News: The Road to WOC no easy walk
Story by Spc. Brian Johnson
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before the sun came up on the morning of July 21, nine aspiring warrant officer candidates embarked on a 6.2-mile road march at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base on the city’s far southeast side.
Their mission was to complete the road march within 106 minutes. If they accomplished the task, they would get to advance to the next phase of their training.
If they failed to complete the mission, they would not be able to advance to the next phase of their training and would be disenrolled from the warrant officer program.
These are some of the challenges that face warrant officer candidates every cycle at the 147th Regiment (Regional Training Institute)’s Reserve Component Warrant Officer Candidate School.
What makes a warrant officer different from a commissioned officer?
According to the Army Warrant Officer Recruiting Command website, “Warrant officers are highly specialized experts and trainers in their career fields ... Warrant officers remain single-specialty officers with career tracks that progress within their field, unlike their commissioned officer counterparts who focus on increased levels of command and staff duty positions.”
For Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Camechis of Columbus, it meant a chance for additional opportunities in his military career path.
“I had plateaued in my military career as a staff sergeant [E-6],” Camechis said. “I was considering becoming an officer for additional career progression. While my unit [at the time] was deployed to Kosovo, I met a warrant officer named Curtis Wilson. He guided me toward being a warrant officer instead of a commissioned officer. In 2007, I made the transition from being an enlisted soldier to a warrant officer.”
According to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Osborne, one of the WOCS cadre at the 147th RTI, the Reserve Component Warrant Officer Candidate School was started because of a shortage of warrant officers in the National Guard and Reserve.
“The number of warrant officers has been decreasing for a while,” Osborne said. “One of the major factors was the growing number of deployments for National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.”
Soldiers were being deployed for more than a year and did not want to go away for another four to six weeks for schooling, in between deployments, to become warrant officers. This potential hardship for soldiers, being away from their families and jobs even longer, deterred many from pursuing it.
The Reserve Component Warrant Officer Candidate School was established to give National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers the opportunity to become a warrant officer without having to go to Fort Rucker, Ala., for four weeks of training at the resident Warrant Officer Candidate School.
Osborne explained that previously, the Warrant Officer Candidate School was conducted only by the active-duty Army.
“A national conference was held at the National Guard Bureau in the fall of 2005 to discuss the possibility of the National Guard conducting the course,” Osborne said. “At that time, Command Chief Warrant Officer Dale Fincher [former Ohio Army National Guard state command chief warrant officer] requested that Ohio be one of the first states to conduct the WOCS program.”
The course was first conducted in Ohio in 2006. That year, 13 warrant officer candidates became the first graduates of the course.
Soldiers from all over the country, including the Army Reserve, come to Rickenbacker to attend the three-phase course, to try and become one of the Army’s future warrant officers. The WOCS is conducted once annually by cadre of the OHARNG’s Regional Training Institute and spans over more than six months.
The first phase is a distance learning phase. It is self-paced and completed solely online.
Warrant Officer Candidate Martin Helms, from Doylestown, Ohio, and a current student in the WOCS course, explained that this phase can be the most difficult phase.
“This phase is the most challenging because of the self-discipline involved,” Helms said.
This phase has to be completed before a soldier can advance to the next phase of the training. If a minimum standard is not met during the testing portions of this training, a soldier may be disenrolled from the school before they even make it to the classroom environment.
The second phase consists of five months of three-day drill weekends at the RTI in Columbus. This classroom portion of WOCS teaches candidates the history of the Army Warrant Officer Corps and general military history. Candidates are also taught how to present military briefings and learn the principles of leadership.
The third phase is a two-week annual training period conducted at either Camp Atterbury, Ind. or Fort McClellan, Ala.
When a candidate graduates from Phase III of the Warrant Officer Candidate School, they will be pinned with the rank of warrant officer (WO1). They are then eligible to attend their Warrant Officer Basic Course, which is an additional multi-month course. When both phases are completed, the new warrant officer will be fully qualified for his or her new position.
For Camecheis, becoming a warrant officer meant not only being a leader, but a subject matter expert, also known in the military as a “SME.”
“In the warrant officer world, you are the technical expert,” Camechis said. “I am still able to be in a motor pool, get my hands dirty, be a mechanic, a wrench turner, teach the young soldiers and help the noncommissioned officers progress. When I became a warrant officer, it wasn’t only the best career decision that I made, it was also a lifestyle change.”
But before they could get to that point, each candidate had to complete several tasks and missions throughout three phases of WOCS — and on this particular day, the task was a 6.2-mile road march. On the morning of July 21, all nine prospective warrant officer candidates completed this task and moved on to the next phase of training.
Editor's note: For more information on becoming a warrant officer and the Reserve Component Warrant Officer Candidate School, contact Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tony Phillips at 614-376-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.