Being a short and skinny candidate at Marine OCS
So you have some concerns about being a short and skinny candidate at OCS?
I was also a short and skinny candidate at OCS. Height: 5’ 6” and 120 lbs at my lightest point at OCS and the second shortest candidate in the platoon. Here is advice, tips, and straight talk to help you through OCS. There’s a lot of things you can’t control, being a short and skinny candidate is one. Focus on the things you can change and put the rest behind you. In a formation, the tallest candidates comprise the “Big end” and smallest the “Little end.” Many of these insights will apply to the majority of female candidates as well.
Percentages are debatable. But I think a solid 60% of OCS is in your head. That 60% has nothing to do with your physical fitness, intellect or leadership ability. And subsequently, nothing to do with being a short and skinny candidate. This is the part that burns a lot of candidates because they psych themselves out and go into what Colonel Nethercot (former Commanding Officer of OCS) called a “death spiral.” Essentially, they convince themselves they suck and start to retreat inside themselves. This, in turn, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just remember, if it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you. Nothing grows in its comfort zone.
Who dares wins.
-British SAS motto
On Black Friday (pickup day) the Sergeant Instructors are going to look for anyone that stands out. Candidates who are slow or don’t sound off in particular. They also pick on those who don’t blend in. There is no place for individuals at OCS. Being a short and skinny candidate makes you stand out. For that matter, being anything other than an athletic build, average height, white male makes you stand out. Remember everyone is wearing the same thing with the same haircut, so anyway they can differentiate you is going to get you extra attention. In order to avoid extra attention, you’ll need to be louder, more intense and more adaptable than those around you.
It’s nothing personal, just war fighting.”-GySgt A
Make no mistake, there are things at OCS that will be harder for short and skinny candidates. But I don’t think it has much bearing on whether you graduate.
Confidence, confidence in everything you do. Dominate your environment and walk like you own this town. Just remember that someone else always has it worse than you. A candidate in my training company had a stress fracture in his foot for the full ten weeks. He made it, although I’m sure the runs and hikes were much harder for him. It’s pretty hard to feel bad for yourself when you know someone else is in a lot more pain than you.
Ultimately, taking the initiative, making a decision and communicating that decision is the most important thing at OCS. The staff doesn’t even particularly care if it’s the right decision, they call this, “Good initiative, bad judgment.” This has no bearing on your height or weight.
Every day at OCS, you have the opportunity to decide who you want to become. 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. Every day you need to fight for the chance to have tomorrow. Find your center. Whether its religion, support from home, 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. This also makes no difference if you are a short and skinny candidate.
The honest truth is no one cares if you are a good leader on the best day of your life. Consider this, you don’t pick your best friends or evaluate an employee on the best days. You evaluate their merit when things get hard. Anyone can do well when life is going their way and everything is in their favor. Can you lead when the deck is stacked against you? OCS will back you into a corner and give you three choices: Lead, follow or get out of the way. You are there to prove you have the potential to lead Marines. Chaos reveals character and friction, fortitude.
Know exactly why you want to be a Marine officer before you go. Make no mistake, I wasn’t a stellar candidate. There were many times when I doubted myself. It’s often said, “Don’t make a decision (to quit) when you are going uphill.” And remember, someone is always watching. The motto of OCS is “Ductus Exemplo”, Lead by Example.
Take 50 mg of suck it up. Some of Y’all need 100 mg, its like extra strength Tylenol, you understand?
-Everyone has different points of friction at OCS. Afterward, you’ll talk with your buddies and be surprised by the things they thought were hard. And they at yours.
–Hikes will be harder, partly because the pack will be a greater percentage of your body weight and partly because short guys are usually put in the back of the column. When the head of the column is over large hills, they will start to speed up and you will still be trying to get to the top.
-Certain things will be easier. Pullups or any exercise where you have to pull yourself over something, i.e. the Obstacle Course, is ideal for smaller guys. I think the PFT is easier for little candidates and the CFT, harder. The combat course and the Quigley, in particular, are easy for little guys because we can crawl under the barbed wire and through small spaces faster. Runs are debatably easier. You don’t see many big guys doing college cross country for example. This obviously has a lot to do with fitness though.
-One distinct advantage is short and skinny candidates need fewer calories to run at the same performance level. For the first half of OCS, you’ll have no more than 6 minutes to eat each meal. I think it starts somewhere around 3-4 minutes. Use a spoon and just shovel the contents into your mouth. Carbs, salt, and protein first. Utilize the fruit bar in the morning to get your vitamins. When everyone else is in pain from hunger, you’ll be sitting happily.
-For reasons unknown, short and skinny candidates don’t do as well on peer evaluations. The best guess I heard was that it’s harder for the little guys to show command presence and dominate their environment. That said, I never saw someone gets dropped for reasons that could be attributed to being a short and skinny candidate.
One mental trick you can use it to develop a “totem”. Conceptually, this is similar to Leonardo Di Caprio’s spinning top in the movie Inception. In this case, it’s an image or memory that each person holds to themselves and can replay like a GIF when they’re getting close to the edge. This is very useful for anxiety attacks and for keeping candidates from going internal. Make it a prized perception, a moment of comfort, something you don’t share with the world. And make it only a moment, not a full on day of your life you have to replay. After a day when you’ve been beaten into the ground, sit in your rack, stretch and replay that GIF in your head. This adjusts your mindset to put you in a better mood and keeps you from dwelling on how much you sucked that day.
Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable.
OCS made me realize I had lived life in my comfort zone. I don’t really think there is any true way to fully prepare for OCS. That’s the genius of it. The instructor’s job is to make you feel like the worst candidate OCS ever had. There was one instructor who was always picking on me. He would make me chase birds across the parade deck whenever we had free time and my blouse sleeves were never tight enough for him. At the EGA ceremony, he gave me my EGA and told me, “I knew from the first day you were going to make it. But it would not have been fair to the Marines if you were not tested. You don’t like to quit and you’re really smart. You’re going to be somebody in this gun club one day.” Truth be told, I thought he absolutely hated me until that day. At graduation, another told my parents that I was the one he respected the most in the platoon. This was all a big shock to me. At no point in the ten weeks did I feel smart, accomplished or particularly tough.
When you doubt yourself, remember, “I read about this. I knew this was coming and others like me have made it through.” Everyone feels like the worst candidate at some point.
Candidates, what questions or advice do you have about being a short or skinny candidate at OCS?
2 thoughts on “The Little End: Lessons from a Short and Skinny Candidates At OCS”
Some great and inspiring pointers in this article. As a 5’5″ shrimp that went to boot camp in 2009, many of them hit home to me. Thanks for all the great advice!
Thanks Tony! Do you have any advice to add?