Thanks to 2ndLt R for his insight and candid advice on mindset, physical preparation and law students at Marine OCS. Law students at Marine OCS have a unique set of experiences that distinguish them from the average candidate. Adaptability is key.
Marine Corps Officer Candidates School is a microcosm of life as a Marine and lawyer. OCS works to simulate life as a Marine by amplifying issues through a hectic and overwhelming environment. A candidate will need to perform physically and mentally in moments of exhaustion, hunger, and complete confusion.
Only one rule to succeeding at OCS.
There will be moments as a candidate where you are overwhelmed, overworked, and on the brink of giving up. Those who don’t break are the ones that become Marines.
OCS is not impossible.
There were six law students at Marine OCS, in my platoon and three of us made it. I firmly believe the difference between those who made it and those who did not centered around the ability and the will to adapt and overcome. In my experience, there are three major areas where law students at Marine OCS struggle: physical fitness , motivation, and mindset.
Honestly, there is no way of fully preparing for OCS. Law students at Marine OCS face a unique set of challenges. There is too much to learn, too much to adjust to, and too much to overcome in those short 10 weeks. I saw successful Recon and MARSOC Marines with years of service struggle at times.
Law students at Marine OCS
A successful law student realistically has too much on their plate in the months prior, to walk into Quantico with all the answers. I know I didn’t. But a successful law student can prepare themselves to succeed at OCS by creating a strong foundation that will hold through the adversity. Small lifestyle changes/implementations will make the difference between earning that beautiful EGA or going home disappointed. Most of all, a strong will to succeed and the ability to quickly adapt and overcome adversity are the keys for a successful candidate. So, what are these lifestyle changes?
Law school is a lot of sitting and reading and it will hinder your performance at OCS. Even if you work out for two or three hours a day, sitting for the rest of the day will be your downfall at OCS.
You will constantly be on your feet at OCS so the first lifestyle change is to walk more. Walk as much as possible. Take a 5 to 10-minute break every hour and walk around the building. Stack books on a desk so you can stand and read. Do whatever you can to increase the time you spend on your feet. I promise you won’t regret it.
Another change is doing more physical activity throughout the day. You will be doing pushups, crunches, whatever it may be, at random times throughout the day. Morning PT will not be your only workout of the day. A way I prepared was by doing quick exercises throughout the day. Take a minute, be the weird person in the library, and drop to the floor and bust out 30-40 pushups and then get back to work. Finish reading a case, take 2 minutes and do 50 squats. Put a pull-up bar on your kitchen or bathroom door. Every time you walk under it do 10 pull-ups. You get the gist.
Before leaving I was doing 300-400 pushups, squats, lunges, and crunches, and 75-100 pull-ups throughout each day. Preparing your body to work throughout an entire day, and not just a 2-hour workout, will pay dividends towards the later weeks at OCS.
Another important change is to diversify your workouts. As a law student, time is not a luxury we have. There were those in my platoon who could dedicate 4-6 hours a day towards fitness as they owned/worked at gyms, were D1 athletes, or just didn’t have the busy schedule of a law student. Because a law student is unlikely to have that capability, you must become a “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of candidate. Diversify your workouts. Run, of course, but also weightlift.
Do fartleks. Go for hikes. Throw in a row machine workout. Don’t just train for the PFT. I was never the best at anything in my platoon, but I held my own at everything because I refused to follow one single workout plan.
Use your time to become a well-rounded athlete, it will make the nuances of PT at OCS less and less arduous.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I received, especially as a smaller candidate, was to leave for OCS the heaviest I was comfortable with. Because of the limited diet, the substantial amount of calories you burn each day, and the lack of sleep that hinders the rebuild of muscles, people easily lose 15-25lbs at OCS. As a lean 155lb guy, losing 15-25lbs would’ve been disastrous. So, the month before shipping out, I ate whatever and whenever I wanted. I still trained harder than ever, but I bulked as much as possible while still maintaining my speed and power. I left for OCS with a nice little layer of fat and weighed in at 164lbs. Once at OCS, I ate according to their dietary standards and did not eat desserts. When your body runs out of food and fat, it burns your muscles for energy. For the first half of OCS I was able to hinder my muscle depreciation because my body burned that excess fat instead. I actually ended up gaining some muscle at OCS, while most others lost it. For comparison, another candidate in my platoon showed up at 200lbs of pure lean muscle. For the first PFT, he did 2 more pull-ups than me. Going into our last PFT, I did 4 more than him. I was down to 157lbs, he was down to 186lbs. This may not work for everyone, but it definitely made quite a difference for me and helped to keep my body from breaking down like many other candidates experienced.
Losing motivation at OCS can be easy. You will see it. There will be those candidates who are “gung ho” for the first 2-3 weeks and then all of sudden they come back from one liberty period and they’ve decided to drop-on-request. OCS has a way of creating an aura of overwhelming stress because everyone fails at some point.
A big problem law candidates run into is losing motivation because they know their careers really aren’t depending on this. Let’s face it if you’re a law candidate at OCS you have already proven yourself to be a successful student and leader just by being selected. Whether or not you successfully complete OCS, you will graduate with a J.D., you’ll likely pass the Bar, and you will have a fruitful career as a civilian lawyer.
This can be a double-edge sword at OCS because when things start getting tough, those thoughts can creep to the forefront of your mind. Week 5 was one of the toughest weeks of my life; everything went wrong. By the end of that week the thought, “Do I really need to be a Marine to be a successful lawyer?” was at the forefront of my mind. That thought is an easy out, and several candidates took it. When the times get tough, don’t let those thoughts creep up. Remember why you’re there. I was able to suppress those thoughts throughout the rest of OCS because I realized I wanted to be a Marine Officer first, over everything else.
This leads directly from the previous point, but I separated it out because I feel it is the most important.
You are not at OCS to become a Marine lawyer, you are at OCS to become a Marine Officer. Law students at Marine OCS, often miss this distinction.
Fellow candidates and the OCS staff will recognize and respect your education, but they only care about whether you’re going to be a good Marine. A Marine Judge Advocate is a Marine first and lawyer second. Law candidates at Marine OCS who come in with a different mindset will not be there on graduation day. You don’t have to pretend you want to be MARSOC or an infantry officer, but you do need to have the mindset that you are taking this path because it will make you a better Marine Judge Advocate at the end. Enjoy and embrace the “Marine stuff.” No JAG officers in any other branch will have the training you’ve received and that’s what essentially makes us “special.” I know a local judge who did 25 years as an Air Force JAG and she has repeatedly told me,
“I loved working with Marine JAGs because not only are they smart and really good at their jobs, but they’re Marines. Something about that just sets them above all the others I worked with throughout my career.”
Going back to School
As PLC Law candidate, you are slightly different from all other PLC candidates because you will commission and come back to school as an Officer in the Marine Corps. There are some responsibilities that come with that. First, you’re going to be held to a higher standard by your OSO. But, most importantly, you’re going to be representing the Marine Corps.
People are either going to think the route you’re taking is awesome or crazy and stupid. Respect both positions.
Use this time to prepare yourself for a Marine Corps career. Dress appropriately. Maintain a clean shave and haircut. It’s going to be tough at times because it’s easy to get back into civilian mode. Although TBS and NJS seem far away, they will come faster than you think so stay in shape and continue your Marine Corps education.
Overall, I truly believe OCS is more miserable than hard. The key is adapting and overcoming the adversity that will come while there. As a law candidate, you can ensure success by arriving with a strong foundation. Proper physical preparation will ensure you are able to adapt the nuances of fitness at OCS. Arriving with the correct mindset and motivation will guarantee you are able to overcome those stressful and trying days while in Quantico. Study hard, train harder, and Semper Fidelis.
-2ndLt R (OCC-225)
Candidates, what questions do you have about law students at Marine OCS?