JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. – In the early dawn hours of March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa commanded his rebel forces, already across the U.S.-Mexican border, to attack the American town of Columbus, N.M. The Mexican forces killed eight Soldiers of the 13th Cavalry Regiment, along with 10 civilians. The attack ignited a national response, including President Woodrow Wilson’s mobilization of 110,000 National Guard troops to secure the border and project American power.
Villa’s attack had reverberating consequences across the continent. One of those effects: the Massachusetts National Guard’s fledgling “Training School” – the institution erected just three years prior to train and commission Guard officers – had to halt classes so its students could support the effort.
The Mexican Border Incident is just one of the many notable episodes that connect the present day Regional Training Institute at Camp Edwards here to the original class of “The Training School” – where Massachusetts National Guard Soldiers learned to become commissioned officers.
The story of the RTI parallels the story of the state’s National Guard. It’s also a story that celebrates a considerable milestone this year, as the RTI, which operates the oldest state run officer commissioning school in the nation, recognizes its 100 year anniversary.
“To be serving here during the 100th year is just unbelievable,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Flynn, the RTI’s senior noncommissioned officer. “The history associated with this place is remarkable. When you consider the Soldiers that have come through this institution, it’s truly a privilege to be associated with them.”
The Regional Training Institute traces its roots back to an organization vaguely titled “The Training School.” While the school’s title may be rather indistinct, its mission was quite clear: train Massachusetts Soldiers how to become commissioned officers in the National Guard. Prior to the formation of The Training School, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts was responsible for officer training.
Eighty-six officer candidates reported to the State Camp Ground in Framingham, Mass., when the school held its inaugural class in August 1913. At that time, officer training was a collateral obligation; Soldiers maintained their positions and duties and continued to drill with their current units; OCS training was held on off weekends, and they were not paid for attending the training.
The school closed and re-opened its doors a number of times throughout the years in response to national crises and global events. Classes were suspended when President Woodrow Wilson sent National Guard troops to the U.S. – Mexican border in response to Villa’s expeditions into American territory. Classes were also suspended during World Wars I and II. However, classes resumed in the fall of 1948, and they have been going on ever since.
Through a century’s worth of changes, mergers, and relocations, The Training School is now titled the Regional Training Institute at Camp Edwards, Joint Base Cape Cod. The RTI still runs the Massachusetts state OCS program, but it has also become a hub of state military and readiness training. Warrant Officer Candidate School, noncommissioned officer training, and Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) training have been added to the RTI’s capabilities, as well as a number of other schools, such as Air Assault and Pathfinder.
“The RTI teaches approximately 15 different classes, to include hosting the nation’s oldest state run military academy,” said retired Col. Charles Perenick, who previously commanded the RTI. “Between (military police) training, and training the future leaders of the Army National Guard, the Regional Training Institute is involved with training about 1,200 Soldiers a year, all who’s mission is to support regional security.”
The RTI graduated its latest batch of officers in August, as Class 80 pinned their second lieutenant’s bars and accepted their commission. Second Lt. Anthony Twining, with Company D, 1st Battalion, 181 Infantry Regiment, had the unique distinction of being the youngest graduate in the nation’s oldest state commissioning school.
“Going through the program was challenging and memorable,” Twining said. “The course was difficult in a number of ways. It tested us both mentally and physically, but also individually, and as a team. Going through the RTI’s OCS program was a great experience, and it did a lot for me.”
Twining said the memorabilia was particularly inspiring during the challenging periods of OCS. “I’m a fan of history, and with this being the oldest state run academy, there was plenty of it, and I found it motivating. I could look at the walls and think: ‘if these people made it through when there was far less technology and far fewer measures of comfort, there is no reason I can’t push myself through.’”
However, Twining noted, it is the people – not the building or equipment – that make the RTI the successful institution that it is. “The RTI cadre are amazing. They each had their own area of expertise, and they would tell us stories from their deployments or their personal stories from their OCS days, which was really motivating.”
“The NCOs and officers that have served the RTI are mostly experienced veterans combining their experiences in theater with the parameters of essential teaching sent forth to best prepare the Soldier,” said Perenick.
“The training we provide here enhances the development of our state’s officers, noncommissioned officers, warrant officers, and every other Solider that’s in the Guard,” said Col. Robert Dwan, the RTI’s commandant. “This has been going on for 100 years, and it’ll go on for a hundred more.”