News: Army officer candidates lead the way by serving
Story by Sgt. Tanangachi Mfuni
COLUMBUS, Ga. - Whether it was a unity walk alongside Columbus’ mayor, reading with kids at Phenix City Library, or raising the massive garrison flag, future officers at Fort Benning’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) spent Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend serving the community.
“For leaders especially, you need to show your support for your surroundings and the areas in which you live,” said Officer Candidate Kristen Smith, a native of Syracuse, N.Y. enrolled at the school.
OCS is an intensive 12-week course that trains soldiers into United States Army officers and future leaders of America. It is one of only three U.S. Army officer commissioning sources, alongside U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC).
Smith was one of about 40 officer candidates who participated in Columbus’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The Dream Lives” Unity Processional and Celebration. The walk drew hundreds of representatives from civic groups. They marched through the streets of downtown Columbus to the trombone beat of high school bands, convening on the Government Center Plaza. In the plaza, the festivities continued as participants, holding bold black and gold signs that read “I am the dream” and “the dream lives,” prayed, danced and listened to speeches honoring the civil rights leader. King’s 85th birthday was nationally observed on Jan. 20.
“We’re here today because of the significant impact Martin Luther King had on the community, just to remember that,” said Capt. Michelle McDevitt, commander of OCS’s Headquarters Company.
McDevitt was among a group of leaders invited to walk with Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson during the processional.
In nearby Phenix City, Ala., officer candidates gave back in other ways. Officer Candidate John Thompson was among a group of volunteers who spent Saturday morning at Phenix City-Russell County Library helping children to read.
“As a former educator, I wholeheartedly believe that reading is the basis of children’s education,” said Thompson, who previously taught middle and high school students in Potosi, Mo., before joining the Army.
Each OCS class is challenged to collectively volunteer a minimum of 500 hours during the three-month course. OCS administrators like 1st Sgt. Marcus Brister, the senior noncommissioned officer of the school's Alpha Company, say they hope volunteering will lay a foundation of selfless service in candidates’ lives that carries over into the future.
“The first thing you have to learn is how to be selfless and how to give to others because that’s what steward-leadership is all about,” Brister said.
“We start that here with very simple products, just going out and serving the community hoping that we instill the bedrock [of selfless service] that later on in your career is going to mean saving a life,” Brister said.
Candidates had ample opportunity to practice selfless service when they raised and lowered Fort Benning’s massive garrison flag on MLK Jr. Day.
Officer Candidate Cuong Tran was among those who got up at 0430 in the morning to perform the duty.
“When I think about it, it’s getting up to do something for the nation,” said Tran a resident of Worcester, Mass., by way of Cambodia.
“It made me feel proud of the community, proud of the country,” Tran said.
It is with a sense of pride and duty that officer candidates look forward to future opportunities to serve the community.
“We need to more events like this,” observed Officer Candidate Shirley Charles. “It brought us closer together.”
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native, like many of her OCS peers, views volunteering as a means to build cohesion amongst candidates themselves, as well as the larger community.