Holmes Magnolia GOLD trains at Camp ShelbyPictured are the 70 plus cadets, including the five from Holmes Community College, who participated in the two-week Annual Mississippi Magnolia Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) Program at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center May 14-29.

Five members of the Holmes Community College Magnolia GOLD (Guard Officer Leadership Development) program recently participated in the two-week Annual Mississippi Magnolia GOLD Program at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center. Percival Field of Madison, Jasmine Gibson of Lexington, Johnell Hartley of Kosciusko, Zachary Lewis of Brandon, and Lane McTaggart of Madison joined the group of over 70 enlisted students from both Mississippi Valley State University and community colleges across the state.

The Magnolia GOLD military science program offers leadership development courses primarily to Mississippi community college students, preparing them to be able to pursue a commission in the Mississippi Army National Guard. During the two-week training held May 14-29, soldiers practiced tactical scenarios including land navigation skills, weapon qualifications, offensive/defensive tactics, water survival, and other physical training. Additionally, each cadet had to perform in various leadership positions throughout the training.

Field commented that his favorite part of the training experience was being able to lead a platoon and learn new leadership skills.

"The training forces you to learn new things about different positions, whether you're acting as platoon leader, first sergeant, etc., and it forces you to make tough decisions about what is best for your platoon or your group," Field said. "I liked how the training camp brought everything that we learned in the classroom together, giving us an opportunity to improve on our decision-making skills and other leadership abilities."

Holmes brought the Magnolia GOLD program to its Goodman Campus in the fall of 2015, and expanded to the Ridgeland Campus the following spring. Led by SFC Timothy Harper, the program lends itself to students interested in becoming National Guard officers, whether they choose Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) or Officer Candidate School (OCS). A native of Rankin County, SFC Harper has worked with the National Guard for 20 years and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the program.

"One of the best things about the Magnolia GOLD program is that it brings civilians and soldiers together," Field said. "Although there are additional opportunities for those already in the Guard, there's no military obligation required to take Magnolia GOLD courses. I think it's good because it gives civilians in the program an idea of what Army life is about, and a taste of the military, and gives all students involved good leadership skills that can be used for the rest of their lives, whether in the Army or in a different career."

Gibson, the only female from the Holmes Magnolia GOLD program to attend the training at Camp Shelby, also had positive things to say about the experience.

"I enjoyed myself at Camp Shelby with the Magnolia GOLD program; it was quite the  learning experience," Gibson said. "Everyone got a chance to experience the role of being a leader (squad leader, platoon leader, executive officer, or company commander), which gave me more training than I would have gotten if I was actually at my unit. I also got a chance to meet other future cadets and maybe even future NCOs (noncommissioned officers) from the other schools that were there."

For the fall of 2016, Holmes students will have the opportunity to take Foundations of Officership and Individual Leadership Studies, with Leadership and Teamwork and Basic Leadership offered the following spring.

"I really recommend the Magnolia GOLD program," Lewis said. "Honestly, it is a great program that even civilians get a lot out of since the leadership skills can be applied to future careers. For those in the Guard like myself, it is a useful tool for helping you learn how to become an officer or handle any duty you're assigned. As for the training, my favorite part was the STX Training, which involved moving in formations and clearing out buildings. After two years in the Guard, I can say, this training was immensely helpful, and the Magnolia GOLD program has been a great asset to me in general."

Hartley also expressed his appreciation for both the training camp and the Magnolia GOLD program.

"I learned how to be more of a leader and how to get others to trust me by making good decisions in tough situations," Hartley said of the training camp. "It was a lot of fun and I learned how to save someone's life if I'm out in the battle field and they need medical care. The best part of training was the combat water survival where we were able to interact with everyone and get to know each other better. We also got to swim that day so that was really fun. The Magnolia GOLD program as a whole has really helped me because not only has it made me a better leader, it has also made me a better person. This is a program that I would recommend everyone to be a part of. I really enjoyed it."

For more information on Holmes Magnolia GOLD program, contact SFC Harper, program director/instructor, at tiharper@holmescc.edu or (662) 472-9005.

IN THIS PHOTO: Pictured are the 70 plus cadets, including the five from Holmes Community College, who participated in the two-week Annual Mississippi Magnolia Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) Program at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center May 14-29.