The Illinois Army National Guard’s 129th Regiment’s Regional Training Institute (RTI) Officer Candidate School (OCS) commissioned eight second lieutenants at the Illinois Military Academy, Camp Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, Aug. 23.
“This is a significant day as we bring in our new class of officers,” said Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, of Springfield, Illinois, the Adjutant General, Illinois National Guard. “Eight officers are about to enter a very significant chapter of their lives. You will remember this day the rest of your lives.”
Neely told the new commissioned officers they are a select group of individuals.
“In the United States today, less than one percent of the population serves in the military,” Neely said. “It is significant to wear the uniform, but to be the leader is more significant as only ten percent of those serving make up the Officer Corps.”
Neely reminded the newly commissioned officers they will be held to a higher standard.
“The Officer Corps is a small, elite group, and you have chosen to lead,” he said. “You will be asked to do more. You will lead in peacetime, in war, stateside and in a deployed environment, but you have proven you are ready.”
Class 64 – 19 is the 64th class to graduate from the 129th’s Officer Candidate Program, which transforms enlisted noncommissioned officers and qualified civilians into Army officers. The future leaders complete more than 658 hours of classroom and field instruction, must meet the commissioning standards of the U.S. Army and be examined, and approved by a federal recognition board.
Maj. Gen. Michael Zerbonia, of Chatham, Illinois, Assistant Adjutant General – Army, Illinois National Guard, and Commander, Illinois Army National Guard, told the new second lieutenants among the most important piece of advice he could offer to the new officers is to take care of the Soldiers they are tasked with leading.
“If you take care of your Soldiers and lead them, they will have your back. Lead from the front and set the example and always pick the hard right over the easy wrong,” Zerbonia said. “The thing that makes us the best Army in the world is our non-commissioned officers. Learn from your NCOs because they will make you successful.”
Zerbonia said it’s important to understand the intent and guidance of the command team when dealing with problems, but at the same time don’t be afraid to make decisions.
“Confront problems head on, but use common sense,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes from your decisions, but learn from them. That’s how you grow as a leader.”
Zerbonia reminded the Soldiers to keep their families involved, but most importantly have fun.
“Families are your support network. It’s important they are kept involved. They didn’t sign up for this, but their support is the reason we can do our missions,” he said. “This is the best job you will ever have. This is an exciting time in your life. Trust what you have been taught, remember why the Army exists and be proud to be a leader.”
Sgt. 1st Class Jacob McElyea, of West Frankfort, Illinois, received the Leadership Award as well as the Erickson Award for the Distinguished Honor Graduate. McElyea, who is an Active Guard Reserve Soldier, hip-pocketed his commission for the time being.
“Receiving the Erickson Award was one of the proudest moments in my career,” said McElyea, the Readiness non-commissioned officer, Forward Support Company, 123rd Engineer Battalion, based in Murphysboro, Illinois. “Being able to share that moment with my family and fellow candidates was truly special and I am honored to represent Class 64-19 as the recipient. Now, I am just ready to move on to the next challenge in my career.”
In addition, the following awards were presented during the commissioning ceremony – Physical Fitness Award to 2nd Lt. Lucas Carmean, of Beardstown, Illinois; Highest Academic Average Award to 2nd Lt. Scott Slown, of Naperville, Illinois; and Honor Graduate Awards to 2nd Lt. Gabriel Hernandez, of Riverdale, Illinois, and 2nd Lt. Andrew Klein, of Urbana, Illinois.
Zerbonia administered the Oath of Office and the Oath of Federal Recognition. The pinning ceremony followed, where the Soldier’s friends and family pinned the second lieutenant gold bar rank on their shoulders. Once pinned, each lieutenant rendered their first salute to a person of their choosing.
Newly commissioned 2nd Lt. Brandon Thomas, of Bolingbrook, Illinois, was selected as the class representative to present tokens of appreciation to Col. Lenny Williams, of Dyer, Indiana, Commander, 129th RTI; Lt. Col. Jeffrey Fleming, of Evans, Georgia, Commander, 2nd Battalion, 129th RTI; and Maj. Kyle Scifert, of Elgin, Illinois, Commander, OCS.
“We want to express our gratitude to the leadership team for your support of the OCS program and the OCS cadre for sharing your invaluable knowledge,” Thomas said. “To our families, thank you for always being there for us. To my fellow classmates, we have met the challenge and remember always forward.”
The new Illinois Army National Guard officers include: