Postcards from Tradocia

Tag: wocs

The Only Thing I Know for Real

Warrant Officer 1My journey down the path of the warrant officer continues, with only three more weekends and a two-week annual training between me and the so-called “thousand-dollar dot.” The rank gets the name from the black dot (obviously) and the fact that one has to buy a bunch of crap (uniforms, stencils, markers, paint, towels, shirts…) during the course. I think it would be better named the “thousand-letter dot,” since I had to write or stencil my name on every piece of gear and clothing I own, to include socks, underwear, t-shirts, uniforms, gloves, and shoes. A true “what am I doing with my life?” moment came when I was standing in the back yard, applying Krylon spray paint to my 99 cent shower shoes.

The first weekend was a fascinating exercise in self-inflicted stress. We all had a good idea of what to expect – indeed, after three months of preparatory drill weekends, we were arguably over-prepared, our heads bursting with the innumerable tasks and functions we were expected to perform. So it was with some manic force propelling us that we rolled our socks, arranged our towels, and made our beds, hands shaking and tension high. Looking back, I wondered why we were so anxious – our TAC officer (Train, Advise, Counsel, also known as a “black hat”) hardly uttered a word of admonition all weekend, except for one night, when he calmly told us to get down and start pushing. Just the very thought of his mere disapproval was enough to send us into paroxysms of effort; for my part, I was stricken with a blinding headache for most of Saturday in what must have been my first migraine.

The very fact that everybody cared so damn much about lining up our towels and stacking our books and taping up loose straps on our bags speaks to the fact that you don’t get into the warrant officer program unless you already have the traits necessary to succeed. In a way, WOCS isn’t a barrier to one’s accession to chief-hood, but rather a validation, an exercise in tautology. You don’t get to WOCS without being able to get through WOCS.

As the second weekend approached, I felt much better about the situation. I felt like I had the measure of WOCS, and that nothing particularly fatal lurked within – just a lot of fatigue of the physical and mental varieties. As usual, I wanted to dramatize the situation, to turn this thing into an epic quest, but I realized that it’s just a slog of twenty-hour days and struggling to stay awake in a classroom.

One of the major parts of the slog is a 10-kilometer (about 6.2 mile) ruck march, carrying a 48 pound load (not including water, helmet, and fake rifle), to be accomplished in 106 minutes or less. During the second weekend we did a short march – just 2.5 miles – which seemed like a nice easy nature walk when it was briefed to us. Within the first ten minutes I realized my error, as my shins and calves burned and I struggled to keep up with our TAC, who seemed to have concealed rocket thrusters in his rucksack. As both the shortest and lightest guy in the class, I felt like I got a raw deal: not only did I have the shortest stride, but I was also carrying the largest percentage of my body weight (about 33%). I spent a lot of time jogging. I figured out the technique by the end, but I have a lot of training to do between now and July.

The state Command Chief Warrant Officer (CCWO) taught our class on the history of the Army warrant officer, and it was hard not to feel charged with sacred purpose after hearing him expound on our heritage. I’m quite glad that I opted for the state WOCS program instead of the federal one at Fort Rucker, because it’s much more inspiring to marinate in the world of our own warrant officers – from new WO1s to the CCWO – than to be lectured by anonymous active duty warrants who know little of our unique world of the National Guard.

It seems hard to believe that in four months I’ll pin WO1 and I’ll become “Mr. Delobius.” I’ve already asked the guys at work if they’re going to start calling me “sir” – and I hope not, because I desire dominion over no man. If I wanted kowtowing, I would’ve become a commissioned officer.


Wakka Wakka

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.

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