Officer Candidate School: An Introduction

On Sept. 27, 1941 The Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning Ga., graduated 171 newly appointed second lieutenants for assignment as platoon leaders in the rapidly expanding Army.  They were vanguard of thousands of junior officers who would be needed for the 8 million-man Army to be formed to win World War II.

The formation of Officer Candidate School (OCS) was demanded by Gen. George C. Marshall Jr. and stemmed from his appraisal of the ‘’90-day wonders’’ program of World War I.  In 1917-18, a Military Training Camps Association proposed three months of training for civilians selected by the Army from among men considered qualified for rudimentary instruction in the weaponry and culture of the Army.  After three months they were commissioned, most as lieutenants, but a sizable number became instant captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and even a few colonels to fill special assignments for which they were considered qualified.  Varying number of graduates are published, but it is generally agreed that more than 80,000 officers were added to the force for the last two years of the war, with more than 60 percent assigned to combat arms.

Bradley Designs System

Army leaders, particularly the combat-arms chiefs, wanted to return to that system for World War II.  But Marshall, based on his appraisal of the World War I experience, wanted a formal Army school curriculum and a more Army-oriented soldier population to furnish the candidates.  The proposal for this new school was developed in 1938, but lay dormant until 1940 when Marshall ordered then Lt. Col. Omar Bradley to Fort Benning with a promotion to brigadier general and instructions to design the program. Days later, Bradley began designing the system, which was organized for business by early summer 1941.

Class No. 1 at the Infantry School began on July 1, 1941, the first of 10 OCS branch schools organized in a few following months, which were followed by other augmenting programs at 27 locations around the world during the next four years.  All were designed to meet junior officer requirements of the growing Army.

Marshall, in his speech to graduates in September 1941, stated:

The most important duty that officers are called upon to perform [is] the direct command of combat units of American soldiers. To succeed requires two fundamental qualifications: thorough professional knowledge and a capacity for leadership.  The schools have done all that can be done in the limited time available to equip you professionally, and your technique of weapons and tactics should rapidly improve with further study and actual practice.  However, they cannot provide you with qualities of leadership – that courage and evident high purpose which command the respect and loyalty of American soldiers.

He went on to identify the role of OCS graduates.  Modern war is a thing of swift movement, rapid concentrations and enormous firepower, but all battles are fought by platoon leaders.  All higher commanders will dictate what has to be done and what support will be provided, but, as Marshall said, ‘‘the responsibility for results is almost entirely yours.’’

Marshall thereby identified the purpose of OCS: Provide the leaders who will fight the war and lead infantry and tank platoons, artillery sections, and the small detachments of engineers and signal soldiers who close with the enemy and win the battles that win wars.  All combat-arms lieutenants bore that mission, whether they were the ‘’90-day wonders’’ or the West Point and ROTC graduates whose education was designed to produce career soldiers.  Many OCS graduates become career soldiers, but their initial training is to do first things first.  Leading platoons is the first thing when there is a war on.  The great bulk of them complete their terms of service, accept whatever thanks are offered by the nation and return to civilian life.

A very interesting and comprehensive study, The Ninety-Day Wonders, OCS and the Modern American Army by Milton M. McPherson, was published in 2001 by the U.S. Army OCS Alumni Association.  It covers a brief account of military leadership required at various stages of our nation’s history from the Indian attack on the 1607 Jamestown colony through the Cold War and the needs of today’s Army.  It provides a significant understanding of the requirements for command and leadership of an Army at war.  Members of the association want to stay in touch with others with whom they served, and they have a number of chapters across the country to pursue that.  Visit the association’s website at


Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen, USA Ret., served as vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army and commander in chief of U.S. Army Europe.  He is a senior fellow of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare and First Vice President of the American Security Council Foundation.

Reprinted with permission from ARMY Magazine, Vol. 67 #11, copyright 2013, the Association of the United States Army.

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