Guest Post: Lessons Learned from OCS

“lights, lights, lights… lights, lights, lights” … 

These words will be the first words you hear every morning for the next ten weeks while you attempt to complete the grueling OCS training. There is plenty to be said about OCS, but for the purpose of this article, I will be talking about the time you spend in the squad bay and some of the elements that come with squad bay living, such as the squad bay itself, peer evals, relationship development among your squad/platoon, learning to follow when it is not your time to lead. 

The blog post’s author feeling extremely motivated for the Obstacle Course


Mail at OCS: Platoon Sergeants and Sergeant Instructors with Officer Candidate School (OCS), inspect uniforms and equipment of Delta Company candidates aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA on January 24, 2017
An example squad bay at OCS, this time during an inspection

Life in the squad bay is routine; you get up, get dressed, carry out the mission of the day, come back and prep for the next day, and then repeat. It is here where you will develop basic skills that might not seem important during the moment, but believe me, everything you do, learn, and say in the squad bay, has purpose and meaning. “think with a warlike mindset” it helps when you play those “games” in the squad bay. When you find your bed, or “rack”, the person who is either on top or below is your battle buddy, and throughout training, you will go through several buddies. This person will go everywhere you go, and vice versa. Now, eventually, you and your battle buddy will stand fire watch. While one stands guard, the other roams, cleans, and changes out the laundry. I would highly recommend you label all of your gear, big and highly distinguishable, because even though you are among brothers and sisters, items of clothing, shampoo, and even razors, go “missing”, so learn to be accountable and responsible for ALL of your gear. Let’s see, what else? Oh, every Sunday after your first liberty, you will have the option to attend church service, it is nice, don’t get me wrong, but at OCS, you go through a lot of name tapes, tapes for your gear, rifle, and just about anything that requires a label of some sort, so, with that in mind, an extra thirty minutes to square away your gear and make labels, is an extra thirty minutes of sleep, and I can tell you from personal experience, lack of sleep is your number one enemy. Aside from sleeping, most of your time in the squad bay will be spent cleaning your rifle, classes with the instructors, drilling, writing essays, and studying for your tests – which by the way, I would highly recommend that you prioritize studying and sleeping on your weekend liberty, and not drink, because some of the most strenuous and challenging PT events will be conducted on Monday.   


If I remember correctly, you will do three peer evaluations for the entire platoon. While you won’t be grading yourself, you will be graded by your peers, so, always put your best foot forward. Regardless if you carry a billet or not, always check on your squad/platoon, always know where everyone is, always maintain an accurate head and rifle count, and always show leadership qualities, ALWAYS be a TEAM PLAYER. You are at OCS to prove that you can lead your peers, and should you graduate, lead Marines. Never forget, while at OCS, you are constantly being evaluated. In everything that you do, speed and intensity is key, and it is always best to be first; even if it brings a certain expectation of you, it will only make you better. However, being last, or the reason why the entire squad bay gets to play some games, is a sure way to have a negative peer eval. Be strong in everything that you do, step out of your comfort zone, and embrace all that the program has to offer. It is okay to be scared, it is okay to not know what to do, it is okay to fail; it’s expected of you to fail! How you deal with criticism, finding a solution to any problem, guidance, and how you pick yourself up after that failure, will guarantee a great peer evaluation from your peers, and instructors when you are given a billet. 


It is a weird thing, strangers coming together to work towards a common goal; individuals from all walks of life, backgrounds, and reasons to put themselves through ten weeks of hell, to earn the title “Marine”. Nerves will be tested, arguments will be had, and words of anger and frustration will be thrown, left and right. But through all of the confusion and chaos, keep in mind, everyone who is there is going through the same exact training, hurt, and misery that you are, so keep this adage in mind “cooler heads prevail”. Learn to lean on each other for support, all the same, learn to support those who need a helping hand. It is absolutely imperative that you develop a team mindset and get rid of any “individual-like” qualities that you have. The relationships you make will carry into your next stage of training, and your last name becomes an entire resume of who you are; your attitude, attention to detail, ability to be dependable, and so much more, so don’t limit your effort and communication to just your squad; the platoon as a whole is just as important as your four to five man team. At OCS, everything you do -with a few exceptions- is done as a team, learn yourself, learn your teammates, learn how to be responsible for yourself and others, take care of your brothers and sisters, and they will do the same for you. Never think you know more or less than the person to the left or right from you, everyone has something to learn and offer, always keep an open mind and positive attitude. Respect everyone and respect the time it takes to develop these bonds. 


This is a hard lesson for those alpha-males and females; those who seek to take control but have a hard time sitting in the passenger seat while some greenhorn steers the ship into mayhem. But here is the thing, much about being a leader, is also learning how to be a follower. Let those who have no experience, gain the experience through failure, and trial and error. An instructor of mine gave me some wisdom that I will now pass onto those who read this. He said “Marin, it is better to fail here, then fail on the fields of battle… you don’t get any second chances over there”. Now, I am very much an introvert by nature, so allowing others to help me, and being a follower came easy, but when it was my time to shine, I dug deep into my confidence and did things I thought I would never do. I watched those who were gifted in leading, asked all the questions that I did not know the answers to, I asked for advice, knowledge, and, well… I just asked, and honestly, it made me a better candidate, leader, and person as a whole. Obviously, you want to try and figure out the problem yourself, and always asking for help can shine a negative light on you, but it also says that you are willing to learn from others, that you are humble enough to seek help from everyone; younger and older, prior enlisted, or straight civilian. I am aware that there are those who have a natural inclination to leading, and that is fine and great, but if you come off too strong, you may come off as an individual, or someone who only thinks of themselves, and in the world of the Marine Corps, these people are called “buddy fckers”. Everyone is a candidate. No one is above you, and no one is below you. It does not matter how many years of service you have under you, at OCS, you are a CANDIDATE. The sooner you accept that, the better off you will be. From experience, I can tell you the ones who had it the hardest, were the prior enlisted. Not all of them, but a fair amount because they had a hard time transitioning their previous time in service mentality to a candidate mentality.  Undoubtedly, when it is your time to lead, do so to the best of your ability, accept help when it is offered, and always stay humble. When it is time to follow, take a step back, and allow the next person to grow. This does not mean watch them fail, but help make corrections or suggestions, and if they don’t want to listen or accept your help, that is entirely on them.  

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