Thanks to 2ndLt X for his advice on the challenges that law (JAG) candidates face as they prepare for and complete OCS.
The JAG Application Process
Coming through the law (JAG) contract pipeline is probably 95% the same as the regular application process. One difference is that here’s a much larger emphasis on one’s LSAT score and law school grades. Further, I would say the physical side of it is even more heavily scrutinized. The Marines are the most physical branch, and there are few capable of meeting the academic standards while being as physically capable as a Marine officer need to be. The application process is long. However, once one is accepted, there’s still making it through OCS. OCC-222 had 75-ish Law contracts on the first day—less than 20 of us graduated. We had four JAG candidates in my platoon, three of whom were just coming out of 1L. Of us, I do not believe a single one was below the top 20% of our respective law school classes.
While academics is important, don’t underestimate the physical demands. As an undergrad, I was a DI athlete, All-ACC, All-Region, and NCAA National Championships qualifier. While being able to show my OSO a transcript of quality grades made him happy, I think surpassing Physical Standards was actually more important. As an athlete, I’ve had bad races, been hurting bad half way in, and considered how nice it would be if my leg broke so I could drop out. However, I’ve never been so challenged as I was at OCS.
Getting through every single day was hard. I’ve never been so determined to finish something but wanted so bad to quit.
That being said, I’ve never been so proud to accomplish something. I’ve held the NCAA Runner-up trophy over my head on a podium, and that was an amazing day—but I have never felt as good as I did marching across Brown Field and raising my hand later that day to commission.
Many JAG candidates find that the culture shift is one of the largest challenges at OCS. At both law school and OCS, there’s a high level of expectation and competitiveness. However, at OCS, there’s even more of a “common enemy” (i.e. instructors, the rigorous program) so to speak than just a professor’s exam at the end of the semester, and there’s less emphasis put on platoon rank than on class rank—it’s about making it through and earning one’s EGA. Because of this, OCS is much more collaborative. Candidates are more willing to help one another and get each other through rough spots. Such an atmosphere of collaboration and shared suffering also created much closer personal relationships. After almost two years of law school, I would say I have about six close friends and a lot of general acquaintances I just maintain a relationship with because the networking aspect of the legal profession dictates such. After 10 weeks at OCS, I had 56 brothers. I felt just as close to these guys as teammates I had for five years in college. That’s an experience and a club I wouldn’t trade for anything.
On a more personal level, I found humbling myself and submitting to the process to be the most difficult. Put simply, I have not been an unsuccessful person. I was a good athlete, held a management position at a large insurer between grad school and law school, and generally know how to “adult,” so to speak. Having someone in my face tearing me apart and dictating every aspect of my day was frustrating, to say the least.
I specifically remember being sick as a dog during one of the first inspections and having a sergeant instructor tear me apart because my pillow had stains on it from my sinus infection leaking at night and my nose bleeding. After throwing some insulting phrasing at me on the matter, he asked the reason for such a transgression—of course, I informed the Sergeant Instructor I had been ill. This resulted in being yelled at and degraded more. Law school makes one think logically, present arguments and evidence, and come to the fair conclusions. Being put into a situation where there was no logic, no judgment, and just an angry Marine in my face was very rough. I had to put a lot of pride away in order to stay quiet and not blow my top.
It’s a Challenge
I would like to relate to potential candidates how challenging the process is, but also how rewarding it is.
On that note, there were some real heavy times for me. I would be lying if I told you otherwise. OCS is hard, and it’s meant to be that way. However, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor of sorts, a former Judge Advocate of 12 years who is now in the reserves. Right when it seemed as though there was no light at the end of the tunnel, I got a call from him during one liberty weekend. Hearing he had the same thoughts, “This is absurd,” “I don’t know if I’m good enough to make it,” “if this is what the Marie Corps is like, then do I really want to be a part of it?” etc., was an incredibly relieving. One of the things he said will stay with me forever: “Seth, OCS isn’t the Marine Corps, and the Marine Corps isn’t the air wing, and the wing isn’t the Judge Advocate Corps (JAG).” Knowing, really knowing my life for the next four years wasn’t going to be like OCS if I accepted my commission was a big boost.