Enlisted Marines get a taste of OCS
| Marine Corps Recruiting Command | January 31, 2003
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
As Gunnery Sgt. Charles Walters lowered himself into the frozen swamp waters he wasn't wondering what he had got himself into...he was more concerned with the icy obstacle he was in and how he was going to get out.
Recently, Marine Corps Recruiting Command and the Officer Candidate School held an Officer Selection Assistant (OSA) Course here. The purpose of the one-week course was to familiarize the enlisted assistants for officer recruitment with the unique challenges of Officer Candidate School so they could better inform young men and women hoping for a future as a Marine Corps officer.
The course brings OSAs from all over the country to OCS where they go through lectures, demonstrations and hands-on exercises that present what officer candidates go through during their time at OCS. Classes and discussions on OCS standards of conduct and case studies of prior officer candidates were followed by training on the OCS endurance course, combat course and the Platoon Leaders Course Stamina courses.
"An OSA is the senior enlisted Marine working with an Officer Selection Officer (OSO), and for the most part the first enlisted Marine a candidate comes in contact with," said Walters, assistant for officer procurement, 12th Marine Corps District. "You have a platoon of candidates and you are responsible not just for preparing them for OCS but also taking care of them in the same way you take care of you junior Marines."
The biggest challenge of being an OSA is the commitment to maintaining the candidate. A candidate may be in the program for up to seven years as they complete their education. An OSA must keep their candidates focused and motivated. They also prepare the candidates physically for OCS and give them a basic knowledge of military life and culture. But before preparing these students for OCS the OSAs need personal experience. And for most enlisted Marines, this is their first close contact working with OCS.
"You can listen to your OSO (Officer Selection Officer), you can talk to other officers, you can see the videos, but to get first hand knowledge of what you?re preparing them for, because you?re the one training them?it's invaluable," said Walters.
One of the most unforgettable events came on the third day when the class had the opportunity to participate in an OCS tradition, the Quigley. The Quigley is named after William Quigley, a former Marine first sergeant who later rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Drawing from his combat experience in Korea and Vietnam, Quigley designed the combat course in 1967, a four-foot deep trench running through about 50 yards of swamp in the woods behind OCS.
The Marines negotiated the course the same way as the candidates do; by submerging themselves fully in the murky, freezing waters, crawling on their stomachs, moving under and around submerged obstacles. The below freezing temperatures outside did little to kill the pungent smell of the swamp waters. Marine officers recall 'fond' memories of the Quigley and other events at OCS; memories now understood by the enlisted personnel who help select officer candidates.
"That is about the worst thing I have ever had to do," said Sgt. Ricardo Gaeta, OSA, Recruiting Station Salt Lake City. "Now we know what is going on when we explain OCS to candidates."
The partnership of OCS and MCRC in the operation of this course is a natural fit due to the tight integration between their missions. Recruiting Command is responsible for selecting young men and women who might have the potential of becoming Marine Corps officers. In turn, OCS has the responsibility to screen, train and evaluate those that have the potential for leadership.
"Here at OCS it is not a weeding out process," said Colonel William Smith, commanding officer of OCS. "We are screening 'in' candidates. It is an inclusive process."
One of the main reasons for the need of this course is that enlisted Marines have a misperception of what OCS is about. OCS is not recruit training for officers. OCS focuses on evaluating candidates for the potential to lead Marines under chaos and uncertainty.
"Recruit training and OCS have understandably two different missions. I came to that realization when I was assigned here at OCS," said Master Sgt. Angel Menendez, MCRC liaison to OCS.
"Academically the candidates are held to a much higher standard than enlisted recruits, on the flip side they are given more freedom, even weekend liberty at a point in their training," said Sgt. Darrin Leonhart, Tactics Instructor.
That is not to say that OCS is easier by any means. Leonhart and his fellow instructors work tirelessly to test the candidates, both mentally and physically.
"Recruit training is more regimented and is designed to reshape an individual," said Leonhart. "OCS is not designed to reshape, it is designed to see what that person has come here with."
Candidates must arrive, ready to train, with a first class physical fitness training score. The training intensifies from there. Most obstacle and endurance courses must be completed with gear and rifles and much of the running is done in combat boots. Once a candidate completes OCS and receives a commission they move on to The Basic School for six months of field and leadership training. In the Marine Corps there is a phrase, "Every Marine is a rifleman." At OCS it can be said that every successful candidate is a potential platoon leader.
"When I look out on the parade deck, on graduation day, I don't see a platoon of candidates out there," said Smith. "I see a platoon of platoons, because I see it in their eyes, every one of them, the potential for leadership."
The responsibility is immense. Each year approximately 2,400 candidates go through OCS. In any given class there is the potential for the next Commandant of the Marine Corps, the next Commanding General of a Marine Division or the next commanding officer of OCS.
"He or she is out there, the thing is we don?t know which one it is, so we have to make sure that we do our job right with all of them," said Smith.
"The OSA course has been running for a year and we are on our fourth course. I've received a lot of positive feedback as it pertains to preparation of the candidates," said Menendez. "Upon completion of the course, OSAs depart with the knowledge and the philosophy of OCS as well as what it takes to prepare for and complete OCS so they can better prepare their candidates."
The journey starts at recruiting stations and college campuses throughout the United States and progresses through OCS and TBS; and through it all a young man or woman is guided by a better-informed OSA.