Army officer candidates finish 7-mile march at TSS
by Shane Dunaway
TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY – Words of encouragement could be heard piercing the night sky as 92 future U.S. Army officers crossed the finish line at Talladega Superspeedway Wednesday.

The officer candidates completed a seven-mile march, a course requirement for the Accelerated 57-day Officer Candidate School conducted by the Alabama Military Academy’s 200th Regiment.

“This is a leadership course, so they’re put in leadership positions and as individuals, they’re expected to perform,” OCS Training Officer Capt. Robert Mangum said. “However, like with anything else in the military, it’s also about teamwork. You can’t do it on your own.”

The march began at Salem Baptist Church in Eastaboga as the candidates geared up with a ruck sack weighing approximately 35 pounds and a load-bearing vest holding their magazines, canteens and various other pieces of equipment.

“With your ruck sack and LBV, you’re probably in the neighborhood of 45 to 50 pounds,” Mangum said.

According to Mangum, the march marks the second of three marches all candidates must complete before they can become an officer. Candidates from all over the country, U.S. territories and even some international officers receive training through the course, though Mangum said there were no international officers currently in the course.

“Each candidate must complete a five-mile march, a seven-mile march and a 10-mile march,” Mangum said. “This march is the most enjoyable and, in my opinion, it’s the toughest one.”

The course began using the Talladega Superspeedway finish line as the end point for their seven-mile marches in 2009. The 200th Regiment holds two accelerated OCS courses each year.

“What a unique experience it is for these candidates to get to finish a march in a NASCAR stadium,” Mangum said. “They’re getting an opportunity to do something that the majority of their peers will never get to do.”

Members of the Talladega Superspeedway staff were on hand to assist with facilitating the program.

“If it wasn’t for Talladega Superspeedway, this event would lose a lot of the meaning that it has,” Mangum said. “They have been very helpful and gracious opening up their facility.”

As the candidates rounded Turn Four with the finish line in sight, the group’s pace intensified and candidates urged one another, yelling, “Don’t give up!”

“This group right here’s physical stamina is probably a little bit better than average,” 200th Regiment Command Sgt. Major Philip Boyd said. “As you can look around and tell, they’re doing a fine job — without a doubt.”

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© 2013