Becoming an officer

OSO Q&A: Becoming an Officer

Thanks to West Texas/New Mexico OSO Capt Wisotzkey for answering your questions about selection, OCS and becoming an officer of Marines. Submit your questions anytime by commenting on a blog post or contacting us through the home page.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in a small coal mining town in western Kentucky named Madisonville. I decided I wanted to become a Marine Officer my junior year of high school after being inspired by one of my teachers who was a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel. I applied for the NROTC scholarship out of high school, didn’t get it, and decided to attend a college that offered NROTC to participate as a “college programmer”, with the grand idea I would eventually pick up a scholarship. I got to the college and absolutely loathed NROTC. I heard about the PLC program, called the local OSO, met with him that day, and was contracted into the program a month later. I was selected as a freshman and did the 2×6 week (Juniors/Seniors) program. I ended up transferring back home to the University of Louisville where I graduated in December 2010 with a Bachelor’s in Justice Administration.

I went to TBS in March 2012 and was selected to be a 1302 – Combat Engineer Officer. After engineer school, I was assigned to 9th Engineer Support Battalion in Okinawa, Japan. I did about a year as a platoon commander, 6 months as an Engineer Company XO, and then a little over a year as the 3rd Marine Logistics Group Aide-de-Camp (aide to the Commanding General). After that, I volunteered for OSO duty and reported to Lubbock, Texas. I cover all of West Texas, the entire state of New Mexico, and pieces of Colorado and Oklahoma. I’m currently in my final year of the duty and will be reporting back to Quantico for PME next summer.

I have so far put 34 Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps, with plenty of others in my pool that will commission upon graduation.

Capt Wisotzkey with his Marines on a humanitarian assistance survey off the coast of Guadalcanal (2013)

How do you do laundry while you’re at OCS? Is 5 pairs of underwear and socks enough?

You will be living in a squad bay at OCS and each squad bay has a few washing machines and dryers. You are issued a mesh laundry bag and typically, every night, you will fill it with your dirty clothing items. The candidates on firewatch will then do laundry throughout the night. They simply throw as many bags as they can fit in the washer and then the same thing for the dryers. Your uniforms are truly never “clean”, just less dirty than they were before. A bunch of cheap laundry bags full of sweaty, grimy, and muddy uniforms stuffed into a cheap washer with cheap powdered laundry detergent isn’t necessarily like your mom used to do it, but it’s really the least of your worries.

For underwear, you’re mainly going to be wearing “PT gear” under your cammies. The “underwear” will be the green PT trunks, which you are issued. A lot of candidates like to bring the Under Armour compression shorts to wear, especially on hikes to prevent chaffing. For socks, almost everyone recommends bringing 5 solid pairs of boot socks. Fox River seems to the most popular brand. They issue you boot socks, but they are cheap. It’s no mystery that taking care of your feet is one of the most important things you must do at OCS.

Investing in some decent boot socks prior to getting there is well worth it.

But short answer to the question, I think 5 pairs of each is enough. I recall being able to do laundry almost every night and you can always pick up more items on liberty if you need more stuff.

When should an interested applicant speak with an OSO?

As soon as possible. These blogs, YouTube videos, and various other websites and online sources are great, but sometimes they are inaccurate or outdated. As OSO’s, we are the subject matter experts for officer accessions and we can best direct you.

For high schoolers interested in PLC, I have had a few high school seniors reach out requesting basic information which I am completely open to giving out. The foremost reason you should reach out to an OSO is to find out if you are qualified for becoming an officer. Just because you read something online doesn’t mean it applies to you and every applicant is different. We can tell you very quickly if you are basically qualified and if you aren’t, we will tell you how to become qualified or you may, unfortunately, be disqualified for becoming an officer.

Regardless, don’t be afraid to reach out to us.

We are all approachable and even if we are busy, we will give you the time of day. I can’t even keep track of how many students I talk to on a monthly basis and I am generating “new work” on applicants on a weekly basis. Plain and simple, you are walking in place until you break the ice and talk to an OSO.

Become an officer
Capt Wisotzkey with one of his proud new 2ndLts

If I am weak on pull-ups is there any way to improve my pull-up score? Or should I do push ups instead, I can’t get a max score with push ups but I will be able to get a better score with the push ups.

The Armstrong pullup program has been around since Chesty Puller went to OCS – I never have personally done it but I know plenty of current Marines and candidates in my pool have had great success with it. In my opinion, the best way to build pullups is repetition. If your max is currently 10, then tell yourself you are going to do 75 pullups within a 10-15 minute time frame. Instead of getting on the bar and doing max sets, do “working sets” (as seen in the Armstrong program) until you reach 75, resting 30-45 seconds in between sets. Get a pullup bar for your home – there are tons of door frame models. Assign yourself a toll to do a few pullups every time you pass through the bar. Pullups can be hard to build up your numbers at first, but if you work on them every day and focus on repetition, you can gain numbers quicker than you’d think. Focus on proper form and don’t cheat yourself, particularly making sure your arms lock out at the bottom of the repetition. Keep breathing when you do them as well – for some reason a lot of people have the tendency to hold their breath doing pullups.

Pushups are not recommended. For males, you won’t even be able to get submitted to a selection board if you elect to do pushups. For females, pushups are accepted on selection boards but frowned upon. If you aren’t able to do at least 1-2 pullups prior to shipping to OCS, you’re going to have a very difficult time physically. On the Obstacle Course, you need to be able to pull your body weight over a bar numerous times. I’ve had female applicants get to 15 pullups prior to shipping to OCS. It requires hard work, but it can be done. I don’t recommend electing to do pushups whatsoever.

Become an officer
Candidates prepare before a PFT

Do I need any letters of recommendation when I am applying for OCS? If so, who would be some good people to get references from?

Yes – each applicant is required to have 5 “Personal Information Questionnaires” (aka PIQ’s). We ask for 2 professors, 1 employer, and 2 “others.” There is a PIQ form that is provided and at a minimal, your references must complete the form. It is highly recommended that you encourage your references to provide a more formal letter of recommendation to attach to the PIQ form. It looks best if it is on some sort of official letterhead, has a few paragraphs about their knowledge of you, and hand-signed. In the grand scheme of things, your English 101 professor’s opinion on whether or not you have what it takes to be a Marine Officer does not carry a ton of weight on a selection board, but if the references look professional it makes your overall package look better. Athletic coaches are good to use, even if they were from high school. Military references, if you happen to know anyone, carry a ton of weight, especially if they are senior Staff NCO’s or Officers. I wouldn’t get too wrapped around the axle about references –

Your OSO’s opinion of you and his or her recommendation on whether or not you should get selected matter 10x more than any letter of recommendation unless it comes from the Commandant (which I’ve seen before by the way).

How much will I be prepared by my OSO before I ship out to OCS? There are a lot of things on the Obstacle Course and the Endurance Course I am not sure that I can do right now, will there be a mini-OCS or anything like that to help me prep for the actual events once I get to OCS?

I will preface this answer with this: At the end of the day, it is up to you to prepare for OCS. I can’t make you get in better shape. I can’t make you study the five paragraph order. I can’t make you study the knowledge you’ll receive at OCS. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” cannot be truer when getting ready for OCS. There is no excuse to not prepare. There are countless online resources and people you will be surrounded by (i.e. recent OCS graduates in your pool) that will be there to help you prepare.

It is my job as an OSO to also prepare you for OCS. Not all OSO’s are created equal, but the vast majority of the ones I know go above and beyond to prepare their candidates for training.

Not every candidate I have sent to OCS has made it. Some have DOR’d, some have been dropped for leadership, some have been dropped for integrity and some have been injured – it sucks, but it’s going to happen. If becoming a Marine Officer was easy, everyone would do it.

Become an officer

Your OSO’s ability to prepare you for events like the obstacle course and endurance course is going to be influenced by location. Some OSO’s have NROTC units or even Marine installations in proximity where they can use actual USMC obstacle courses to train you – not all have that luxury, I don’t. Most of us think outside the box, however – I take my candidates to the local police academy obstacle course that has a rope. Most Crossfit gyms have ropes, some school recreation centers do. The majority of OSO’s do have some sort of ‘Mini-OCS’ for candidates prior to shipping. My office does a lot of cross-training with the NROTC unit in our area. Some OSO’s (primarily California and the northeast) normally sponsor a joint pre-OCS weekend prior to the summer shipping cycles. Understand that we do not have a large budget or the resources to put on a full-on reconstruction of OCS – we do the best we can with limited personnel, time, and resources. There have been thousands that have gone before you and thousands will go after you – it takes more than just a good PFT to prepare for OCS. It’s no mystery – take the advice you get from your OSO, fellow candidates, and what you read online and do everything you can to prepare.

I want to apply as an air contract and I need to take the ASTB. When is the best time and what exactly does it cover?

First, check out the Navy’s official website on the ASTB-E. It covers what is on the test and even has some short practice tests. AirWarriors is a forum that’s been around for over a decade that a lot of air contracts also swear by. The test has three sections: multiple choice, navigation, and a performance-based section completed with a joystick. You have a maximum of three attempts on the ASTB-E, with 30 days in between attempts. It used to be 90 days, but that changed within the last year which has been a huge improvement.

As far as when to take the test, I normally recommend my potential air applicants take it quickly to see how they do. I have had numerous applicants take the test with no studying and pass on their first attempt. I have not been able to draw any true correlation between an applicant’s background (ACT/SAT scores, major, flight experience, etc) and passing the test. I recommend taking it with little to no studying just to see how you do – if you pass the first time, awesome. If not, you’ll know what you need to study to prepare for the next attempt(s).

The other big thing to know about the timeline is whether or not you plan on applying for PLC (freshman-junior) or for OCC (senior or college graduate…aka direct commissioning at OCS). For OCC, the aviation application takes much longer because you not only have to pass the ASTB, but also get a flight physical completed. For OCC, aviation applicants need to be identified and “in the pipeline” at least 5-6 months in advance. For PLC, as long as you are medically qualified, have the qualifying eyesight, and pass the ASTB, you are eligible to go on a selection board. You don’t do your flight physical until after you graduate OCS and prior to commissioning.

Becoming an officer

How competitive is the selection board? How competitive is OCS? What are standard attrition rates so I can prepare myself mentally once I get there?

I hate giving the “it depends” answer, but for selection boards, it truly depends. It is going to depend on how many packages are submitted to the board and what the selection board “cap” is. Every selection board has a certain number of ground, air, law, and reserve (OCC only) spots available and they are going to go to the most competitive applicants. Sometimes categories tend to not be as “competitive” as others. For ground contracts, PFT scores typically matter more than they do for air contracts – because, in all actuality, it’s not that difficult to be basically qualified to submit a ground package. Air contracts have to have the required eyesight and pass the ASTB-E, which is obviously going to mean fewer applicants applying for potentially the same number of slots. All of these caps are influenced behind how many officers the Marine Corps needs to assess each year. The Naval Academy, NROTC, and enlisted commissioning programs also commission 2nd Lieutenants and their numbers influence our selection boards as well. Over the past two years, OCC has been less competitive than PLC. However, that can flip-flop very quickly.

OCS is extremely competitive.

With that being said, it doesn’t matter if you graduate first or last in your platoon/company, if you graduate, you’ll be a Marine Officer. OCS is not required to “drop” a certain amount, but they inevitably do drop candidates. Attrition at OCS can be due to a number of reasons – by far the number one cause of attrition is injuries. If you get injured badly enough to where you cannot continue with training, they will send you home.

Taking care of your body at OCS has to be your #1 priority.

Do not focus on attrition rates – do not go to OCS already thinking there is a possibility you will fail. Go in confident and ready to perform. You will enable yourself to do that by properly preparing (see above). You will be blown away by how competitive some of your peers will be at OCS. You will have prior enlisted Marines in your platoon, some of which may have been OCS drill instructors. You may have Division 1 athletes or Ivy League scholars in your platoon. The crazy thing to keep in mind is that none of that stuff matters – you are all equal at OCS. All you need to focus on is becoming an officer of Marines. Just because you may not be a prior Marine or Division 1 athlete does not mean you can’t graduate OCS. Again, thousands have gone before you and thousands will go after you. Stay healthy, pass as many of the graded events that you can, do not quit and you’ll be fine.

How are billets managed at OCS? What is expected of you in a billet?

While at OCS, you will find yourself in a billet at least once, if not more than once, throughout the course of training.

There are platoon and company level billets. For platoon, there are squad leaders, platoon guide, platoon sergeant and platoon commander. For the company, there are: company gunnery sergeant, company first sergeant, company executive officer and company commander. Typically you will get at least one “big billet” (anything higher than squad leader) and then you’ll be a squad leader once or twice. During these billets, you are evaluated by an OCS staff member.

Platoon billets are graded by your platoon staff (sergeant instructors, platoon sergeant, and platoon commander) and company billets are graded by the corresponding staff member (i.e. if you are the candidate company XO, the actual company XO will evaluate your performance). Billets typically last three days and they are definitely your time to shine. When you are in a billet, you need to take ownership of it and do the job to the best of your ability, even if you have no idea what you are doing. At OCS, the staff is always looking for two big things: confidence and decision making. Even if you make a mistake, if they can tell you gave an honest effort and made a decision, it is much better than not making a decision at all, especially in a billet. Your time in a billet will likely be your most stressful time during OCS because on top of the tasks all candidates are doing, you are fulfilling your billet duties. This is often going to involve you talking with the other candidates that have billets during your time frame, which may require you to leave your squad bay to talk to a candidate who is in a different platoon. You will undoubtedly get torn apart by sergeant instructors, but they will also see that you are in a billet and will eventually allow you to converse with whoever you need to.

My other piece of advice is do not be afraid to ask the OCS staff member who is evaluating you questions. Even if you think they’re going to rip your head off, ask if you don’t know something. They will provide you what you need to know, especially if they can tell you are trying to perform well with you assignment.

Overall, if you could give your personal account of becoming an officer and give any tips, anything that will help you stand out in the selection process, and succeed at OCS.

Starting with the latter half of the question – if you are serious about applying and getting selected for OCS, you have to truly want it. There are the obvious things you have to do, such as having a good PFT, but your entire approach to the process is what makes the difference. If you are currently running a 245 PFT and after 5 months in the application process have made marginal improvements, it translates to your OSO and to a selection board that you aren’t putting forth much effort towards improving. Making your OSO’s life easier is a huge thing you can do. We work with dozens of applicants and cannot devote 100% of our time towards an individual. When we tell you we need a document or we need you to do something, it is not because we want to stay up late at night reading about your life – it’s because we need it to get you on a board. As soon as your OSO office asks you for something, get on it ASAP. If I need to ask you more than twice for something, I’m probably going to drop you and move on to the next applicant that actually is serious about applying. OSO’s have to rank everyone we submit to a selection board and give our personal recommendation on whether or not you should be selected. If I am submitting 15 packages to a PLC board, someone has to be #15. My bottom applicants are always the ones that I had to repeatedly ask for documentation or always made excuses why they couldn’t complete simple tasks or attend the functions we arrange. On the contrary, the top applicants are the ones that I never have to worry about because they always run a good PFT, show up for events, and get things done when I need it done…almost like they’re already acting like a Marine Officer…imagine that!

Capt Wisotzkey with his Marines at Exercise Cobra Gold in 2014

Success at OCS depends on whether or not your heart is really in it.

OCS will be the hardest thing you have ever done and it will be challenging regardless of your background or how much you prepared. At some point, your desire to become a Marine will overpower every other need and desire you have. It will feel like the most important thing you’ve ever wanted before. If that feeling never “clicks” for you, either during the application process or at OCS, then you won’t make it. You’ll quit or you’ll get dropped. You have to truly want to do this. If you do, you’ll do what is necessary to prepare and succeed. It’s not rocket science. It’s not the NFL combine. However, it is difficult and requires effort and preparation.

His story

My personal account of being a Marine Officer…I could go on for days but will try to keep it brief. I love being a Marine Officer and to me, it’s the greatest job on the planet. What keeps me wanting to stick around the Marine Corps is 100% due to the amazing people that I have worked with and continue to work alongside on a daily basis. You simply can’t find a more stellar group of individuals to work with than United States Marines. There is nothing more honorable than an 18 year old kid signing their name on a dotted line to serve their country as a Marine – and as an officer, you get the ultimate responsibility of leading, training, and mentoring them. They are the best our nation has to offer and it’s an extraordinary privilege to serve them. Not a month goes by where I don’t receive a phone call, email, or Facebook message from a Marine I served with in the past asking for a letter of recommendation for a job, advice, or just to catch up. To me, that’s the most rewarding thing – knowing that I made some sort of impact on a Marine and helped influence them to go on to bigger and better things. Most Marines serve a single enlistment and transition out of the military. Good, bad, or indifferent, they are going to remember their officers. If you join our institution for the right reasons, you can make differences in people’s lives. Not every day in the Marine Corps is awesome – there are days that suck. However, in my experience, the good far outweighs the bad and it’s been a great ride so far and I don’t plan on hanging up the boots anytime soon.

How can potential applicants get in touch with you?

If you think you have what it takes to lead Marines, you can email me at

michael.wisotzkey@marines.usmc.mil

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West Texas/New Mexico Marine Officer

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Candidates, what questions do you have about becoming an officer?

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