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OCS is just the start of a career-long process of leadership development

Charles Wilson is working his way to a Naval officer's commission at Officer Candidate School.

U.S. NAVY

By DAVE RESS | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: September 21, 2020

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — For one of the Navy’s soon-to-be newest officers, the path to a commission started with the kids in the “Jolly Rogers” patrol of Boy Scout Troop 364 in Virginia Beach.

That’s where Charles Wilson reckons he got the first lessons in leadership — lessons he started learning as a patrol leader and that he’s been honing for the 13 weeks at Officer Candidate School.

“When people ask me ‘how to you make a leader in 13 weeks?' — you don’t." he said.

What happens instead is the launch of a career-long process of developing and refining and deepening leadership skills, Wilson said.

Officer Candidate School crams into 13 weeks what amounts to the equivalent of four years of basic naval science, naval history, and leadership classes at the Naval Academy or a Reserve Officers Training Corps program. With that comes intensive drilling and physical training — training that includes 3-mile runs, three times a week

“They do say, if you come here expecting to be comfortable, you’re wrong,” Wilson explains.

“The beginning phase of OCS was very difficult for me,” Wilson said, That’s when much of the day involves tough physical conditioning,

“I lost 30 pounds," he said.

“For me, there was also the mental challenge, because there is so much on the line, to become what you wanted,” he said. “You’re constantly thinking: am I going to make it through the next event?”

Drill was tough, too.

“You’re standing out there and you’re concentrating ... you’re taught discipline through stillness and you’re not allowed to wipe the sweat off your face," he said.

And if you or your shipmates aren’t meeting the drill instructor’s standards, there’s always more drill or extra P.T.

That discipline is Navy tradition, just like the stories his parents — Navy brats both — passed from his Navy veteran grandfathers and great-grandfather.

Those sea stories decided him on a career in Navy when he was just 10.

They helped keep him focused on that path through his years with the Jolly Rogers, the Math and Science Academy at Ocean Lakes High School and earning his degree in mechanical engineering at Old Dominion University.

Wilson’s next posting will be at the nuclear power school in Charleston, S.C. That’ll involve a year and a half of additional training, during which he’ll qualify to serve as an officer on a nuclear submarine.

OCS included basic classes on engineering, weapons and watch-standing, In Charleston, Wilson will build on OCS’s classes to delve into the operations of a nuclear reactor, as well as all the other watch-standing and divisional officer posts on a sub.

OCS also included training in firefighting and a several hours long session in “Buttercup,” a 48 feet long pool containing about 37,000 gallons of water and eight replicas of ship compartments.

The idea is to splash through five feet and more of water on a sharply-tilted surface, to practice the basics of emergency repairs to a ship.

“It is definitely something to take seriously, but you can’t help but have a little fun,” he said.

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