TBS Q&A from a Marine Captain Instructor

Captain Charles J. Baumann was a Warfighting Instructor at The Basic School from July 2017 to July 2020 and has a diverse arrangement of experience.  While at TBS, Captain Baumann was the Motor Transport Platoon Commander, a Staff Platoon Commander for India Company 1-19, a Staff Platoon Commander for Fox Company 6-19, and the Primary Instructor for the Convoy Operations Package of The Basic School.  Captain Baumann is also a designated Combat Artist under the National Museum of the Marine Corps and was able to illustrate Marine Corps operations in Africa, Norway and Iraq while serving at The Basic School.  Captain Baumann now resides as a student at the Expeditionary Warfare School under the Marine Corps University.

Watch Capt Baumann’s Instagram Live video answering top questions here

How to best physically prepare for TBS?

Officer Candidate School and The Basic School differ in a few ways.  No one at TBS will hold your hand or lead you in PT.  Rarely does the platoon have morning PT routines like at OCS.  You must budget your own time for all things to include PT.  I recommend finding a roommate or several in your platoon to PT with for accountability, but expect to fight for calendar space here as you will be competing against other time constraints (ie. Writing orders, studying, topical essays, quizzes/studying, FEX prep, etc.).  Also, TBS has longer foot movements under heavier loads for almost five of the six months in training.  To and from the rifle range, required conditioning hikes (15mile graduation requirement) and movements during FEX’s all require an ability to move under heavy load and sometimes at a faster pace then expected.  You only get better at hiking by hiking, but be careful doing this too much before TBS.  I recommend varying you lower body workouts to emphasize endurance-based exercises.  Dropping out of a Company hike will spotlight you amongst staff and peers alike.  Additionally, the Endurance Course totals 4.9 miles of off-road running under some weight.  Here, sprained ankles and dehydration are the biggest threat and the best strategy is “Run Smoothly to Run Fast”.  Lastly, keep in mind to take care of your feet – this is paramount since being taken out of the fight delays training and there are only a few opportunities for make-events before being reviewed for BOC recycle. 

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How are you evaluated at TBS?

OCS screens for potential to commission, TBS instructs and evaluates on Leadership growth as an already commissioned officer.  The assumption is “you’ve been screened so now let’s train”.  At The Basic School there are Five Horizontal Themes you will be taught that essentially frame everything we do and say.  Know these and strive to live by them.  Regarding grades there are three components that make up your overall grade; Leadership, Military Skills, and Academics.  1.) Leadership, though subjective in nature, is objectified by everything you do at TBS.  You are constantly being evaluated by the staff (and peers), and everything from your performance in a Tactical Billet to whether you participate in a discussion group is a measure of your Leadership “potential”.  This is not to scare you into performing simply because you are being watched, but to motivate you to be your best genuine self with your best effort daily.  Part of TBS is intended to help you find your leadership style.  Overall, holding a billet in garrison, having a tactical billet, being a part of a discussion group or tactical decision game (DG / TDG), and your daily peer interactions all go into feedback forms that determine a “rank” of leadership potential.  Three times during your time at TBS you’ll receive formal Leadership feedback on where you rank amongst your peers and why based on all that’s been observed and/or noted.  Also, the reality is YOU WILL FAIL at something while at TBS, the point is not so much to count the failures but to see how you respond and grow from that failure.  Bottom line: strive for competence, bring your best effort daily, and be a team player.  2.) Military skills are made up of hands-on graded events that demonstrate competent performance in taught skills including: Land Navigation, E-Course, Double-O Course, Weapons Handling, Call for Fire Procedures, Orders Writing Process, First Aid & Casualty Handling, Rifle & Pistol Scores to name a few.  Some of these events have more GPA weight to them than others (more info when you check-in) but you should strive for excellence in them all.  3.) Academic grades are comprised of roughly 30 quizzes, several writing assignments, and four Phase Exams.  Grades here are forward, and if you fail an exam you have an opportunity to remediate but at a lower chance for points so study hard up front to avoid retakes entirely.  There are TBS study programs available for use, but I recommend you create your own study groups inside the squad/platoon to get ahead of the game.  TBS is not your typical college experience, many students lean on their old “study habits” and do poorly.  TBS is a combination of classroom, practical application, and your ability to put all concepts together.  Bottom line: if you are struggling, or think you’re struggling reach out for help sooner rather than later – you can’t afford to fall behind academically.  Also, don’t be afraid to utilize the Bullpen Staff for assistance with concepts and orders… that’s what we’re here for.

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What are common points of failure?

I’ll list a few points of failure, broken down into two categories: Mental and Physical

Mental – Students fail when they give up.  Sounds easy, but the physical demands of TBS (internal and external) can quickly interrupt your attitude.  The Marine Corps has the longest and most strenuous Officer Training Program of all the branches for a reason and you do yourself a favor to not underestimate this.  TBS is a marathon, not a sprint.  Stay in the fight and stay positive.  – Students fail academically by not keeping pace with the material.  A ton of unfamiliar concepts and vernacular will be presented to you and the expectation is you understand, retain and move on.  If you don’t understand something, ask a student or staff member.  You cannot afford to fall behind academically.  – Students fail when they don’t remain humble.  Arrogance and pride can quickly ruin your reputation and potential growth as a young officer.  Staying open to the material, and the different ways to provide a solution, and being a team player are keys to success.  Selfishness and arrogance quickly isolate you against the purpose of TBS.

Physical – Students fail when they don’t maintain good health.  PT regularly, eat well, and get rest when you can.  Poor health leads to injuries, Injuries lead to missed events, and Missed events lead to not graduating.  – Students fail when they don’t take care of their feet. You hike a lot at TBS and are often on your feet for 4-8 hrs a day when in the field (under some sort of load).  Invest in good boots, invest in good socks, and make it a habit to conduct foot care in between physically demanding events.  – Students fail when they don’t invest in the relationships at TBS.  I say failure, because the friends and acquaintances you make at TBS will carry into your career and your reputation will either help or hinder your early years as a Company Grade Officer.  Make friends, practice selflessness, and be an overall “good dude / dudette”.

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Can you be dropped from TBS?

Yes you can be dropped while at The Basic School, though it seldom happens you can loose your commission and TBS reserves the authority to revoke your commission.  More common events are the “recycle” of a student, where due to not meeting the standards (Academic, Leadership or otherwise) a student can be removed from his/her currently Company and sent to a junior Company for another attempt at meeting the graduation requirements. There is a formal process for this and you will be notified by your Staff Platoon Commander if approaching this threshold.

MOS Competition

Near the end of TBS, every student submits his/her preference list of MOS’s and the TBS staff do their best to give everyone something as close to their top choice as possible.  Understand the priority of effort is:  Needs of the Marine Corps, Best suited attributes, and then Personal preference. The entire Company of students will be ranked by overall GPA and then broken into thirds.  In these groups (top-third, middle-third, bottom-third), MOS allocations are distributed equally so that each thirds-group of students has an equal chance at their preferred MOS.  The reality is, the more desired MOS’s (Combat Arms, Intelligence, etc) only have so many spots and are often taken up quickly.  Here, it pays to be a winner and the hard-fact is that you do yourself a favor by embracing the larger idea of being a Marine Corps Officer first, then chase a specific MOS.  It is OK to want something specific (and I challenge you to go after it), but disappointment is a real thing and only real professionals can handle it well.  There is an old clichĂ© for success in the Marine Corps “bloom where you’re planted” that has rung true since 1775.

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Can you compete for a flight contract while at TBS if you’re a ground contract?

Yes, there are competitive air slots at TBS.  Early on you will also have an opportunity to take the ASTB if you haven’t already in order to compete.  The selection for Competitive-Air is announced about the same time the ground MOS’s assignments are being conducted.  If you come to TBS on an Air Contract  and are interested in dropping it to go Ground Contract, you can fill-out an administrative form with your company First Sergeant who (along with your SPC) can provide you more guidance.  It is easier to go from Air to Ground, than from Ground to Air due to the competitive nature of the MOS.  The available competitive-air spots vary with each student company.

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Bravo Company, 2-20, conducts the rifle platoon in the defense training exercise without troops (TEWT). Students have the opportunity to occupy a pre-made defensive position.

Can you switch to/from Reserves?

Yes, you can switch your Active / Reserve contract while at TBS.  The reserves are actively recruiting and make for a usually simple process.  To go from Reserves to Active Contract is a little more competitive but doable if you start the paperwork early in the POI.

What to read before arriving to TBS?

Pay attention to the Commandant’s Reading List.  Audiobooks are awesome and convenient.  Prior to TBS I would recommend reading:  MCDP 1 Warfighting, MCDP 1-3 Tactics, The Armed Forces Officer, and First to Fight.  There a many other good reads, but these will provide you a good initial foundation.

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Recommended gear for TBS?

Here are a few notes of what is universally good to have, other items are based off preference and what will actually be allowed by your company staff.  I personally recommend:  Good Quality Socks (Bates and Fox River are comfortable and durable!), Good Quality Boots (two pair at least), Quality Running Shoes, a multi-tool (invest in quality), Printer & Scanner, Laminator (you’ll use this A LOT), foam roller or stretch bands.  Everything else is likely preference and there’s something to be said for doing more with less so don’t think you have to show up with certain gadgets to be successful.  Minus what’s listed above, TBS will give you what you need to succeed.

Personal Reflections

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Here are some closing thoughts as I reflect on my time as a student years ago and seeing the same themes in today’s students.

I wish I would have put more effort into friendships as a student.  You’ll get to know your squad pretty well but can easily get by with shallow relationships with the rest of the platoon and I wish I would have gone outside my comfort zone to attempted a relationship with everyone in the platoon.  A simple and genuine extension of friendship to those I “didn’t work with” in my platoon would have done both of us good.  Extending that to the students in other platoons is just as important – you’ll run into TBS Alumni over and over again in the fleet and it helps to already have some established relationship.

I admit as an Alpha Company student I was susceptible to going internal on the cold and wet days while in the field.  Many others did it which justified my selfish considerations, but those who ignored their own welfare and comfort to benefit the group stood out.  I regret to say I failed at this as a student and wish I would have been less selfish/internal.  Don’t miss the opportunity to build mental fortitude and strive to be “comfortable being uncomfortable”.

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Alpha Company 1-20 conducts their 9 mile hike at The Basic School.

I had terrible study habits and didn’t do enough to grasp the material well mostly because I was narrow in my approach to learning (more ignorance than stubbornness).  I wish I had studied in more diverse ways and in larger groups for better grasp of the material.  TBS is not like University and I realized that a little late.

I didn’t really start thinking about developing myself as a leader until I arrived at TBS as a student and once I began to focus on my personal development for the good of the Corps we were essentially at graduation.  This isn’t “wrong” necessarily, but I missed a lot of opportunities to development my philosophy and personal style of leadership on/with my peers earlier in the POI.  Leading your peers is much harder to do than leading subordinates and exploiting all the opportunities to do so while at TBS is crucial to both your confidence and competence.

Lastly, I didn’t have enough fun.  I was so focused on graduating and competing that I failed to see the bigger picture of what I was doing and why I was at TBS.  Having fun and enjoying “the suck” is what will make memories and allow for a greater experience.  This effects your attitude and consequently can relieve many of the heartaches aforementioned in my reflections.  Will it be hard, YES but can it be fun, YES.  Embrace both.

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