Sorry folks – I interrupt our regularly scheduled WoW chat with some Army business.
Okay – according to my site stats – about 1/3 of the traffic I get to this site is coming from people looking for information about the Basic Officer Leadership II course or BOLC II. BOLC II is a relatively new course in officer professional development and in my *opinion* it’s probably one of the least understood. Because of this – and out of the desire to give a leg up to other LT’s headed to BOLC II I thought I’d put together some basic info on the course, what to expect, and what life is like while you’re there.
Let’s be clear: This isn’t a complete G2 of the course. That would be an ethics violation and simply put – we don’t do that here. Reading this won’t give you a run down of which cadre members to avoid or where all the points on the land navigation course are. What it will give you an idea of is what life is like from week to week and what you can expect for free time during training.
First – a quick history lesson:
For most junior officers, life begins at commissioning whether through ROTC, the U.S. Military Academy, Officer Candidate School (O.C.S.,) or Direct routes. For ROTC folks, formative life as an officer in the U.S. Army is often shaped by their experience at LDAC (Leader Development and Assessment Course.) LDAC is a 33-day course where officer candidates are taught the basics of both Soldiering and Leading. Based on their performance, class standing (and the needs of the Army) these officer candidates are ultimately assigned to their working military branch (or job.)
USMA cadets are assessed through 4 tough years of being both a leader and a follower. They receive their branching and assignments in much the same way an ROTC student does – but bring with them 4 years of Army Leadership Experience and a rich understanding of the Army, its history, and what it means to be an Officer.
Those that attend Officer Candidate School (O.C.S.) are enlisted Soldiers that undergo a tough 14-week transformation from Soldier to leader. Much of the common core they learn are the same tasks that USMA and ROTC students receive.
Officers that receive a Direct Commission aren’t as well understood as the more traditional routes. In some cases, civilians receive commissioning as an officer through their educational experience (Doctors, Dentists, and Lawyers are the most commonly understood DC’s.) It is also possible to receive a Direct Commission through a combination of civilian and military experience (this is what I did.) As a Staff Sergeant with around 10 years of service in both the Infantry and Public Affairs fields I put together a packet of information about myself and stood through a series of boards with senior officers to determine if I had both the experience and background to make it as an Army officer.
In the past, once an officer or officer candidate made it through their commissioning source (ROTC, OCS, USMA, or Direct) – they went straight to what is called OBC or Officers Basic Course for their branch training. It is in OBC that junior officers learned their trade. Once OBC was done, they would head out into the active or reserve forces. All OBC’s were different – since you could hardly expect a Signal Officer to learn the same things an Armor Officer would be required to know. BOLC II is one of the tools the Army using in order to bring a common “core” of leadership experiences to each branch. Some argue that in doing this, the course covers a lot of the same ground provided by LDAC or O.C.S., and in some ways it does. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though – just because a young officer candidate learned how to put an Op-Order together in LDAC doesn’t mean they should never have to receive another block of instruction on the topic, right?
As I understand it, BOLC II as a course came about as a means to better prepare new lieutenants for the realities of leading in a combat environment. The reality faced by the Army today is one where ‘lines’ do not exist on the battlefield. Soldiers commonly thought of as ‘rear echelon’ are often as likely to get killed as an Infantry trigger puller. Because of this, the leaders these Soldiers follow need to be able to function *as leaders* in that kind of an environment – regardless of branch or specialty.
That’s the intent. They don’t want to make you an Infantry Platoon leader – but they also don’t want you to be worthless the first time your convoy takes a hit and you find yourself in charge of Soldiers in a combat situation.
Officers from all branches and all commissioning sources are now required to attend the course. The idea is that the new leaders will be able to get a better understanding of themselves and a greater respect for the abilities of their companions – regardless of branch. To a great extent – it’s an opportunity for junior leaders to network (cross branch) and learn from the school cadre who are *all* recent combat veterans.
The first thing that officers headed to BOLC II need to understand is this: BOLC II is *not* feature complete. In a way, I think that this is by design. Current combat operations are marked by how fast the operational environment *changes* and to *fix* a course curriculum in the face of that constant change seems…kinda stupid. Simply put – If you’re headed to BOLC II this summer – your experience will be different than mine. Fun eh?
Also – BOLC II company commanders seem to have a fair amount of latitude in determining what their students experience. So your time at BOLC II can differ based on both your commander, the experiences of his cadre, and the *location* you attend BOLC II at (currently either Fort Benning or Fort Sill.)
For example: All BOLC II students spend a majority of their time in a field environment. A great deal of this time is centered around Forward Operating Base (FOB) operations. The FOB at Fort Benning benefits from some comforts that the one at Fort Sill does not. For example – until just recently, the FOB at Fort Sill didn’t have any shower or latrine facilities. A great deal of my classes personal hygiene was conducted out of a canteen cup or a porta-john. That’s just way it was. Showers and latrines were installed at Sill toward the end of my cycle and they were greatly appreciated. Another difference is access to computers or the Internet. The Benning FOB has computers that students can use to conduct mission planning or for administrative tasks to get them ready for their following on BOLC III (OBC) course. Fort Sill – not so much. It’s not that the folks at Fort Sill are trying to be hard-asses – it’s that the Benning FOB is simply closer to an available Internet connection and the Sill FOB is not.
Also – different BOLC II commanders will implement different training experiences into their classes based on their experience, the experiences of their cadre and the feedback from previous classes. At Fort Sill, my class was the first group of LT’s to conduct live fire barrier training. Based on our feedback, there is a good chance that this might grow into buddy team, live fire barrier training. Our commander was also a fan of using simunitions (kinda like a mix of paint-ball and rubber bullets) and he utilized them as much as his budget allowed.
That said – there are a handful of graduation requirements that *are* standardized.
1) You gotta pass your PT Test
2) You gotta qualify with the M4 / M68 CCO in full gear and IBV. You’ll fire supported, unsupported and kneeling.
3) 5 out of 8 points in a Day/Night Land Navigation Course
4) Receive a “GO” in at least 2 leadership positions (Squad Leader, Platoon Sgt., Platoon Leader, or Class 1Sgt.)
5) Complete the 5 mile and 10 mile Road Marches
6) Complete all the field training…(in other words – don’t get broke and miss all the fun stuff)
For my class, Hard Chargers that wanted to be the Distinguished Honor Grad needed to do the following:
1) Score a 290 or better on the PT Test
2) Qualify at least Sharpshooter or better with the M4
3) Get 8 out of 8 points in land-navigation
4) Receive a “GO” in the majority of their leadership positions
5) Complete both the 5 mile and 10 mile road marches
6) Complete the Company 5 mile run
7) Miss no training
The break down from week to week at BOLC II seems fairly standard at this point. While it can likely change in the future here is what was considered the “norm” while I was in school:
Week 1 - In processing (welcome to the Army – please fill out all of these forms!) Regardless of your service branch (active/reserve/guard) you’ll get processed into the Army’s pay, insurance, and medical systems while at BOLC II. You’ll also get welcomed and briefed by pretty much everyone on post. Enjoy it. It’s easy duty. You’ll have PT most mornings and free time every evening. By free time I mean – civilian clothes and dinner off post kind of free time. As long as you and your fellow students don’t do something stupid and lose your evening and weekend pass – week one is enjoyable.
Week 2 – Combatives(!) Prepare to get sore. You’ll do Army Combatives for 4 hours each morning and can expect to do PT as well…(well, at least my class did….) We were some hurting individuals at the end of each day. Afternoons were usually filled with admin appointments, hip-pocket training, and personal time to square away billeting or orders for your follow on branch training. Evenings are free and provided no one does anything stupid – you’ll have a weekend pass.
Week 3 – Rifle Qualification – Easy stuff. Fort Sill students may hit the FOB this week (my class didn’t – we were trucked back and forth from the billets.) Either way – if you’re not in the FOB – you can likely expect to get hit with weapons immersion this week. This impacts your free time each evening (have to have weapons guards after all) and beer hounds will have to expect to be dry as no alcohol is allowed. Again – provided you and your classmates aren’t stupid – you’ll have a weekend pass.
Week 4 – Land Navigation – Okay – *everyone* is scared of this week. Land Nav is a perishable skill and no compass course is ever the same. Plus – no one wants to be stuck with the stigma of the “lost ass LT.” In reality – the courses at Benning and Sill are challenging – but aren’t meant to destroy your confidence. You’ll get plenty of train up. You’ll also get plenty of practice. The Fort Sill course is beautiful and (in my opinion) favors terrain associators. Enjoy this week. You’ll be in the FOB so your evenings are somewhat restricted – but once again – provided there are no major screw-ups you’ll have a weekend pass waiting for you.
Week 5 – Urban Operations/Advanced Rifle Marksmanship – Fun stuff – back at the FOB again. You’ll learn combat in an urban environment and if you’re lucky you’ll get to use simunitions during your room clearing exercises. The ARM training varies from location to location, but you can expect to learn how to move and shoot at the same time (easier said than done.) You get to feel like Delta Force this week and will gain a great appreciation for the Soldiers that do this kind of thing every single day. You’ll also learn to dread the words “READY – UP!” Again – no real evenings to enjoy (FOB and all) – but a weekend pass.
Week 6 – Hello gut check. This is your Capstone exercise – 24 hour operations from Monday through much of Friday. You’ll clear rooms, do movements to contact, gate guard, tower guard, and experience a variety of surprising and fun training vignettes thought up by cadre that have lived it. Oh yeah – you’ll likely sweat your balls off and be exhausted. Suck it up and persevere. The week ends with the 10 mile road march and there’s a weekend pass to look forward to.
Week 7 – Smile – all you’re doing this week is cleaning up your gear, your billets, and any left over paperwork from the cycle. Evenings are mostly free (provided weapons are clean and turned in.)
Mixed in to these 7 weeks you’ll do different things based on your cadre’s training mix. Most students get to do a convoy live fire – some classes will even do an additional (7-mile) road march. Be flexible.
Oh yeah – a word or three about the road marches. They’re not that bad. I’m 36, in decent shape, and know how to take care of my feet – I had no problems at all with them. The forced marches I did in the 82nd (or my EIB road-march) were significantly tougher.
The graded leadership positions are usually posted ahead of time (all save the week 6 stuff which is meant to be a surprise) so you’ll know what’s expected of you and when. Garrison leadership isn’t hard – but don’t take your position for granted (your cadre won’t) and you can expect to see peer evaluation comments on your final counseling.
Okay – now I know a lot of you are really interested in what exactly I mean by “weekend passes”. Simply put – from whenever you’re released on Friday until around 2200 on Sunday you’re free to go and do as you please. You’ll have distance restrictions – but provided you complete a risk assessment on your trip (there are online tools your cadre will show you) and you have a reasonable plan for getting to where you’re going and getting back – the sky is pretty much the limit. For myself – I only live about 4-5 hours from Fort Sill. So each week I’d submit a pass form and travel risk assessment to my cadre and on Friday I’d pack up and drive home.
Here’s the rub: You can lose this privilege. One platoon in our company was restricted to post for virtually the entire class due to some by-the-numbers screw ups perpetrated by (well…most of the platoon….) In most cases – the cadre *do not* use group punishment as a disciplinary tool. If an individual screws up – the individual pays…not the platoon. So – be respectful, don’t be stupid, don’t be unsafe, don’t leave your living quarters looking like a pig-sty, and for God’s sake – keep control over your sensitive items. Do these relatively *simple* things and you’ll enjoy free time at the end of each week.
I could write a book on my BOLC II experience…the good and bad. Ultimately – my take on the class was that it was both some of the *best* training I have ever had and some of the most maddening. I’ve been in the military (active and reserve) for 12 years and have seen a good bit of the hard and soft that the Army has to offer – so I like to think that what I say comes from an informed place. I’ve graduated with honors from my NCOES courses and was even the distinguished leadership graduate of my WLC course. That said – I was challenged in new and different ways at BOLC II – I was also annoyed and flabbergasted in some of the same old ways that come with any Army training environment.
Ultimately, the course is there for you and you’re expected to use the time and make mistakes. It’s during the prosecution of this endeavor that good and bad of the experience is derived. No cadre team works the same – and much like OCS, LDAC, or I can imagine even the USMA – your experience day-to-day is shaped by your cadre. The cadre are people – and that means that you’re going to have some winners and some losers to contend with. For the most part – everyone I dealt with at Sill were outstanding. But every single one of them arrived at the same location via a different route when it came to mentoring and training their students. Some were mentors and guides. Others felt more like drill sergeants. It’s a roll of the dice. Again – deal with it.
Oh – and a special note for all my NCO brothers and sisters that are looking at commissioning. First off – don’t be afraid to do it. Your experience as an NCO is vital and the lessons you’ve learned over your career are force multipliers when it comes to your ability to lead as an officer.
That said – get over yourself. The cadre respect the fact that you were an NCO – but don’t expect that it’s going to get you even a millimeter of slack. The same can be said of your fellow students. My class included at least two prior E-8′s with over 20 years of military experience each. When you drop this “I’m a prior NCO” dime on yourself – it brings with it an expectation of competency that must be met. Don’t expect people to give a damn about your time as an NCO if you can’t qualify with your weapon or pass your PT Test. If anything – the bar others set for you will likely be higher than that expected of a brand new LT direct from his commissioning source. For my own part – I kept my mouth mostly shut and listened. When there were areas that I could directly impact the success of my squad or platoons mission – I stepped up. When I needed to follow – I shut-the-hell-up and followed.
At any rate – that’s my nutshell wrap up of what BOLC II was like. I’m sure a lot of the folks I graduated with wouldn’t be as positive as I was if they were asked to sum up their overall experience. In truth – there were several things in my BOLC II class that were *not* positive. But the overall experience – the overall benefit to *me* as a Soldier and a leader *was* positive. You get out of the class what you put into it. Cliche I know – but true – at least for anyone honest enough to admit it.
Either way – learn from the experience of BOLC II and be prepared to move on. This is one of the baby steps you’ll take in your career as an officer – but also likely one of them that (good or bad) you’ll reflect on a great deal in the years to come.
I hope this helps folks that have questions about the course and gives a little better of an idea about what to expect. If you have questions (that I can answer) – feel free to drop me a line via AKO/GKO white pages and I’ll answer them as best I can. If nothing else – I can at least point you in the right direction.
Best of luck.