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Marine Officer Candidates quickly file onto a bus during an Officer Candidate School Preparation weekend at Camp Dodge, Des Moines, Iowa, April 24. The OCS Prep weekend is designed to give candidates a glimpse into what OCS life is like.

Photo by Sgt. Cory A. Tepfenhart

Leaders follow in preparation

24 Apr 2009 | 9th Marine Corps District

The mud covering 22-year-old Sheryll Chyraba’s exhausted five-foot frame was too thick for the rain to wash away as she stood panting. Her words were mere gasps escaping through the labored breaths.

“I just finished the confidence course, but I don’t feel any more confident, that’s for sure,” she said, not even halfway through the second day of a three-day evolution billed as primer for what some call the most challenging leadership curriculum in the country.

The night prior, Chyraba and more than 200 other college and university students from states throughout the Midwestern U.S. arrived here April 24 with different expectations, their designer suitcases contradicting their uniformed attire: camouflaged trousers and plain white t-shirts. The students had decided they wanted to be U.S. Marine Corps officers, and this event, dubbed Officer Candidate School Preparatory Weekend, was supposed to give them a glimpse at the physical and psychological challenges awaiting them this summer at OCS in Quantico, Va.

After arriving at 5 p.m. Friday, some have already had hours of road time to contemplate this weekend.  Several candidates looked enthused and eager to get a taste of what their upcoming summer would be like, while others like Chyraba arrived more unsure, her nervousness stuttering her words.

“What we are going to be doing here this weekend is still a mystery,” said the junior and business major at Lake Superior State University in Sault Saint Marie, Mich. “I’m ready for the challenges. I have been preparing myself for this, but there is always room for improvement, and now is the time.”

            Major John H. Williams III, officer in charge of OCS Prep Weekend and the supervisor for officer recruitment throughout the Midwest, said the annual event also teaches these officer hopefuls some basic skills that they will use and develop in training, like drill, land navigation, physical fitness and, of course, teamwork.

             “It’s a snapshot of what’s expected at OCS. It’s really just a peek,” he said.   The intent is that candidates understand what we are going to be looking for and what they’re going to have to do once they arrive at OCS.

While sitting Indian style on a concrete floor and eating their first MREs for dinner, the rhythmic sound of the Platoon Sergeant’s perfectly timed and somehow menacing footsteps filled the candidates’ ears.  The serenity was crushed by confusion, disorder and panic reflected in the faces of several candidates as the three formally trained and experienced drill instructors were let loose on their platoons like rabid dogs. 

Time seemed of the essence as the platoon sergeants speed-walked the candidates from the drill hall to the open squadbays they would call home for the weekend before teaching them some simple drill movements, naval terminology, and health and safety tips.  After a formal class in land navigation class, the platoon sergeants showed their platoons how to properly make a bed before finally allowing the candidates to actually lay in them just after 11 p.m.

Six restless hours of sleep later, the thunderous alarm of platoon sergeants yelling and screaming started off the cold and rainy day.  Soon after, candidates were already stretching and doing warm up exercises prior to a Physical Fitness Test consisting of pull ups, timed crunches and a timed the 3-mile run in the rain.   

Despite a quick cleanup and shower at the barracks, the platoon sergeants moved their platoons back outside to a muddy group of 14 obstacles course known as the “confidence course” that is designed to test and build stamina, agility and courage.

“It was a lot of running, jumping and (butt) kicking,” said Chyraba, panting and covered in mud, but less unsure than the night before. “The toughest parts were all the vertically challenging events; anything you had to go over.”

Muddy and tired, the candidates moved into open terrain to try their hands at land navigation.  Most of the Candidates, having never handled a map or compass prior to Friday’s late-night class, struggled to find their ways from the start, but with teamwork and Marine advisors along the way, the candidates completed the course and were finally able to change clothes and shower. It was likely the first time many had navigated without GPS or internet mapping assistance.

After the non-stop action of the day’s early events, the candidates got a chance to slow down during classes on Marine Corps History and Traditions, but they soon realized the challenge of staying awake and mentally sharp while being physically exhausted and under constant stress.  During OCS, these candidates will be continuously evaluated, both formally and informally, on their ability to perform and lead others under both physical and psychological stress.

With the weekend’s events nearly complete, the Candidates were able to ask their platoon sergeants any questions they wanted to about OCS, putting only the next morning’s cleanup between themselves and the drive home with a lot to think about before summer.

“It’s not a cake walk, but I think they’re doing a good job preparing us for OCS, and I appreciate the chance to at least have a taste for it before I get there”, said Chyraba.

9th Marine Corps District