National Guard officer candidates push through amid challenging conditions

The Day

By: Elizabeth Regan

July 14, 2021

East Lyme — National Guard officer candidates have been fighting the heat, humidity and affronts to their physical endurance since arriving in East Lyme last Friday for the 67th Officer Candidate School at Camp Nett and Stones Ranch Military Reservation.

"Bang, bang, bang! Bang, bang, bang!"

Candidates with fake rifles improvised the sound of gunfire as they participated in tactical combat casualty care training Wednesday at Stones Ranch. Groups of three students — composed of one "buddy team" and a casualty — went through the seven-step process for moving a wounded soldier to cover amid open fire.

The buddy team returned fire, determined the casualty was alive, approached the wounded using the most direct route and applied a tourniquet "high and tight." They used a cradle drag — which involves holding the casualty under the armpits and dragging the person backward — to move behind cover, where they could check the tourniquet again.

Connecticut National Guard Spokesman Maj. Mike Petersen said 16 of this year's 117 candidates are from Connecticut. The rest hail from the rest of the Northeast, plus Ohio, North Carolina and California.

Officer candidate Rhecia Llewellyn of Windsor was one of 25 women going for a commission, and one of three women from Connecticut.

"We're exhausted," she told reporters under the shade of an empty shell of a building on the facility's mock urban terrain site. "But the program's meant to do that. So, it's a part of the training."

No stranger to service, Llewellyn served previously as a sergeant 1st class with the National Guard.

"I decided there's more I can offer and there's more the military can offer me, so I figured I'd go further and switch over to the officer side," she said.

Hannah Tyler of Somers said she wants to develop leadership skills that will benefit her civilian life — and to add a greater sense of purpose. The 22 year old is currently in the market research field.

"I mean, my job is a little bit mundane, so this makes it a little bit more meaningful," she said.

Christopher Valente of Cromwell is a member of the Connecticut State Police in the Troop F barracks in Westbrook. He said he's hopeful that experience and training as an officer in the National Guard will help him earn promotions at work.

"It's been physically demanding, mentally demanding," he said of the Officer Candidate School so far. "And I know at the end of the two weeks, I'll already be able to increase my performance on the law enforcement side."

Petersen said the Officer Candidate School follows the same "one weekend a month, two weeks a year" framework that guides the state-level military force and the Army Reserves.

"For our candidates, this is their two weeks a year, essentially," he said. The two weeks will be followed by 11 months of training — one weekend per month — before culminating with another two-week session.

"At the end of that, if they meet the requirements and prerequisites, they are commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve or their state's National Guard," he said.

There were eight fewer people participating in the exercise on Wednesday than there were when 117 candidates arrived last week, according to Petersen. He said the candidates dropped out for a variety of reasons but he would not specify.

Early Monday morning, six people were taken to the hospital after experiencing symptoms related to dehydration and overexertion during a 6-mile ruck march, according to Petersen. He said two were released from the hospital the first day. As of Wednesday, all but one had been released.

Connecticut National Guard Maj. Dan Sands said "a handful" of the candidates who had been hospitalized were back in training on Wednesday.

Petersen said the candidates were "giving it their all" on the challenging ruck march over strenuous terrain.

"When you're in a course like this, or any military course, it's not bound to happen, but it's always a possibility," he said. "You need to make sure you're keeping care of yourself, so we always encourage all of our students to drink water and make sure they're relaying any concerns to our medical personnel."

He would not say whether it was unusual at Stones Ranch for six officer candidates to be hospitalized during a single training.

Llewellyn, the candidate from Windsor, described the ruck march as the most difficult part of the training so far.

"It's a very rigorous course. It's very hilly. The terrain is not the greatest," she said. "But it's meant to challenge you. So just push through and keep going."

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