News: US Rep. Jeff Flake congratulates Army's newest officers
Story by Spc. Danielle Gregory
PHOENIX — Many soldiers have graduated high school and college, basic training and advanced individual training, but only a small percentage have made it through the officer candidate school’s vigorous 18-month program at the 215th Regional Training Institute for the Arizona Army National Guard, thus becoming Army officers.
Thirteen candidates made it Sunday. The 52nd class of the 215th RTI was commissioned, each became a second lieutenant and are going on to become an essential part of the units they are assigned.
Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona’s 6th District gave a speech at the ceremony to commemorate them on their accomplishments.
“The U.S. has been engaged in hostilities for over 10 years,” Flake said. “Despite these hardships — time spent away from families and friends, and the difficulties that come with returning to life after deployments — it’s inspiring to see that so many people continue to want to serve.”
The soldiers were appreciative of the congressman’s appearance showing so by presenting him a plaque, but they were even more appreciative to their families and sergeants, who stuck with them throughout the program, pinned on their new ranks and rendered their first salute.
“I just want to thank my family for always being there and supporting every decision that I make,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Schutt.
Family members were also overjoyed for their graduates as they watched from the audience and participated in the ceremony.
“The program was a lot of work, it was very stressful and during that time we even had a baby, but I tried to be as supportive as possible and be behind him 100 percent,” said Jael Baez, who went on stage with her two children, a 5-year-old and 11-month-old, to pin her husband, 2nd Lt. Francisco Baez, with his new rank.
The candidates heard speeches, watched a slide show of pictures taken during the program, got pinned with their new ranks, rendered their first salutes, got awards, and gave gifts.
“There’s going to be a lot of relief and pride because it is not an easy task to accomplish,” said Maj. Peggy Grunewald, commander 215th RTI.
The RTI is a program in which soldiers are given an opportunity to become officers. They drill with the RTI instead of their units, but it’s not just one weekend a month.
They had to plan a staff ride to Gettysburg, do operations orders, write risk assessments, prepare commander update briefs, complete historical write ups, write book reports, and participate in lots of physical fitness, Grunewald said. These things had to be prepared all month long, not just during drill.
When candidates are participating in RTI activities they are often given corrective training, Grunewald said. Physical fitness is a powerful motivator.
“Corrective training adds stress to the candidate, which makes the training more realistic,” Grunewald said.
Candidates can give up at any time by ringing a bell at the RTI, which signals someone quitting. If a candidate does this, they can never again become a part of the program.
“All the candidates look at that person ringing the bell they think, 'I don’t want to be the next person ringing that bell, I want to be able to make it',” Grunewald said. “So it’s a motivational tool.”
Class 52 began with 44 people but graduated with only 13 people, said Grunewald. A lot of people don’t finish, which makes it even more of an accomplishment for the people who did.
“I’m just really happy,” said Michael Pelletier, a graduate from class 52. “It has been a long 18 months and I’m proud to finally graduate and commission with these fellow soldiers.”
There are many more classes to come after Class 52. A lot more sweat will be shed and some won’t make it through. But Sunday was Class 52’s day. They stuck it out and showed they were ready to become a part of the Army officer corps. For now they can rest, but many challenges will face them in the future as the Army’s newest leaders.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment,” Schutt said. “I’m a little nervous, but I know were all prepared and ready for our new positions.”