FORT SILL, Okla., March 24, 2016 — Physical fitness begins with a 5:45 a.m. formation for those in the Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) at Fort Sill. The students, mostly Army lieutenants (with a sprinkling of Marines as well) arrive a few minutes earlier to begin.
Their instructors however, have been there much earlier. For Capt. Grady Dacus, an instructor with 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery, the day began at 4:30 a.m. when he woke up at his home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and drove the 50 minutes to Fort Sill.
“Wichita Falls is close to my wife’s family so she has that extra support,” said Dacus, who pulls out his phone to show off photos of his twin 1-year-old girls, Kate and Maggie. “Some nights I get home late. She’s used to it a little bit.”
Like other types of teachers, the work hours for instructors at BOLC are not confined to the classroom. Many will spend a significant amount of time outside of the classroom preparing for their lessons, working with students, conducting reviews, fielding calls about assignments but also on “military” duties such as leading physical fitness each morning at 6 a.m. or serving as the field officer of the day.
By 7 a.m. physical training is over. After a quick shower and a fast breakfast, Marine Capt. Isaac Williams, a gunnery instructor with 1-30th FA, heads to his class to prepare for the day’s lesson. Marines and Soldiers work side-by-side at the BOLC schoolhouse as Marine and Soldier field artillery members are trained at Fort Sill. Today Williams will be teaching his class how to take what the observer sees and translating it into information the gun line can use. It’s one of many things the officers will learn during their 18 weeks (and four days) at BOLC. Class begins at 8:30 a.m. and in a few minutes voices can be heard outside the classroom door as students wait to enter.
“I chose to come,” said Williams who explained how Marines are vetted to become instructors. “This is something outside artillery and I enjoy teaching. I get to take Soldiers who don’t know what artillery is and make them artillery officers. It’s hard work but it’s rewarding at the same time. In the end you have 30-plus students that are now artillery officers and you are the one who taught them.”
The class is much like any other class in that students arrive, the instructor instructs and the students may be called upon to read or answer questions. Some are more apt to ask questions and speak up than others and Williams said instructors take notice of those who don’t.
“They are the ones you pay attention to and you may pick them to run a problem. It might slow the class but we’re trying to reach everyone in the class,” he said.
Across post at the Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti Hall building, BOLC Soldiers train on joint fires observer tasks. Here Soldiers take the skills they’ve acquired throughout their classes and compile them together. The training asks the Soldiers to determine how to make a round land at the target, taking into account the muzzle wear on the weapon, the weather, the air density, the rotation of the earth, the rotation of the round as it exits the muzzle and even the drift of the round (because the rotation of the round will cause it to drift as it follows its spin).
Here nine-year Army veteran Capt. Alex Litz, a gunnery instructor and writer, works alongside Sgt. 1st Class Erik Granito, an instructor writer and the simulator noncommissioned officer in charge, both with B Battery, 1-30th FA., to further train and guide the students. Litz not only helps students learn about their military occupational specialty, but also about the Army. Between fielding questions on rocket trajectory, Litz also responds to their question on career progression and duty stations.
“You don’t continue leadership by teaching them the basics of the Army but by being a mentor to them in terms of leadership skills,” said Litz. “I’m preparing them to be leaders in the Army, and I see this as an opportunity to develop leadership skills at the same time.”
Litz does all this while simultaneously showing no signs that he has had only an hour of sleep the night before.
“I made sure I had a lot of coffee,” said Litz. “It’s not the first time in the Army where something like that has happened where I get little sleep and then had to go do a full day. Really the students keep me motivated. They like to laugh and joke around but are still attentive to the training.”
On another day, just an hour later, Litz works with his platoon on a live-fire exercise. Here the students display their understanding by physically moving to a location, setting up equipment, finding targets and firing on them. Within the smaller groups, the students rotate responsibilities, some acting as the chief while others act as supporting Soldiers who carry out tasks.
The Soldiers and their instructors will stay two nights in the field training on how to call for fire. They will sleep, eat and not shower all while under the massive Oklahoma sky. For the instructors, it’s just another day. In a few weeks the Soldiers and instructors will participate in a week-long training event termed, the “Red Leg War.”
“The Red Leg War is really the cumulative event that wraps up all the instruction from fires support and gunnery,” said Litz. “It’s very similar to the live fire. Also one of the other key differences is this time there are enemy forces out there. They could potentially be attacked.”
For those not staying the night on an elk-populated hill on Fort Sill, classes end at 5:30 p.m., however that doesn’t mean the work for the BOLC instructors is complete. Next is additional instruction, re-testing, phone calls with questions over homework, text messages with homework pages and maps for review. The day isn’t over.
“I’m available to students 24/7,” said Capt. Rob Frost, operations officer 1-30th FA. “You’re responsible for them. I might get 10 to 15 questions a night, especially if there is a test coming up.”
That work is in addition to preparing for the next day’s lesson. Frost said the preparation time needed increases the newer the instructor is and that the time can eat into family time if instructors are not careful. In addition to being an instructor, Frost is the father of six children, ages ranging from a newborn to 13 years old, and is active in the men’s ministry at Dayspring Community Church. He and his wife, Melissa also lead a community group, participate in youth services, teach a youth Sunday school, and as a family, sponsor a child in Indonesia. Frequent conversations with Melissa is paramount in balancing work and home.
“We make it work through a lot of communication and forward planning,” said Melissa. “We have to sync calendars quite often. I do tend to do a lot of the house and family tasks, especially when it comes to soccer practices and things because it’s difficult to predict his coming-home time. A lot of times it ends up being where it crosses over so we’ll usually wave at him in the car as we’re driving by. We just kind of manage it. It comes down to a lot of communication.”
By 7 p.m. Dacus has returned to Wichita Falls. After dinner he has about a half hour to play with his daughters before he helps give them a bath and puts them to bed. Then, sometime after 8 p.m. he sits down with his wife for some one-on-one time. By 10:30 p.m. he and his wife are in bed.
“At this point in the Army I’m used to not getting a lot of sleep,” said Dacus. “I get between five and six hours at night.”
Litz said putting in the large number of hours as an instructor is taxing but rewarding if there is a devotion for the job.
“What it boils down to is the enjoyment of being an instructor,” he said. “If you’re not passionate about being an instructor, it makes it much more difficult. When you get to see your students from Day 1 not knowing what’s going on, to the last day when they’ve passed all the major milestones, that’s a major motivator.”