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.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking back (at OCS) and looking ahead

So it turns out that some people actually read these posts, and those 2 or 1 of you who do may have been wondering why I abruptly stopped writing around the middle of OCS. Sorry about that - all I can say is it couldn't be helped. But anyway, I'm back, and I thought I'd try to give you a general idea of what the past few months have been like (and for prospective candidates, what to expect), and what lies ahead for me.

The first few days of OCS are in-processing. You do lots of paperwork, run your inventory PFT (our platoon dropped 3 candidates right there) and do gear issue and gear purchase. You're given a lot to do with zero time in the schedule to do it, so you end up staying up most of the night squaring away your stuff, marking gear, etc. Get used to it.

Then comes pick up. Pick up has a well-earned reputation so I won't go into much detail about that. Suffice it to say that there's lots of yelling and running around. The whole thing is just theater, and I remember my main feelings were calm, mild entertainment and, as the day wore on, fatigue.

But there was a lot of yelling, and that continued for the next few weeks. It started the very second that lights came on at 0500 (sometimes before) and didn't stop, except during class, until the minute they went out at 2100 (and often after). And that led me to experience an interesting phenomenon.

If you've ever done something intensely for many hours during the day, whether it's driving or playing Tetris or whatever, you've probably had the experience of closing your eyes at night and seeing that thing in your mind's eye. Well I had a weird and similar experience at OCS. After the first day of yelling, I was walking to the head (the bathroom) after lights out and I realized that every sound I heard - every muffled cough, every toilet flush, every toss and turn of a candidate in the rack - sounded to me like the sound of top-of-the-lungs yelling, far off in the distance. I mentioned it to someone, and it turned out a bunch of other candidates were experiencing the same thing. That lasted a few nights, but eventually we got used to the yelling.

Those next few weeks until our first liberty were both easy and hard. I remember the PT was easy, the days were extremely long, the classes were like drinking from a firehose. Our entire existence was confined to the squad bay, the parade deck, the PT field, the classroom and the chow hall. With no watches, TV, Internet, radio, cell phones, etc., and with 16 hour days (or longer) where every minute was scheduled for us, we quickly found ourselves arguing over what day of the week it was, and whether something had happened that morning or three days ago.

Then came our first liberty. If you brought your cell phone, it was returned to you from the contraband locker. If you followed the rules and didn't (I was the only one), you used the payphones outside to call collect, get a calling card number, and call other people, until you could make it into DC and recover your cell.

That first liberty was like the deepest breath of fresh air you could imagine, after three weeks of breathing in car fumes. At that point we were all starting to get a little worn out, we almost all had the "candidate cough" (mine was pretty mild), and a good number of us were battling injuries. Mine was a middle trap strain on my right side. In week 1 I was doing the O-course and as I jumped up to haul myself over the wall, I heard a riiip in my right shoulder. I of course said nothing and the next week while doing a regular push-up I heard a pop and couldn't even support my own weight or lift my rifle over my head. At that point I couldn't hide it anymore so I went to medical, but I refused to be put on light duty (5 days of light duty and you're sent home). Somehow for the next month or so I faked it - one-arm push-ups, using my legs more, etc., and by some miracle, my shoulder healed. Persevering through that month of pain was one of the things I'm most proud of. But believe me, I wasn't the only one. Almost everyone who graduated OCS with me was nursing some kind of injury; one guy did some of the most painful and miserable training with a cracked rib. I don't know how he did it for as long as he did, though after two weeks it caught up to him and he went home (week 7).

Anyway, when I made it to that first liberty, shoulder strain and all, I knew I was going to make it. From then on I lived lights out to lights out and liberty to liberty. Around week 5 I came down with a high fever but somehow sweated it out in a single night and didn't miss any training. That was the low point for me - I was sore all over (the first few weeks, my soles were swollen at least 1/2 an inch and on fire from all the standing and marching), I was sick as a dog (though luckily without a fever) and I was falling asleep standing up. Again, I was hardly the only one. I remember around that time a bunch of us were sharing descriptions of the color and sheer volume of our snot. But I also felt good. I hadn't failed any tests, I was doing average or above average in the physical events, and my leadership score was high. I was meeting the challenge.

Well, maybe that's a good place to pause - I gotta run. I'll try to pick up soon to let you all know what's next for me. Let me just say that your support, your letters and postcards and greeting cards and phone calls (on libo) meant the world to me. Whatever I've accomplished so far (which is not much) and whatever I go on to do in the Marine Corps, you helped make it so. Thank you.