Thank you to Ben for sharing this guest post!
At different times throughout every year, groups of hopeful men and women are sent to Quantico Virginia in order to pass the USMC Officer Candidates School and become new 2nd Lieutenants. OCS is both a challenging mental and physical experience, but it can be passed.
Here are a few of my experiences.
The official mission statement of Officer Candidate School (OCS) reads,
“The mission of Officer Candidates School is to educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills within a controlled and challenging environment in order to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.”
For those of you who may not be aware, I recently graduated from OCS, accepted my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and have now begun my next phase of training at The Basic School (TBS) near Washington D.C. I have been hesitant to write this blog post as it can be difficult to explain exactly what candidates experience at OCS, but I decided that it would be worth the attempt.
Whether you are serving in the military, have served in the military, or have no military affiliation at all, I hope that this post can prove to benefit you and your life. If anything, I know that this post will provide an opportunity for me to reflect on my own time at OCS and hopefully better remember the experiences I had in the future.
For the purpose of easy navigation, I will break down this post into two halves: the first being about the basic structure of OCS such as how it works and what happens on a typical day, the second being about some of my key takeaways from my time there. If you are limited on time, you might want to consider skipping directly the second half as this post is quite long.
Charlie Company 3rd Platoon was my family of brothers at OCS. It was the best and worst of times. (USMC)
Officer Candidates School Class 227, Winter Cycle:
Arrival at USMC OCS
I arrived at the Ronald Reagan National Airport on January 6th of this year. I sat with a few other candidates at the USO (United Service Organizations) in the airport and ate some food until it was time to board the white bus to Quantico.
I remember talking with the candidate sitting next to me on the bus ride (who is now a good friend of mine) about what we were about to experience at OCS. Not particularly helping my nerves, he began to talk about the military knowledge that he had been studying to prepare and how he had already memorized crucial pieces of information. I on the other hand, had graduated college only a few weeks prior and didn’t know much about the curriculum. I had, however, prepared physically and even though I maybe shouldn’t have been, I was confident in my abilities. My friend said that the first week of the cycle was going to be pretty ‘low key’, that it was only in-processing and the real training wouldn’t start until we had been medically qualified. I naively told him that I wanted the intensity to start right away because that was what I came for.
When it all started. We arrived late in the evening, not sure what to expect. You can barely see me on the right side of the bus near the window. (USMC)
The first few days USMC OCS
Turns out my friend was right, the first week was pretty ‘low key’, at least in comparison to when we got officially picked up in training platoons. Still though, it wasn’t exactly comfortable and we got a pretty good shock that initial evening when we pulled into the training camp. A large man got on the bus and yelled at us to “Get out!” and “Stand on the yellow footprints!”. We were tested for strep throat by Navy corpsmen there on the spot and were issued our Camelbaks, which we had to immediately fill up from a outdoor water tank. If I remember correctly, it was 7 degrees that first night and I was so cold that I could hardly tighten the lid to my Camelbak. We didn’t go to bed until around 1:00 am that evening because we had to wait until all other candidates had arrived. My transition to military life had begun.
Standing on the yellow footprints. We were the first OCS class to stand on footprints, a tradition that has been followed at the enlisted boot camps in Paris Island and San Diego for years. (USMC)
Medical In-processing USMC OCS
Medically in-processing resulted in quite a few candidates that Uncle Sam didn’t see worth taking a risk on dropping. After that was completed, we ran a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) to make sure that we met the physical standards, the maximum of which are 23 pull-ups, 115 crunches in two minutes and a sub 18 minute three mile.
That Friday evening, those of us fit enough to begin training sat in an auditorium, were given a speech from the Commanding Officer (CO) of OCS and were introduced to our training staff. I will never forget that night.
As intimidating as ever, the training staff marched out onto the stage for each platoon across the company and then marched to the isles in between the seats of the candidates. The CO gave a few final words before turning us over to the staff to commence training.
Then, literally just like an explosion, all hell broke loose.
Unknowingly awaiting our fate the night of pick-up. Notice those perfectly straight backs and knife hands. (USMC)
Pickup Day USMC OCS
I’m not going to share the intimate details of what we experienced the next few days, or even weeks of that matter, but a few words that come to mind are: exhausted, desperate, chaotic, broken, slayed, and challenged (just to name a few). The Marine Corps calls it I.T. or intensive training, something that isn’t supposed to happen anymore, but that still does to a certain level. Basically, we had to do a lot of menial tasks that were sometimes physically demanding over and over and over for hours on end. It was a challenging time to say the least.
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