USAAM Officer Candidate School

For those that find their Acronym proficiency limited by their non experience in the Military, the United States Army Artillery and Missile School (USAAM) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma was the proponent for for Field Artillery.  Basically that means that they owned the responsibility for meeting the requirements of the Army's Artillery both present and future.  Those of us not deeply rooted in the knowledge of what the war was to bring, were swept up in the build up that was projected in 1968.  When the word went out that we would grow the number of boots on the ground to 500,000 in 1968, they started growing the programs that would produce the requisite number of young officers to support the Infantry.  As a 19 year old draftee, I had no idea that that giant sucking noise would vacuum someone like me up into the vortex of that storm.  I had an uncle that was a WWII Bomber Pilot and I'm pretty sure that he must have felt much the same way.  It was an adventure and no one lives forever. 

To that end, in January 1967, I entered the Robinson Barracks Area at Fort Sill for the first time.  Most of us did not know what happened there but we expected some magical transition of young men into officers.  The place was so orderly that the rocks under the buildings were raked like Japanese rock gardens. I was told that we were class 25-67 and if we completed the course would graduate on Tuesday, the 4th of July.  Stupid me, I should have known that no one would graduate on a national Holiday and the actual date was moved to 3 July 1967.  So into the hallowed halls of Robinson Barracks reported PV2 Petty with his duffel bag over his shoulder.  

Fairly soon after I reported, I saw that some of my AIT, OCS Prep class were no assigned to my battery.  Much to my surprise, there was a sister battery or Foxtrot to my battery Golf battery.  Both started out in two barracks full with about 200 soldiers.  I was assigned to Lt Gooch's platoon and put upstairs in a barracks with the candidates stacked in 4 to a small cubicle.  That was an area that had on each side a double bunk bed , a hanging display area and a footlocker.  There was a table in the middle of the area that we put binders that was to house the hand out material we were given in our classes.  This area was where we lived and for several weeks had daily inspections to make sure we could set up and maintain our gear to a pretty high standard.  There is no way i could possible even begin to tell you all the standards in a book let alone a story. 

Having just completed OCS Prep, I was able to set up mu personal display to OCS standards upon arrival.  In the top of the footlocker, there were cardboard squares covered with barber towels and a prescribed display of things we never used.  For me, it was pour the items out of a laundry bag and set them up.  For those poor bastards that came from regular units it was a nightmare of things they could not understand at all.  i spent the first two days there just going from cubicle to cubicle helping them get things straight.  I had just spent 8 weeks learning all the trade secrets of spit shinning everything and some of the guys had just completed Infantry AIT.  Where I had spit polish, they had rips and tears in uniforms and their boots were cut up and beyond the effects of polish.  Imagine a standard that required the Name tags sewn on by the US Army to be replaced by one's embroidered by a local seamstress.  Everything that was done was a extra cost and it came out of our pockets. I had spent my money during AIT to get things to standard and there was little additional expense for me.

After our first couple of weeks getting into the semblance of  ready, we were finally dipped into our first academic classes.  The Maintenance department had us in Sumerall Hall  and we immediately called it slumber all hall because once they turned the lights off and started the films, it was nap time for a bunch of sleepy guys that had been on the run for two weeks.  I remember the first film was a cartoon where a drop of gas came on the screen and said, "Hi I am willy MOGAS..........."  After that I don't have a clue what was said.  I do remember that diesel was next and another 30 minute nap almost refreshed me for the missed sleep of the week.  The good news was that the small exam they gave us was about motors and fuels and I knew about as much as they did.  My first exam was passed with flying colors.

About the fourth week, the TAC Officer had us line up and report to his office for our first Leadership grade.  We were allowed to rank every other person in our platoon and I had been ranked tied for first out of 48 in the Platoon.  I was elated that those guys thought the help I had given them was worth that lofty rating.  The TAC officer's first words were, "Candidate Petty, I am going to recommend you not be retained in OCS and there will be a board next week."  I was dumbfounded to say the least.  I asked what were the reasons that felt that way?   He said that I was too young and that I had created a sense of need in the others that had them relying on me rather than learning how to do things themselves.  he was going to give me a failing leadership grade and that would wash me out of the program.  I told him that he was wrong and I had helped the others because I knew the system and I thought we were supposed to help set the high standards and maintain them.   He said he would raise my leadership grade to 70 and then raise it a point for every place my peer ranking fell throughout the course.  I was allowed to stay and wondered why.

Let me stop the story here and explain just a couple of things about the 26 week Officer Candidate Course and how it differed from the way other officers  were produced and trained.  The part that made officers elsewhere in the Army was 13 weeks of training. Then they would report to Fort Sill as 2nd Lieutenants and learn the Field Artillery part.  If you completed the West Point training or the ROTC training, you were made a 2nd Lieutenant.  We had to complete the entire training in one fell swoop.  That meant that we learned the proscribed ways to be an officer and the necessary gunnery at the same time.  When we pinned on our Bars as 2nd Lieutenants, we were considered Branch trained in Artillery.  our training lasted 23 weeks and not only could they change the way you acted, they could change the way you thought..

For the first 8 weeks, the number of candidates in out platoon fell as one after another found the standards too tough or the training too foreign to absorb.  We had started as "Lower Classmen" and by the time we were "Middle Classmen" we were about half as many in the barracks.  The bunks fell from 4 per cubicle to 2.  Let me describe some of the harassment we were subject to.   "Candidate do you work for the FBI?,  Sir, candidate Petty, No Sir.  Then tell em candidate why you have a collection of fingerprints on your name tag!"   "candidate Petty, do you work for the Zoo?  Sir Candidate Petty No Sir.  The candidate why do you have snakes growing out of you pant legs ( a shoe lace not properly tucked in)  "Candidate do you want you valuables stolen?  Sir candidate Petty, No Sir.  then why do you have your family jewels Insecure"  (No Jock Strap during a PT Formation)  "Candidate Petty, Are you trying to tell me it is Saint Patty's day?  Sir candidate Petty No Sir.  Well then candidate petty why do you have green junk on your brass?"  In a lot of cases, the superior officer would issue you a Demerit slip and that record would be turned into the Orderly room and kept track of.   You would be Demerits until you had a certain number and you would have to walk punishment tours and then "Jarks" over to Medicine Bluff 4. It was 4.2 miles over there an back.  I think the tradition was that everyone went on the first Battery Jark.  I went once on my own and avoided Demerits pretty much after that. 

On Sunday, we could go over to the day room and visit the vending machines.  I swear I would go over and eat as many hostess fried pies as I could afford.  It was like restocking my body's fuel supply to get me through to the next week.  We ate communal meals and there was a senior candidate at the table that enforced high standards.  That meant that you could eat small portion s and put your silverware down between cuts or bites.  No one got enough to eat for the first six or 8 weeks of OCS.   On one of our first foraging runs to the day room, one of the candidates in my cubicle brought back a Baby Ruth candy bar back.  Food in the barracks was expressly forbidden.  he was about half way through eating that candy bar and some one hollered, Attention" down stairs by the door.  That meant that an officer or at the very least an upperclassmen had entered our barracks.  We would move to the edge of our bunks and assume the position of attention.  My classmate took the candy bar and forced it into one of the binders on our desk. When the person   left, he calmly took the candy bar out and ate the rest of it.  The next day, during a routine inspection, our TAC officer saw the binders not aligned up and when he knocked the binders of the desk to make a point, there was a very small piece of chocolate and half a peanut.  The TAC officer left a note awarding the person responsible a 6X6.  That was a 6 week restriction and six Jarks.  The kid that ate the candy bar had a wife in Lawton and had not been able to see her the entire time we had been in OCS. Being the kind of guy I was, we split it so that the three of us had a 2X2.  That meant that I would go a total of 13.2 miles during my OCS days.  The bad thing was that the guy we helped soon flunked out of OCS and only then did he get to see his wife.

I will close this here and write more of the adventures of Candidate Petty tomorrow.



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