By 1st Lt. Amanda Westlund
The year-long marathon of hard work, commitment and resilience finally paid off for 10 officer candidates as they graduated and were commissioned as new lieutenants in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in a ceremony here Aug. 8.
Like the athletes at the recent Tokyo Olympics, the newly graduated officer candidates crossed the long-awaited finish line one by one and took their oath of commissioned officers. In place of a medal, each new officer invited loved ones to pin their rank on their dress blues uniform and traded a silver dollar coin for their salute, following in a long tradition.
Second Lt. Aubrey Stuber received the Erickson Trophy as the distinguished honor graduate for her leadership potential and academic performance.
“Growing up, I never saw myself in the military," Stuber said. "I wish I had a female veteran or servicewoman in my life to say, 'There's a place for you too, if you earn it.' So it wasn't until I started working for Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan that I found a role model who made me seriously consider raising my right hand to serve in uniform."
Rep. Christina Houlahan, a former Air Force officer and currently a Representative for Pennsylvania’s 6th District, pinned Stuber’s shoulder boards onto her uniform.
“As I approached commissioning, it was only fitting I asked the woman who was the catalyst for my journey to become a second lieutenant to pin my shoulder boards," Stuber said. "She was thrilled to do so. In fact, she gifted me the same set of butter bars (picture attached) given to her at her 1989 pinning ceremony by now retired Brigadier General Jean Klick. My only hope is one day I can carry on the tradition with our next generation of servant leaders."
Second Lt. Rhiannon Swartz received second honors, and 2nd Lt. Casey Sullivan received third honors.
Second Lt. Sean McClain received the highest average leadership evaluation.
“My parents put a big emphasis on service to others, not necessarily through the military," McClain said. "I volunteered all the time growing up through college, but when graduation was approaching, I know I wanted more than just that local impact."
McClain joined both the National Guard and the AmeriCorps at the same time.
“In my first year of OCS, I spent working as a math and science teacher in inner city Philadelphia. It felt like the obvious next step in that continued service my parents pushed when I was a kid both at the local level with my own students and the higher level through the state,” said McClain.
The ceremony celebrated the accomplishments of completing the demanding 12-month-long Officer Candidate School (OCS) through three phases, with each phase increasingly testing and developing leadership competencies, insight, self-awareness, intelligence and fortitude.
“My greatest enjoyment as an instructor is to see the progress and change within each candidate as they become more confident in their abilities as future leaders,” said Capt. Michael Kegerise, an OCS senior instructor at the 166th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Detachment 1 for nearly 3 years. “It is beyond gratifying to see a candidate who would barely speak up in class, turn into a confident leader taking control of a group of peers and executing a mission as if they’ve been doing it for years.”
The skills learned throughout the course shape the new leaders for their first assignment as an Army officer.
“Having the opportunity to rise through the ranks from platoon leader to battery commander and conveying the real-world experiences to the candidates allows them to get a true understanding of what they could expect in their careers as a young officer,” said Kegerise.