded room change occurred and someone else was privileged to be Eldon’s roommate. I was focused on the daily tasks but did notice that in patrols and Ranger week Eldon had other roles. I recall one night in our week in the field that Eldon played the part of OPFOR, yelling at us in Vietnamese language “Yankee, go home!” and other expletives that echoed through the darkness somewhere on Fort Benning. I recall later when we reached senior candidate status that Eldon’s wife came with their children to pick him up. Of course, this was in the classic VW van that was so prevalent at the time. In the end Eldon was our honor graduate. Throughout OCS, Eldon continued to give me little hints about such things as battlefield survival, interacting with your NCOs, and other useful tips. After graduation we went our separate ways—me to the 101st Airborne Division and him to Fort Lewis as part of a new Ranger battalion.
We stayed in touch but not on a regular basis. Eldon dropped off the radar when he did such things as commanding the Delta Force and other positions. I sometimes worked with organizations such as the 5th Special Forces Group and would ask if anyone knew how Eldon was doing, me not knowing where he always was. I received some cautious and quizzical looks and questions about how I knew Eldon.
I recall emailing with Eldon one time when he was flying from Bosnia back to Europe. At this time, Eldon had achieved the rank of major general. No surprise to me. He informed me he was retiring to Alabama in the near future. We stayed in touch on a more regular basis after that, culminating with a special visit by my wife and me at Fort Benning during an OCS Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
I had hoped to see Eldon again but received the sad news that Eldon died in a lawnmower accident on April 29. My first reaction was to feel ill. I thought the enemy had tried to kill him but never could, but a lawnmower accident did. My flag was at half-staff from the time I learned of Eldon’s death until Memorial Day.
Eldon was a true warrior and leader who was highly respected by all who met him. I will forever cherish knowing this great and humble man.
LeRoy “Le” Gaub graduated from 50th Company (Class 3-73) in April 1973. Gaub was commissioned as a Quartermaster officer and began his military career as a platoon leader in a forward support company of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. He served 31 years in active and reserve positions. Gaub was inducted into the OCS Hall of Fame in 2011.
Retired Col. Le Gaub and retired Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell at Gaub’s induction into the OCS Hall of Fame in 2011.
THE HISTORY OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
Decorations for heroism are a relatively recent development in the Army’s history. A reflection of the disdain for European monarchies and their various orders and awards only available to society’s upper echelons, the Army only had one award, the Badge of Military Merit (known as the Purple Heart for its shape), from its birth through the Civil War. General George Washington awarded the Badge of Military Merit to three noncommissioned officers, Sergeants Daniel Bissel, William Brown, and Elijah Churchill, in 1783. Each of these Soldiers distinguished themselves in “singularly meritorious action.” The Army never rescinded the authorization for the award, but following the initial presentation made no further awards. During the Mexican War, the Army created a certificate of merit that neither included a medal nor survived war’s end. During the Civil War, Commanding General Winfield Scott rejected proposals for an award for heroism as he considered such a device a European affectation. The biases of the early republic burned strong in Scott.
While Scott did not support any individual award, the Navy possessed a different attitude. In December 1861, the Navy Department created a medal of valor, later renamed the Medal of Honor. Originally intended for the Civil War, the medal became a permanent award in 1863. From 1863 until World War I, there was only one award for heroism—the Medal of Honor. This meant many early awards do not approach the standards of gallantry and intrepidity in action required for the award today.
With World War I’s outbreak, the Army recognized the need to distinguish between the levels of battlefield gallantry and created two more awards—the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and the Silver Star. Originally, the Silver Star was just that—a small silver star worn on the suspension ribbon of the World War I Victory Medal to recognize one’s receiving a citation for battlefield valor.
Unlike the Silver Star, the DSC came into being as a full-fledged medal intended to recognize heroic conduct not rising to the level of that required for the Medal of Honor. Together, the Medal of Honor, DSC, and Silver Star represented the beginning of what ultimately became known as the pyramid of honor to appropriately recognize battlefield conduct. Whereas many early awards of the Medal of Honor were highly dubious by contemporary standards, awards of the DSC have generally reflected appropriate recognition; however, there are examples of subsequent reviews leading to revocation of the medal and its replacement with the Medal of Honor.
Army records indicate that 2,221,714 Soldiers received the World War I Victory Medal for service on the Western Front or in Russia. Records also show the Army awarded only 6,428 DSCs for heroism during that conflict. This contrasts with 102 awards of the Medal of Honor and an estimated 40,000 total awards (including recipients receiving two or more) of the Silver Star. The distribution of awards shows the DSC met the intent behind its creation.
World War II saw a tightening of the standards for the DSC as a bigger Army, engaged in combat over a much larger area, only presented 4,710 such awards. Again, by way of contrast, that conflict saw 332 awards of the Medal of Honor and over 76,500 awards of the Silver Star. The Army’s expanded awards system, which grew to include the Air Medal (1942), Bronze Star Medal (1944), and Distinguished Flying Cross (1927), provided additional means for recognizing conduct that helped tighten the standards for awarding a DSC.
The conflict in Korea saw a marked reduction in the number of awards when contrasted to the two prior conflicts. In many respects more reminiscent of World War I than World War II after the United Nations command adopted a strategic defensive strategy, the conflict saw only 734 DSCs awarded.
Vietnam saw a marked increase in the numbers of DSC awards with this reflecting both the more aggressive nature of American involvement, the markedly improved tactical mobility Army forces enjoyed thus extending their operational reach, the deployment of larger advisory teams down to smaller tactical echelons, and the conflict’s longer duration. By war’s end, 1,066 Soldiers received an award of the DSC. This compared with 173 Medals of Honor and over 21,600 Silver Stars.
No Soldier received a DSC for Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, or Somalia. Since 9/11 awards of the DSC have been very rare. Recently, however, a three-year long review of award citations resulted in 13 Soldiers having their Silver Stars upgraded to the DSC. One of these upgrades resulted in OCS graduate Maj. Thomas Bostick’s posthumous Silver Star upgraded to a DSC. To date, the number of awards of the Medal of Honor (14) and DSC (14) for actions since 9/11 are the same.
While the DSC is a relatively recent decoration, it has undergone one significant redesign of the medal’s pendant itself. Originally designed by Capt. Jules A. Smith, Corps of Engineer Reserve, the first castings of the medal resulted in recommendations for changes. The first casting run in 1918 resulted in 100 examples of this design and the Army awarded these until the supply was exhausted. The modified second design continues unchanged through the present.
Intended to fill a void in the Army’s award system, the DSC has performed as expected. While many may privately question awards of some medals, few with any knowledge of the Army’s award system will question the validity of a DSC. The decreasing numbers awarded demonstrate a commitment to preserving the medal’s fundamental integrity. The DSC provides a clearly defined benchmark for heroism.
Paul Cook is a retired colonel and doctoral student in military history at Temple University.
OCS HERITAGE CENTER
The OCS Heritage Center within Wigle Hall at Fort Benning, Ga. was dedicated on April 30 during the 2019 reunion. The Heritage Center celebrates and recognizes the history and traditions of OCS, regardless of school or training location. The OCS Alumni Association continues to encourage OCS alumni to share their stories to be placed in the interactive kiosk. The searchable kiosk in the Hall of Fame gallery gives OCS alumni an opportunity to share military experiences and other relevant information.
2008 OCS graduate retired Capt. Florent Groberg has provided his story for the kiosk. (See below.) Capt. Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan in August 2012.
If you would like to provide your story, please contact Phyllis Aaron at [email protected]. In addition to your typewritten narrative, you will need to provide your name (as you want it displayed in the kiosk) and where and what year you graduated OCS.
Retired Capt. Florent Groberg
After completing basic training in September of 2008, I embarked on my OCS journey with one mission in mind. I wanted to be on top of the order of merit list so that I could pick infantry without any doubts. After six weeks, I was number two on the list and selected infantry as my branch. Next, I learned a lot about the responsibilities of an officer. I learned about the need to be a leader of men first and never put personal objectives as a first. They say its mission first but to me it was always about my troops. If you take care of your men, the mission will take care of itself. This paid dividends for me in combat.
Next, I learned about leadership and the process of understanding what “following as a leader means.” The rank doesn’t equate to being a subject matter expert in everything. It means that as a leader you need to bring out the best in your team, follow, and trust them to be professionals and be experts at their craft.
I was a better lieutenant in combat because I put my rank and ego to the side and understood my role: command the battlefield. I learned that foundation in OCS.
Have you ordered your brick or paver? This is truly a great way to memorialize your OCS experience, military duty, and tell your story. Go to the OCS Alumni Association website today and order your history.
Each year on Memorial Day, thousands of veterans and their families congregate at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to remember and to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. This year, the D.C. chapter of the OCS Alumni Association presented a wreath honoring those OCS graduates who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in southeast Asia.
Retired Col. Cliff Fields and retired Col. John O’Shea present the OCS wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Interested in establishing an OCS Alumni Association chapter in your area?
Association chapters are established to coordinate and promote activities and camaraderie at the local level. The chapters encourage fellowship and goodwill among the OCS graduate community and promote the purposes of the Association.
The Association has an SOP that describes the process for establishing and operating a chapter. To establish a chapter, a minimum of 10 founding members are required. The requirements for operating a chapter are submission of an annual report on the activities of the chapter and reporting any change in its leadership.
If any member is interested in establishing a chapter or would like to receive a copy of the SOP, please contact Chris Bresko at [email protected].
- The OCS Alumni Association membership dues policy has changed. Life membership is no longer based on age. It is $300 regardless of age. Furthermore, annual membership dues can count for life membership dues. Annual members who wish to convert to life membership will only need to pay the difference between what they have paid and $300. To renew your annual membership for a life membership, please contact Dr. Patrick Smith at [email protected].
- How did OCS impact your life? We are looking for your thoughts to put on the website. Please take a moment to consider how OCS impacted your life…and develop a personal quotation that truly captures this feeling. Please send your quotation to Ken Braswell at [email protected].