POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. –
The road to leadership has many possible routes. One of those routes is commissioning as a United States Army Officer through the Missouri Army National Guard’s (MOARNG) Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) program.
“The thing that stood out to me was the quality of the training here and the quality of the other candidates,” said Officer Candidate Andrew Smith.
Smith is an officer candidate with the College of the Ozarks Bobcat GOLD program. Like many others in this program, he also serves as an enlisted soldier in the Missouri National Guard. Since starting his enrollment with the college in 2020, Smith has recognized the qualities of the GOLD program and how it will best prepare him for Officer Candidate School (OCS) and his future civilian profession.
The Missouri National Guard offers five Show-Me Guard GOLD programs throughout the state, which emphasize demanding Officer Candidate School training, and support sustainability of officer accessions. The GOLD program results from cooperative agreements between the Missouri National Guard's Officer Strength Management office and select Missouri colleges or universities, to increase officer strength within the Guard’s formations. The schools that host Show-Me GOLD programs are Missouri Southern State University, Southeast Missouri State University, Northwest Missouri State University, William Woods University, and College of the Ozarks.
One of the many highlights of the GOLD program is that candidates receive a superior foundation in officer leadership. Also, they have the chance to practice the expectations of their future roles before graduation. Candidates who go into the program learn from assigned mentors who are near the end of their coursework and have completed OCS. This experience allows the mentors to take Soldiers under their wing before their graduation date.
“Those senior mentors play a big role,” said Smith. “You watch them, and then you're like, Okay, I like how they did that, and I see the standard they're setting. I'm going to rise to that standard.”
Officer Candidate Garrett Scott, also with the College of the Ozarks GOLD program, is currently serving as a senior mentor and provides mentorship and guidance to Smith. Soon, Smith will follow in his footsteps as Scott prepares for graduation and transitions to his new role as an executive officer at the 1107th Aviation Group. During the summer of 2022, Scott completed OCS between his junior and senior years. Scott credits the GOLD program for helping him plan for the challenging course.
“This program essentially teaches everything that is at OCS,” said Scott. “When I got to OCS, I knew all the book answers and all the right things to do. It was just a question of doing it. A lot of the people who are coming in on a contract have just gone to basic training; they do not know nearly as much as prior-enlisted individuals. You find yourself having to help them. This program is beneficial because you have all the knowledge you've been implementing for several years before you go to OCS. You're well ahead of everyone else there.”
Scott, who serves as the company commander for his program, receives daily practice leading Soldiers such as Smith. Integrated within his collegiate studies, Scott consistently takes care of his fellow Soldiers, ensuring their information is up-to-date, taking care of any issues, relaying information, and always being an open ear for them when they need it.
“This is going to set me up for success when I'm out in the Army trying to do command time,” said Scott.
With their first child on the way, Scott and his wife are planning their next steps after graduation. With a bright future ahead of them, Scott looks forward to giving back to the Missouri National Guard for all the organization has invested in him and his family. “I owe it to the National Guard because they've invested so much into me,” acknowledged Scott.
GOLD programs, such as the College of the Ozarks Military Science Program, provide students with all the tools they need to be effective leaders in the Missouri Army National Guard. With multiple avenues available, an interested recruit can make an informed choice. The basic program requires no follow-on military obligation. The advanced program contracts candidates with expectations of meeting specific criteria and will, upon graduation, provide a commission as an Army officer. One of the many benefits that pairs with the GOLD program is having options for tuition assistance, which leaves students with a lighter financial burden upon graduation.
“As part of the admissions process, there’s a one-on-one interview, which helps us recruit students of high character, said Smith. “We personally get to interact with the students before they're accepted. In the GOLD program, we take the cream of the crop applicants. That's why the GOLD program, in my opinion, shines so much.”
Each GOLD program offers unique opportunities to prepare a student for a career in service. There are opportunities to assist with tuition and build leadership skills for a civilian career. GOLD programs prepare students for schools such as OCS while molding them to serve as leaders within their communities and the Army National Guard. The Bobcat GOLD Program presents contracted candidates with the opportunity to simultaneously be members of the Missouri National Guard. Having experiences at school and hands-on training with their units, these officer candidates have the foundation for leading tomorrow's number one team, the United States Armed Forces.
“When thinking about OCS, I think the anticipation is going to be worse than actually doing it,” said Smith. “That’s what it was like for basic training, and you knew what it would be like before going. I knew after returning from basic training to civilian life that it wasn’t so bad, and the small things didn't seem as big of a deal anymore. Especially when I return from OCS, I think I'm going to have a lot better confidence, even more than what I do now."