Thanks to 2ndLt Y for passing along his knowledge and wisdom as a successful Marine Officer candidate at OCS.
Life of a Marine Officer Candidate
OCS is different from college in every way. As a candidate just be comfortable being uncomfortable. Go in with the attitude that nothing is going to surprise you, that way you don’t have to worry about being surprised. Some things are absolutely ridiculous; you still have to do them. That being said, the only thing that really surprised me was how much sitting around we did. There’s a lot of time waiting for a training site or classroom to become available.
Going to OCS is a culture shock and I had to break a few habits from civilian life. Before OCS, I was a really chilled-out, laid-back (almost passive) kind of person. I like to take my time when I do things so I can make sure that I get them right the first time I do them. As a Marine officer candidate, you’re expected to do everything quickly and correctly the first time, which was by far the most difficult adjustment I had to make. I, of course, made several mistakes but adapted to the pace and intensity of the training over time.
The staff are hard, for a reason
Instructors are intimidating- It’s their job to be that way. Any time an instructor addresses you, or you address an instructor, it will be loud, but it’s still a conversational exchange. Don’t let the instructor or the exchange intimidate you. As our Platoon Sergeant put it: “You’re just a grown-ass man talking to another grown-ass man.”
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. OCS is a training environment, therefore mistakes are expected and are much more acceptable than if you make them when you’re actually an officer. The staff is looking for you to learn from your mistakes and adjust your behavior based on their corrections. If you fail to do this, they’ll send you home because you’ve failed to adapt.
Preparing for OCS
- Run a lot. The more physically-prepared you are, the less you’ll have to worry about the physical challenges, which will give you the ability to focus more of your energy on the mental challenges.
- Memorize the general orders before you go 100%. Know them backward, forwards and out of order.
- If you can, study the OCS academic knowledge before you go. It will make your life that much easier while you’re there (FYI, I did not have access to the knowledge before I went and I did fine).
Dealing with stress at OCS
Faith and religion play a big role in my life. They helped keep me grounded and focused during my time there. That being said, religious services were probably one of the best things at OCS. You were able to talk with other Marine officer candidates, smile, laugh, and generally feel like a human being for an hour before going back to the squad bay. Letters and pictures from people at home and elsewhere helped remind me that someone actually cared about how I was doing and were definitely a highlight.
Having straight-up conversations with fellow candidates where we talked about anything but OCS was a great way of distracting ourselves and de-stressing. In short, find something that helps to ground you and keep you focused; hold onto that. This will take you a long way as a Marine officer candidate. Find humor in the dumb things you and your fellow candidates have to do (but don’t let the instructors see you smiling) – you’ll laugh about them later.
I am an introvert- there were many days during OCS when I wanted nothing to do with other people, let alone lead them (this attitude is the whole “going internal” thing where you’re only concerned with yourself, which is no good). When you’re at OCS, the staff wants to know that you are capable of a certain type of violently aggressive leadership which you may or may not ever have to exhibit once you actually become an officer. This style of leadership was difficult for me to learn, but I was able to do it because of the chaotic environment at OCS.
For people who are like me: Don’t complain about it and tell yourself that “It’s just not your leadership style” (like I did). Play the game; you can lead the way they want you to lead, it will just be harder for some. Be assertive and don’t be afraid to step on people’s toes.
Being a Marine officer candidate made me “grow up” more than anything else in my life previously had. I realized at one point that despite the challenge, the training was changing me for the better, and that realization gave me an appreciation for what I was going through.
It’s really easy to complain about your situation or be angry at someone when you’re having a bad day. Choosing to be positive and patient with your peers is always more worthwhile than losing your cool for whatever reason.
Hard times don’t give you more character; they reveal the character you have already built. If you work constantly to be a person of outstanding character (patience, loyalty, integrity) now, before you go, that will stick on your worst days there.
A last word of advice
Just make it to your first liberty; from there you can live from weekend to weekend and you have something really good to look forward to.
Realize that while OCS is not a fun place, it is a good place. You can become a better person while you’re there if you let yourself, and if you let your instructors do their job, they will turn you into Marines.
At some points, it’s all you can do to just go with the flow- (don’t let yourself do this for too long or you’ll lose your mind and get sent home) be aware of what’s going on around you and be the one that is always willing to help a brother (or sister) out.
Realize that some things are beyond your control: Identify the things that are within your control and make those things as good as they can be. Be conscious of, but don’t worry too much about the rest.
Barring medical issues, if you’re not a scumbag, you put in the preparation, you learn from your mistakes and you put out 100% effort every day, you will make it through OCS.
Best of luck to those of you headed to OCS. Tons of other people have made it through what you’ll go through- if they can do it, you can do it too.