JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Each year, approximately 2,000 incoming officers at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School learn about Army values and how to be a Soldier in a course that puts their knowledge and leadership skills to the test.
The Basic Officer Leader Course, or BOLC, is the entry-level course for students becoming Army commissioned officers. The course is conducted in two phases: classroom training and field training.
At AMEDDC&S, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, students in BOLC go through seven weeks of training, four weeks in the classroom at AMEDDC&S and three weeks of field tactical exercises at JBSA-Camp Bullis.
The course is held six to seven times a year at AMEDDC&S, with each class averaging between 250 to 500 students.
During their training, the students in the course are assigned to Company A, 187th Medical Battalion, part of AMEDDC&S, and are trained to the guidelines and standards set by U.S. Army Medical Command and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
Lt. Col. Werner Barden, AMEDDC&S BOLC chief, said the objective of the course is to train new officers to do Army tasks and to familiarize them with the AMEDD culture.
“Our responsibility is to build an initial entry Army Medical Department officer for the operating force,” Barden said. “We focus on the basic Army tasks of shoot, move and communicate.”
The areas of shoot, move and communicate that students learn at BOLC include weapon proficiency, hand-to-hand fighting techniques, land navigation and movement, communication, mission planning and tactical execution.
The students learn these Army tasks while being put through simulated combat settings, including a convoy that is ambushed and damaged by an improvised explosive device, gunfire and being shelled by mortar fire.
In each combat situation – under the careful eye of instructors – the AMEDDC&S students have to plan, react and coordinate the treatment of wounded and injured warfighters, who are groaning and screaming in pain.
Barden said it’s critical to the Army mission that AMEDD officers know what to do in a combat situation, including how to handle and use a weapon.
“Why is it so important that an Army neurosurgeon have that requirement to use a weapon because every one of our officers have the potential to be deployed in harm’s way,” he said. “They have to be a Soldier first, then an Army Medical Department officer second. They must be proficient in doing those Soldier tasks.”
In addition, the student officers are learning about the three levels of medical care in a tactical setting as set up by the Army including role one, the treatment, transporting and movement of wounded warfighters in the field by vehicle and helicopter; role two, a medical treatment facility setting in which the wounded are brought in and cared for with equipment and services; and role three, a combat support hospital setting that includes surgical intervention and preventive medicine.
“We are taking what we learn in the classroom and putting it into practical application in a field tactical exercise,” Barden said. “We cover everything in the field from your basic Army warrior tasks to complex movements and communication in a tactical environment. They gain confidence in their own ability, learn effective communication and how to work as a team to accomplish the mission, which for us is the care, treatment and evacuation of our casualties.”
The student officers are trained on how to plan an operation and to brief subordinates to execute the operation at various levels on both the tactical and operational sides.
Each BOLC has an average of 55 instructors, who are split into six different teams. The instructors are experienced service members who have deployed and been commanders in several locations around the world.
Barden said the course instructors are dedicated professionals who devote many hours preparing, instructing and coaching the students so they can become successful officers and leaders.
Capt. Jennifer Koontz, platoon advisor, instructor and officer in charge for the role three simulation, said the students that go through the simulations are put through situations that make them have to think on their feet and react to problems that come up.
For instance, in the role three simulation, the instructors will simulate a scenario in a combat support hospital in which some of the equipment is down and not working.
“Once we’ve taught them (about role three) and the flow of everything, then we will have services shutdown and make them critically think: What do you do now?” Koontz said. “The operating room is shut off. What are we going to do now? Or the x-ray machine is down: What do you do next? We make them thank outside of the box on that stuff. We get them comfortable and situated with how everything works and then we get into that next level of the thought process because that stuff happens.”
Barden said one of his toughest challenges in overseeing BOLC is trying to mold an entire class that has many different skill sets and years of experience.
“We have more than 70 plus different skill sets within AMEDD,” he said. “My challenge is to bring all those 70-plus different medical skill sets to a common Soldier capability.”
Barden said the average years of experience and service in the Army for a BOLC student could range from a newly commissioned officer, who has just completed a ROTC program and is beginning their Army career, to someone who has served 15-plus years.
Barden said the experienced students in BOLC are encouraged to utilize their knowledge and skills by becoming mentors and providing peer-to-peer guidance to the younger students.
1st Lt. John Boswell, who has served for 11 years in the Army, was one of those BOLC students who helped provide guidance and knowledge to the younger incoming officers in the course.
Boswell, who served as a combat medic in Afghanistan, said he and another service member in the course taught a tactical combat care casualty class, instructing younger students on life-saving interventions for injuries in combat.
“Myself as well as the more experienced Soldiers in our platoon are really trying to share as much of our knowledge, as much of our experience as possible,” Boswell said. “We are giving them (younger students) hints about really anything from actual warfighting skills to daily routines of military life. I think we are doing a pretty good job of showing them some important stuff along the way.”
Boswell was impressed by what he saw from the younger officers in the course.
“I will say, I’m very impressed with our young Soldiers,” he said. “Some of these guys are really young, like early 20s, mid 20s, and they’re extremely motivated and they’re willing to learn and happy to learn. That’s exciting to see for the future of the military.”
2nd Lt. Jennifer LaFalce, a newly commissioned officer in the BOLC course, said many of the experienced students were always there to help her out and provide guidance when she needed it.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” she said. “I’m so grateful to have met so many prior service folks who have now taken the officer’s path because they have so many years of experience under their belt. They’ve been nothing but helpful to me in learning the ropes, how to be a better Soldier, to be a better officer and to learn what right looks like. You’re going to have to teach your Soldiers how to do these things. So it’s helpful to have people who have done it.”