JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri National Guard's 27th Recruiting and Retention Battalion recently held its third annual Future Leader Conference at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
About 100 of the state's best and brightest enlisted Guardsmen attended the two-day event designed to provide them with all the information they need to become commissioned or warrant officers.
"The conference gives our enlisted troops an opportunity to decide if they want to become officers," said Capt. Eric Dier, the specialty branch officer strength manager for recruiting. "A lot of them have been selected by their leadership to attend, or they have found they want to become leaders in their organization. This weekend is an opportunity for them to understand what options are available to them."
There are four sources to commission officers in the United States Army: the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the Reserve Officer Training Corps at colleges and universities, the officer candidate school program in the National Guard or at Fort Benning, Ga., and direct commissions for medical and legal professionals. Those who select officer candidate school can attend a traditional program where most of the training is completed during one weekend a month over the course of 18 months, or attend an accelerated course outside of the state that lasts more than eight weeks.
Those who want to become warrant officers must go through warrant officer candidate school, either through a traditional program that can mostly be completed in Missouri, or through an accelerated program at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Dier said the conference should help these Soldiers determine what the best course of action is for them.
During the conference, Soldiers received briefs on the role of the professional officer, basic officer branches, building their officer enrollment packets, officer and warrant officer candidate school, education services and bonuses, as well as information from each of the state's five senior commands.
"These presentations let folks know what marks they have to hit to become an officer – what education requirements they have to have in addition to certain age requirements," Dier said. "These are the things that they need to know."
Representatives from seven in-state colleges and universities were also on hand to provide information on education and their ROTC programs.
"We have several schools who are very interested in working with the Missouri National Guardsmen and bringing them to their universities," Dier said. "They want to help them work toward their educational goals and ultimately becoming an officer."
Among those in attendance was Staff Sgt. Drew Ming, who won the 2011 Missouri Guard Best Warrior Competition in the noncommissioned officer category. Ming said he wants to become a warrant officer.
"I like the role of being an expert in my field," said Ming, who is a light wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 1128th Forward Support Company, of Marshall. "That is the main thing that has my attention.
Ming, who works during the week at the Missouri Guard's Field Maintenance Shop 7 in Marshall, said he received a lot of valuable information on the prerequisites to becoming a warrant officer, as well as the warrant officer candidate school overview, at the conference.
"I was able to see what the options are going accelerated or traditional," said Ming, who lives in Marshall. "I like to know any time what is expected of me – I don't want to go in blind. I like to research and have as much information as possible."
Sgt 1st Class Darren Maute, who is a readiness noncommissioned officer and platoon sergeant with the 206th Area Support Medical Company, said he already has his packet in to be a commissioned officer, but wanted to come to the conference with nine of his Soldiers to encourage them to follow the officer path.
"I wanted to provide morale support for my Soldiers," said Maute, who lives in Springfield. "I like to motivate them. If I can help evolve their career to be warrant or commissioned officers, it's a win-win situation."
While earning a bachelor's degree, Maute said he intended to join the Army as a commissioned officer back in 2002. But while waiting tables to pay his way through college, he struck up a conversation with a military retiree that told him enlisted Soldiers would respect him more as an officer if he enlisted first.
"He said not that there is anything wrong with officers that don't, but I decided I would like to be able to relate to them," Maute said.
He followed that "good" advice and in 10 years, quickly rose through the noncommissioned officer ranks.
"I got lucky and I had good mentors," Maute said. "That's what I'm hoping that I've been these first 10 years is a good mentor to my Soldiers."
Maute said it will be hard to leave the leadership role he has earned on the enlisted side for that of a commissioned officer.
"I really enjoy the camaraderie with the Noncommissioned Officer Corps and the Soldiers – I've had such a great time," he said. "But I think it's time for that next step. It will be a different type of leadership."
Spc. Sarde Doutherd, who is an automated logistical specialist in Company E, 1-135th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, from Whiteman Air Force Base, said she is leaning toward becoming a commissioned office through officer candidate school. She was inspired at the conference by words from Lt. Col. James L. Bunch, who is the commander of 2nd General Studies Battalion, 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute, which oversees the Missouri Guard's officer candidate school at Fort Leonard Wood.
"One of the things he said was that becoming an officer is personal," said Doutherd, who lives in Leavenworth, Kan. "I was also on active duty and I had what I would describe as horrible noncommissioned officers. One of my reasons for being here is that I want to make sure that what happened to me doesn't happen to another Soldier. I feel like being an officer, I would be able to make sure that doesn't happen and that I do have good noncommissioned officers that care about their Soldiers."
Doutherd, who spent two years on active duty before more than two years in the Missouri Guard, also took to heart a message from Col. Gary Gilmore, Missouri Guard state chaplain, who also spoke at the conference.
"He said that when it comes to being a leader you are here to serve and help others," she said. "It's not so much about having the power; it's about being a servant and taking care of others."
Pfc. Eric Lawrence, who is with the 1035th Support Maintenance Company, of Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, said he came into the Guard hoping to later become a commissioned officer.
"I've always been one of those individuals who wanted to take that next step and do the best I can," said Lawrence, who lives in Festus. "With the type of person I am, I feel that leading as an officer would better suit me."
During a typical drill weekend, Lawrence said there is very little face-to-face time to ask questions of officers, so having a conference like this is a huge plus for him.
"I think it's pretty neat that the Guard has allowed these higher ranking senior officials to come in so we can directly ask them questions," Lawrence said. "It's fantastic. They are more than willing to throw out their e-mail address and phone number and have you contact them directly if you are having any trouble with anything."
Although no data has been collected to determine how many Soldiers who have attended in the past went on to become officers, Dier said the point of the conference is to plant the seeds of what is available to them.
"These folks can be anywhere from becoming an officer in the next year to somebody who is maybe becoming an officer four or five years down the road," he said. "This just sets them up for success and you're going to find ones that walk away from this and find that being an officer is not for them. But, a lot of them are already noncommissioned officers and they can spread this information to their individual Soldiers."