I am an active duty officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. All views expressed in this blog are my personal views as an individual and not those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Shortly after I decided to join the Marine Corps (and even before I'd made the decision), I started searching online for accounts of OCS - Officer Candidate School - to try to get a sense of what it's like. I found a few such blogs, which I'll try to relocate and post below, but as you might expect, I found a lot more people like me, asking questions. So now that I've officially begun the journey toward being a Marine Officer by signing my contract, I thought I'd post my own experiences in the hopes that someone else considering this path can glean some useful info or details. The one thing I'd say beforehand, though, is that every person's experience will be different, depending on your background, your goals, and (so I'm told) who your platoon and company commanders are at OCS and TBS. None of that should matter much if you're committed to being an Officer of Marines.

So where did I begin. Well, the first step was a phone conversation with an OSO - that's an Officer Selection Officer (who falls under the Marine Redundancy Department). Basically, he's an officer recruiter. One question I had and that I'm sure others have is, "do recruiters lie?" My short answer is - Marine officer recruiters do not lie. My longer answer is - I've got no way to know yet since I haven't been to OCS and beyond to see if what they described was true. All I can tell you at this point is what I believe and what little I've seen - and I feel I've had every question answered honestly and fully.

So enough about that. My first conversation with an OSO led (when I was ready) to a visit to the, you guessed it, OSO - Officer Selection Office. I was shown some gung-ho videos that I believe are intended to give you a bit of a reality check on what you're about to get yourself into. They show very strong men (and women) doing very difficult things while clearly in some pain. I'd already watched lots of videos of OCS and other indoctrination trainings online so I wasn't surprised by any of that.

Then I met for a while with my OSA - Officer Selection Assistant. She's an NCO - Non-Commissioned Officer - which is an enlisted Marine who has risen to that level in the ranks. She's a Sergeant. I have no idea what the rules are about naming people so I won't use actual people's names but suffice it to say that she was (is) fantastic. This was my first chance to ask questions other than to a few friends who were former Marines or other services, and she patiently answered every one of them with an attitude that was both genuinely friendly and professional. She even gave me some advice about how to talk to my parents about my decision that turned out to be right on the money.

Oh a side note - when you go in for the first time, dress to impress. For guys, wear a suit, for girls, wear whatever the equivalent of that is. A suit, I guess.

Anyway, after I spoke to her for a while, filled out some initial paperwork to get myself in the system and had my picture taken in front of the US and USMC flags, I went in to speak to the OSO, a Captain. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but I was actually being interviewed. I really just had a million questions to ask but luckily I'd done my homework and had at least a foggy idea of what I was getting into, so that went well.

I left with a bunch of paperwork to fill out, including what are called PIQ's. These are references. They take a long time, sometimes, to get back from your people so get this part done early. In fact, my OSO's web site, http://www.dcmarineofficer.com/, has a link to just about all the documents you'll need so print them out and review them before you go in, and get started early.

Some time went by for me while I was collecting various documents, dealing with issues in my own life and of course training hard. I'll talk about training a little later so if you're looking for that, stay tuned.

The next step was MEPS - Military Entrance Processing Command. Mine was at Ft. Meade outside Baltimore. All the services are, um, served here so there's lots of young people running around, most of them with looks of mild panic on their faces. I'm positive I looked the same. Why? Well, two reasons. First, this was my first time on a military base in the context of my decision to join the Marines (I'd been to airshows and such but that's not quite the same). So I wasn't sure what to expect - would the hazing already begin? Would I screw something up or lose some document and look like an idiot? Second, while I've always, thank G-d, been in perfect health, I hadn't had blood work done in a while and who knows what might turn up?

As it turns out, going to MEPS is a cross between getting a physical and going to the DMV. You get your eyes and ears etc. checked, and you wait. You do the piss test and the blood test (I never heard anything about my tests so I assume everything checked out). Yes, the guy does glance over to make sure you don't have some tube contraption to squirt someone else's piss into the cup. But it's no big deal. I'd been warned about the peaking thing and I know I sometimes freeze up when someone is watching me piss (how I know this, I have no idea), so I drank about 7 gallons of water that morning. By the time I had to do the piss test, I couldn't have held it back if I tried.

Then comes some more waiting, then a nice conversation with a doctor while he listens to your lungs and heart and such. He's a really nice guy, so make conversation with him. After that is the dungeon. Ok it's not really that bad. It's a big square room with no windows that smells like stale BO. It's like a sauna but without the ambiance. My OSA had told me, be sure to wear briefs. I am a boxer guy myself, but I complied. I was the only one there wearing briefs. I have to remember to let my OSA know what I think of that little prank. Then this guy comes in who clearly hates his job. Like most of the people who process you, he's a civilian. (The other guy who really hates his job is the guy who has to take your piss cup, pour it into a little bottle and watch you apply the seal. For eight hours a day he inhales nothing but Eau de Urine. You'd be grounchy too).

ANYWAY, the guy in the dungeon makes you do the weirdest things. Walk like a duck, speed walk, move your arms and elbows in all kinds of ways. They're mostly testing for balance and basic skeletal alignment as far as I could tell. They're weird but they're easy so try to pay attention. It's amazing how many people can't follow simple commands.

Sadly, one big lanky guy just couldn't do one of the tests, I think the one where you squat on your toes and knees and then stand up without moving your feet. The guy was just built all wrong for it, and after a few tries, they said that's it, you're done. I don't know how much mental or physical prep he'd done, but that's a helluva way to find out you don't have what it takes.

So anyway, doing all those acrobatics in tighty-whiteys was a blast, but after that I was done. Somewhere in there they did pulse and BP and such and had you fill out some more paperwork (or to be accurate, correct the paperwork they'd already mangled up for you).

So that's MEPS - you should be no more nervous about it than you would be going to the dentist or some other annoying but otherwise harmless task.

Through this whole time (the past months, not the time at MEPS), I'd been continuing to train physically. If you can afford it, I highly recommend a gym and a trainer. Luckily, my gym, with a note from my OSO, gave me the military rate, and my trainer was a former (and future) training consultant to the Marine Corps. So I've been getting my ass kicked regularly. I ran my first official PFT about 6 weeks ago (so that's about 13 weeks before I ship). I scored a 190 - which is abismal. I did 10 pull-ups, 86 or so crunches and ran 3 miles in 24:46. Those scores should make just about any prospective candidate reading this feel much better.

I ran my most recent PFT a week ago. I scored better - 239, with 15 pullups, max crunches (100 in 2 minutes, I actually did them in about 1:40 or so) and a 23:55 3-mile. The run time is awful, still, but I've dropped over 1:30 from it in just the last week so my next PFT should be around 260. That's still not great but it's respectable.

And today, the fun began. My OSO and the one from Virginia got about 30-40 candidates together and took us down to OCS to see and practice the O-Course (obstacle course). That was fun. It's what you'd expect - a bunch of bars and logs of various heights and orientations to be overcome in different ways, a wall that's about 6 feet tall to get over (girls get a little step about 2 feet up to help), and at the end, the ropes. I handled the O-course fine (though I have plenty of room for improvement) but I need to practice my rope technique. The whole course is about conserving energy - a perfect score is 1 minute, passing is 2 minutes. I think I could do the whole thing in around 2 minutes now - but that's without boots and uts (pronounced yutes, stands for utilities) which obviously slow you down (except on the ropes, where boots will be a huge help).

That's pretty much it so far - a quick (or not so quick?) recap of the last few months of preparation.

Oh as far as that goes. Ideally, my impression is you should get to the point where you're running 5 miles almost every day. For pull-ups, Armstrong helped me a ton on endurance (which is what OCS is all about) but not as much on my max (which is what the PFT is all about, of course). The bottom line - there is no substitute for hard work. The thing I keep hearing from everyone is - thrash yourself. And they're absolutely right. It honestly doesn't matter during your preparation if you can run 3 miles in 20 minutes or 30 minutes. What matters is that in every workout, you leave nothing out there - you go way, way beyond what you think your limit is. Having a trainer helps you do that, so you establish new limits and then break those. The thing is all mental. There is no WAY I took 1:30 off my run time in 6 days, physically. I did do some things different, like pacing myself better, but mainly I just pushed harder and faster every time I felt I needed to slow down just to survive. And whattaya know, I survived anyway.

Ok I've rambled on long enough. For all my friends who actually read this far, thanks. I promise future posts will be more interesting, and much shorter. But I will try to provide details because that's what I was looking for when I was researching this. If anyone comes across this and wants to pick my brain (especially once I've actually done something) just leave a comment and I'll try to get back to you ASAP.