By Lt. Brittany Sagardia, Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination Course Chief, Leadership Development Center
“The Standard…The Stories…The Lighthouse” has morphed from mere words on a plan of the day into Alfa Company’s mantra. For the officer candidates of Reserve Officer Candidate Indoctrination (ROCI) class 1-21, this phrase has become a declaration of identity, duty, and hope. The students laid out these tenets in hopes that ROCI 1-21 would set the standard for the next ROCI class, that their impact on the fleet would become the stories told in future classes, and that they would act as a lighthouse, not a shipwreck, for those aspiring to lead and be led in the Coast Guard. Eighty-five prospective officers committed themselves to the goal of long-lasting impact and arrived at the Leadership Development Center on the grounds of Coast Guard Academy, located in New London, Connecticut. They dropped their prior enlisted insignia into the heirloom box filled with enlisted insignia from decades of officers who have gone before them, committing to the goal of earning a commission as an officer in the Coast Guard Reserve.
Before receiving their commissions, officer candidates (OC) must demonstrate they are ready to bear the responsibility of the “special trust and confidence in the patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities” of an officer. The mission of ROCI is to “prepare officer candidates to serve effectively as officers in the United States Coast Guard Reserve” and to be successful, the students must exhibit key traits such as teamwork, integrity, and professionalism.
This class was historic in several ways. First, traditionally, ROCI has been a three-week course for prior-enlisted members, however, ROCI 1-21 piloted a five-week course based on recent analysis results of what a first tour reserve junior officer required. Furthermore, this class was over double the size compared to previous classes due to the need for more Reserve officers in the fleet. Recent ROCI class size has typically been closer to 40 students, but as part of the Reserve End-Strength Action Team initiative to restore the component to 7,000 members, the class was expanded up to 85 students.
ROCI 1-21 entered the Coast Guard on the heels of COVID-19. Even during a pandemic, the OCs stepped up and brought diverse skill sets to the Coast Guard Reserve. Their professions and experiences range from lawyers and doctors, to engineers and special agents. Their prior military experience varies from being brand new to the Coast Guard, to prior senior chief petty officers, to former Army and Marine Corps officers; they bring a combined total of 395 years of prior military service. They also have diverse collegiate experiences and many of them hold prestigious degrees such as Masters of Organizational Leadership and Juris Doctorates.
ROCI is designed to test candidates physically, mentally, and academically. Their days were filled with physical training, academics, inspections, and team building exercises. There are four phases: indoctrination, junior phase, senior phase, and transition phase. Each phase simulates the challenges of serving as an officer, and the duration of each phase are dictated by the company’s performance.
During the indoctrination phase OCs work through stress-inducing scenarios to test leadership ability, time management skills, performance under pressure, and the ability to work as a team. This phase consisted of demanding “physical motivation,” and room and barracks inspections. In the wardroom, students were required to recite required knowledge from memory. This phase was long, filled with physical motivation sessions, a myriad of classes and academic requirements, and competing demands that build time management skills. The program continually reinforced a concept integral to military life: the only way forward is as a team. Once the company performed at the level expected of them in the indoctrination phase, they moved onto the junior phase.
The junior and senior phases introduced the concept of coaching and tested the officer candidate’s (OC) ability to maintain ROCI’s firm standards. While indoctrination was geared toward teamwork and setting the standard, junior and senior status ensured that OCs were able to hold themselves and their peers accountable for their actions. OCs were largely responsible for policing themselves. During this time, OCs were primarily in the classroom where they learned about topics ranging from Coast Guard history to leadership psychology, ethics, law and policy. Upon completion of these phases, the program shifted to the transition phase, where OCs met with mentors to discuss the responsibilities of a junior officer.
Beyond daily responsibilities, OCs are required to give back to the community to display stewardship in all aspects of their lives while at ROCI. Notably assisting the Connecticut veterans’ community in marking over 14,000 graves with the national ensign in honor of Memorial Day.
“Planting flags at the Connecticut Veterans’ Cemetery on Memorial Day was an unexpected and impactful experience for all of us,” Ensign Emily Kendall said. “To pay respect to the sacrifices of the men and women who came before us was an honor. We have an opportunity to earn a commission in the United States military and to give back to this country that has given us so much. This experience reminded us to count our blessings and keep our challenges in perspective.”
Prior to receiving their commissions, each OC took the oath of office. They made a public vow to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies…” and “to bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. They also made a commitment to embrace respect, act with integrity and humility, and never stop learning from others.
Congratulations ROCI 1-21. This class of firsts set the standard at ROCI, and they’re now in the fleet, creating one story at a time.
If you’re interested in commissioning as a Coast Guard Reserve officer, speak with your local recruiter or visit gocoastguard.com.