Thanks to MIDN 1/C C for sharing his leadership experience and advice for candidates heading to OCS. NROTC Midshipman, utilize the resources you have through NROTC to go prepared to OCS.
I came from Norwich University, a small military college in the middle of Vermont. We, just like every other NROTC unit, have Marine Officer Instructors’s and Assistant Marine Officer Instructors’s who are Platoon Commanders and Sergeant Instructors at OCS. They want to prepare you as best they can for your 6-12 weeks of summer fun time. They will teach you the basic skills in close order drill, how to handle your M16A4 service weapon and not look stupid, and drill the 5-paragraph order into your brain so much that you’ll wake up in the night reciting OSMEAC back in your dorms.
All of this preparation is extremely valuable, and I am sure that it will no doubt relieve some of the stressors of OCS once you’re down on Brown Field, but there are certain elements of OCS that just cannot be prepared for by studying a book or reciting knowledge. Your leadership skills and style at OCS will be different compared to back at your NROTC unit or OSO’s office. You as a person, the way you think and communicate with others will be different. Adaptability is key and it is something that many candidates struggled with from my perspective.
Leadership at OCS comes in many different forms, but the first forms of leadership you will experience in PLC/NROTC SR’s Combined (given that they don’t change the Period of instruction too much) will be in the form of your prior enlisted Marines. When you get to Brown Field on the bus, the first thing they will do is have you begin in-processing. Back in the squad bay and during platoon check-in, you will meet the rest of your platoon and someone will immediately take charge. This person will usually be a prior service Marine. Every cycle is different, but usually, you’ll have anywhere from 3-10 priors with at least one of those being an NCO. That NCO is going to be your best friend for the first few days because he (or she) will arrange scribe and scribbles, fire watch and everything else that gets the platoon up and running in the first few days. After pick-up, your staff will demonstrate for the next day (or two if you’re lucky) one way of how things should be done. I say one way because there are always multiple ways to complete a task. Certain things like enlisted to officer and enlisted to enlisted formations are a set routine, but other than that, there is a lot of freedom in command. Make sure you utilize it to get tasks done differently.
Bored candidates are dangerous candidates
Monotony at OCS breeds trouble, so always be looking for a new way to complete a task. As the POI goes on, everyone will get a chance at a billet in the platoon at least, whether it be Fireteam Leader or Platoon Commander. Some guys will try to mimic the Sergeant Instructors while others may use their own leadership style with less yelling and more convincing/positive encouragement. No matter what their leadership style may be, whether you like it (or them) or not, put out for them, because you want them to do the same thing for you when your number gets picked.
Think outside the box
A warning about leadership as well: don’t get sucked into it, and always think about what you’re doing and why. Remain aware of your current role in the platoon; if you’re a leader, lead. If you’re in GP, shut up, do what you’re told, and allow platoon leadership to succeed or fail, but never intervene on your own unless asked. Further, decisions made by billet holders can turn entire platoons on each other, so remain vigilant about what is happening. Just because someone did it back at their NROTC unit or in boot camp, doesn’t mean it has any place in the house at OCS.
Improvise, adapt, overcome
Adaptability is just as important as leadership at OCS, in my opinion, a little more so. The purpose of OCS is to train, screen and evaluate potential leaders of Marines. They aren’t trying to make the perfect Marine officers, that’s what TBS is for. They are looking for the basic characteristics of what a good Marine officer should have. Down at OCS you will learn the 5 tenants of leadership (commitment, character, physical/mental courage, teamwork/unselfishness and resilience). Aside from these, there are certain character traits you will need to have to be successful. The most important one for me was adaptability. You need to be able to think on your feet, look around you, assess a situation, and make a decision. This sounds like decisiveness, one of the 14 leadership traits, but it is different in one main way, which is the ability to break from a routine.
There are very few things that are ever routine in the Marine Corps, so don’t let yourself get into the habit of following one at OCS. Just because the previous company commander did things one way, doesn’t mean you are bound to that one method of leadership.
One example that occurred over and over was moving to and from chow. There was a stretch of 2 days (a standard 48-hour evaluation period) where there was enough time in the schedule that Lima company could march to and from Bobo chow hall (a 20-minute round trip task) without disrupting the rest of the time table. That company commander, therefore, marched us (had the unit leader march us) to the chow hall, and then back to the classrooms without issue. The next company commander tried to do the same thing, however, the classes ran late, OCC took too long and our chow time was cut (about) in half. This company commander had the ability and authority to order a route-step through the Juniors PT field, between Skinner and Graham hall in order to cut down travel time and give his company more time to eat. He chose to march the company because that’s what the previous company commanders had done, and that was the routine. Because this commander either did not have the ability to think on his feet or whether he was too scared to make the call, the result was two platoons (one of them being mine) getting no afternoon chow and running back to the classrooms hungry. You can bet that he suffered for that decision.
Make A Decision
Make sure that you can adapt to situations and never be afraid to give a command. If you have to ask a staff member whether it is okay, then do so, but that ability to reassess a situation and make a decision, or change your original plan of attack is incredibly important and a mandatory skill at OCS, whether you’re in garrison or out on SULE II.
No matter what you do, OCS is going to hit you, and hard. Remain flexible and patient with your superiors and peers. The staff notices everything, so you should always strive to lead from example and put out 100% of your effort, whether it be in the woods on the trails or on the PT Field. Remember who you are and why you chose to be at OCS. Keep a positive attitude and remain calm and collected; tact is everything at OCS, and if you think that it is easy, then find a way to make it harder on yourself.
“Even if you only have 60% left, I want 100% of that.”