The Trouble Is, You Think You Have Time.

Officer Candidates School in the Time of COVID-19

Thanks to SSgt Seitz for this guest post. SSgt Seitz is a Officer Selection Assistant from Officer Selection Team Denver

As an Officer Selection Assistant, it is my job to guide an individual through the application, selection, and preparation process. I can inform, remind, prompt, encourage, and assist in that process, but I cannot do it for them. How and when someone meets the requirements is up to them. I’ve seen Candidates meet the requirements in as little as a week, and others in as much as 2 years.

 Our Officer Selection Team conducts events with college athletic teams during the academic year. These are usually a combination of a workout and a leadership development lesson.  Depending on the team, we may emphasize teamwork, decision-making, personal strengths, or any other aspect of success in their sport.  One particular workout-leadership combo places the emphasis on giving 100%. The workout is explained prior to starting.  It’s long. It’s a circuit with many stations. It’s high intensity. The natural reaction is to pace your efforts. Each station is supposed to be max effort for time, but we see athletes metering out their reps and taking extra long pauses between them. They know going 100% the entire time will gas them. As the workout goes round after round, we announce “3 rounds left! 2 rounds left!” What the athletes don’t know is that we will cut the workout short. We will not finish all the rounds. When we pull the team in they are tired and breathing hard, but everyone looks as though they have more left to give. That’s when we ask them:

Did you give 100% with every station?

With every round?

If you were judged on this abbreviated performance alone, would it be an example of your best work?

Would you be proud of the effort you gave?

Could you have given more?”

short and skinny candidates
It was at that moment that Candidate X realized his OSO had a different idea of “summer camp”

A common sentiment I’ve seen across the country is the disappointment with athletic seasons cut short, classes transitioned to Pass/Fail instead of a grade, or other performances and presentations cancelled. I’ve heard things like “How am I supposed to get a scholarship if my senior season was cut short?” “This was the semester I was going to raise my GPA average. Now my scores won’t count.” Or “My presentation was going to be the keystone of my resume so I can get hired after graduation.” There is no one that has been untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Everyone has had events canceled, opportunities cut short, and lost things in their life they looked forward to or enjoyed. The difference comes in those that prepared and those that didn’t. High school seniors are now being judged for athletic scholarships based on their freshman through junior year. Honors and awards are being calculated on 3 ½ years of academic grade point averages. Students that planned on a summer internship to get a job are now left to hand out resumes to companies that aren’t hiring. While I don’t argue the fact that there are genuine losses happening and the sadness and disappointment is real, there are students who are not worried about missing their last season because they gave 100% in their first three. They are comfortable being judged on that performance alone.  There are students who are not worried about summer internships because they were handing out resumes in August and they’ve already secured post-graduation employment. The difference is in those who stacked the deck in their favor early on, instead of waiting until the end to make up lost ground. Are you allocating your resources of time, energy, and focus on your short term needs or long term goals? You need to find the balance between the two, or you will sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.

There is a Jack Kornfield quote that says, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” Obviously, our lives have to be paced out in some manner. There are events that must happen concurrently. We have to allow adequate time for leisure and rest. We cannot burn ourselves out by trying to do everything at once. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of time. None of us can guarantee what tomorrow will bring. We must plan for the future and hope for the future, but we cannot work for our goals as though we have unlimited time.

OCS Sergeant Instructor holding glow belt intimidates candidate
The friendly staff will make sure you get issued a reflective running belt

The Marine Officer Candidate Program has not been immune to these effects. There are candidates who put off and procrastinated taking their PFTs.  They kept insisting that they’ll get a better score next week or the week after. Now there is no PFT score on record to use for the selection board. They can no longer take their PFT because of quarantines and social distancing. They either missed the board or had a sub-par score on file because they kept putting it off. In their minds, one more week of training would get them a few more points. Instead of taking advantage of the PFTs that were scheduled, they wanted to perform when it was convenient for them. Other candidates have pushed off the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) for an Air contract, or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). For months they’ve been saying “Maybe next week.” Now they cannot take the tests at all so they are not qualified for contracting. Other candidates have put off gathering medical documents, turning in paperwork, scheduling medical exams, or a myriad of other tasks in order to be eligible for contracting and selection. They have to push back their goals by another few months, or even another year. Even worse than that is the individuals who said they were “too busy” to take this opportunity.  They declined to pursue OCS because they wanted to focus on sports, music, or classes. In their mind, they didn’t have time to dedicate less than 10 hours a week to preparing for summer employment that will lead to a career after graduation. Now, they no longer have practices or games. Their concerts have been canceled. Classes have been reduced to less than what they were before. I’ve gotten phone calls and emails from these individuals saying they’d like to apply for OCS now. The problem is that the deadline for training over the summer is in March. It’s too late. The spots went to those who were willing to make their future a priority.

Timex Mens T49612 Expedition Trail Series
Tempus Fugit

Not every candidate joins the program 100% ready. I can count on my fingers the number of applicants in the past 2 years who met all the requirements right from the start. But I’ve also seen candidates complete paperwork in an hour that took others a month to complete. I’ve seen candidates double their PFT score from one test to the next, while others have increased less than 20 points in a year. I have a candidate who works 50 hours a week, including overnights, on top of a senior research project for a degree in Biology who attends every training event. Another candidate is a college graduate who works less than 40 hours a week and is too busy to attend one event a month.

Henry David Thoreau said: “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”

Our Commanding Officer is known for saying “Equipment can be replaced, ground can be regained, but time, once lost, is gone forever”… and the trouble is, you think you have time.

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