What is this weird thing on my chest?

What is this weird thing on my chest?

I’ve started on the path of the warrant officer by way of our state’s Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS). Unlike those who attend the federal WOCS course at Fort Rucker, Alabama – who enter the school as an enlisted soldier and leave a shiny warrant officer – I will undergo a six-month transition, basically waddling around in this pupal state for all to see.

It’s an awkward transition not unlike puberty, where others are unsure how to interact with you and you can’t yet identify your mutating role in the world. I’ve been sirred a couple of times already, which is amusing when a young specialist does it but strangely disconcerting when it’s someone who was a peer in rank just a few weeks before. More than one person has asked if they’re supposed to salute me (no), and many more have asked what to even call me (“candidate” is fine, I guess).

Another side-effect of my slow-motion metamorphosis is that it requires a mental gearing-up before each drill weekend. Monday through Friday, it’s all “hey Dave” and laughs around the water cooler, regardless of ranks, but when the WOCS drill weekend arrives it becomes “yes sir” and “no sir” and snap-to and “CANDIDATE DELOBIUS SIR.” The week before drill the thing hangs over me like a black cloud and it hasn’t even really started yet (April is the first no-shit real WOCS drill). Last night I had a dream that we held the class in my house and I got yelled at because I didn’t have a projector screen; earlier in the week I dreamed that our team-building exercise was piloting a massive cargo ship without looking out the windows. Shit, I thought, it’s bad enough that I know nothing about operating a giant boat, but I have to do it blind, too? Objectively speaking, there’s really very little to be afraid of, but even so the process is a black box and my subconscious is working overtime to crack it open, however futile that might be.

Another facet of WOCS is the seemingly endless list of rules and regulations governing our lives there. Detailed protocols dictate all manner of behavior, including dining, with rules about how many utensils to take, where they should be placed (to the quarter-inch) on the tray, and how to fold your napkin. All told, the WOC Standard Operating Procedures (WOCSOP) is a PDF document almost 120 pages long, two columns per page – a fat rulebook for the roleplaying game called WOCS. (Cue an angry warrant officer berating me for not taking this seriously – “you think this is a game, candidate?”)

Actually, having a massive rulebook suits me just fine; if everything is written down, it keeps the amount of invented bullshit to a minimum. It’s easy (comparatively) to meet expectations if they’re explicitly defined. Additionally, I’ve proven many a point during my career with the thorough look through obscure manuals and regulations. I wield well-timed quotes as weapons, and will not hesitate to do so here. As long as I don’t have to steer any watercraft, I should do just fine.