Take care of those around you. If you don’t like them, remember: it’s not about you. Ductus Exemplo means lead by example. Lead from the front.
Keep this in mind as you read my perspective: There are many things at OCS that won’t make sense at the time but will become perfectly clear later. And everyone’s experience at OCS is different. But, everyone’s experience is the same. Look for the common themes in advice and listen to what is really being said. Believe it or not, it will be the best 10/12 weeks of your life. The motto of OCS is Ductus Exemplo, Latin for “Lead By Example.”
OCS is a very daunting experience. You’ll see guys who lived in the gym struggle on workouts. Or Ivy League grads fail a test. Some of the smartest candidates (Law/JAG candidates in particular) will act like 7 years old arguing with their parents. Prior service members will revert to “This Recruit” and act like they are 18 at boot camp again. Be aware that everyone makes mistakes and that’s not what matters. The staff is more concerned with your ability to lead under tough conditions and your ability to learn from your mistakes. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable and remember from the moment you get on the white bus, it’s not about you. It’s about that candidate to the left and right of you.
What to Expect
OCS is more miserable than it is hard. The staff will give you the tools you need to succeed. Stress and the training environment are what make OCS so difficult. I was surprised at how basic most things were at OCS. Very little is beyond the grasp of an average high school student. But, when you have limited sleep, food, and an angry Sergeant Instructor in your face, the easy things seem hard and the hard things are near impossible. The staff will put you in situations that are impossible and situations that seem impossible. You won’t know the difference, but they are testing to see whether you have a bias for action when you don’t think it can be done. Ductus Exemplo: Lead by Example.
After graduation, it was explained to me that the staff wants to, “Find out who you are on the worst day of your life.” They ask themselves, “is that someone I would follow?”
Every day at OCS, you have the opportunity to decide who you want to become. Every day you need to fight for the chance to have tomorrow. Ductus Exemplo: Lead from the front. Most people will worry about the major evaluations (inspections, LRC, SULE, etc) but the little things are what will define who you are becoming. Be aware that you are developing habits throughout the cycle that will lead to your success or failure at OCS. Find an excuse to win. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the candidates around you.
The Hardest Part
I’m often asked, “What was the hardest part of OCS?” Personally, that was the Endurance Course. However, what was hard for me may be easy for you. In retrospect, I wish I had prepared better for PT. There are things everyone struggles with, but OCS will introduce individual points of friction for everyone. Many candidates will start to “go internal” when they feel like they suck. When you see that happen, the rest of the platoon needs to pull that candidate back from the edge. You will make mistakes. But don’t let those mistakes become a death spiral.
It’s nothing personal, just war fighting.
Learn from my mistakes
I’ll give you a personal example. At week two I was the Candidate Platoon Guide (third in command of the platoon) and the Candidate Platoon Sergeant had to make a trip to medical. I went to report the platoon to the duty instructor at the chow hall. I reported the Platoon correctly, unfortunately, I had stepped into “The box” (where the staff sits). That’s what the SI’s call, “Good initiative, bad judgment.” I was corrected and later in the cycle, that particular SI made sure to find me and give me the full OCS experience during inspections. I was inspected by all levels of the chain of command, including the CO herself. But those first two inspections were the toughest for me.
Find your center. Whether it’s religion, support from home, a family history of service, etc. Know what’s going to keep you grounded before you go. Personally, I was able to keep a level head through most of OCS. I attribute this to support from my community via letters and staying grounded in my religion. While at OCS I received enough letters to read more than one every day. That’s all thanks to the people back home supporting me.
Know why you’re here
Know exactly why you want to be a Marine officer before you go. OCS was hard, but there was never a point that I wanted to quit. To be done, yes, every single day. But, I knew I was there to become someone who is worthy of leading Marines. And that was worth it to me. Make no mistake, I wasn’t a stellar candidate. There were many times when I doubted myself. Don’t make a decision (to quit) when you are going uphill. And remember, someone is always watching. Ductus Exemplo.
Don’t let your head get in the way
Ten weeks is a long time if you are just thinking about graduation. Make it chow to chow and never make the same mistake twice. Demonstrate initiative, decision making, communication, and resiliency, it will take you really far at OCS. Remember, there’s a big difference between a mistake and a lack of character. Your SI’s know this and they expect you to make mistakes. However, they will make you feel like it’s a character issue every time. As a result, treat every failure as an opportunity for growth and focus on moving forward.
Honestly, I’d do it again. OCS was the hardest and best 10 weeks of my life.
I Wish I Had Known
One thing I wish I had known before OCS was how much I would come to respect the Sergeant Instructors. I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors in my life. But there is no one who has put so much of their heart and soul into making me something better. You will progress from seeing the staff as a common enemy to being the ones you want to make proud. In many ways, you’ll care more about making them proud of who they made you than you will about the EGA. And you will learn more than you expect from them. Trust the process and understand that the Sergeant Instructors are there to make you a Marine. You will be glad for what they demanded of you, afterward. Be vicious in your intensity.
I can’t over-stress how much effort you should put into preparing for OCS. I was by no means a stellar candidate so learn from my mistakes and learn new lessons while you have a chance. There’s a lot of things you can’t control at OCS. There are a million things that can go wrong and end your time at OCS early. Don’t get dropped for lack of effort or something you can avoid (i.e. academics or Physical Fitness). First and foremost, leadership by example starts before you get to Brown Field.