College students usually look forward to weekends for time away from books and school, or merely time to catch up on things they haven’t completed during the school week.
However, officer candidates through 9th Marine Corps District spent two weekends preparing for the rigors of their future officer training.
Officer Candidate School (OCS) preparatory weekends are designed to give candidates a small glimpse into the first few days of OCS, said Maj. Charles J. Miles, 9th MCD assistant for officer procurement (AOP). "The weekends are designed to give the prospective officer candidates a chance to meet Marine Corps drill instructors in an environment similar to OCS to allow them to adjust and possibly even prevent early mistakes often made in the first few days of OCS."
Because Officer Selection Stations (OSSs) span a few hundred miles across the district, the AOP office arranged two separate locales for training. The weekends were held first at Camp Atterbury, Ind., a small Army reserve installation 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis, and then second at Fort McCoy, Wis., a two-hour drive from Madison, Wis. According to Capt. Bryan E. Hill, district aviation assistant for officer procurement, this made it easier and more convenient for candidates and district personnel to attend. "It’s too far for OSS Lansing, Indy, and others to come out to McCoy, and vice versa."
Clarifying, Hill stressed, "There are a few modifications – billeting, the chow hall, and terrain are different – but overall, the classes are the same and the content of the weekend is the same."
Sixty-eight candidates from Officer Selection Teams (OSTs) Indianapolis, Lafayette, St. Louis, Champaign and Lansing trained during the first weekend at Camp Atterbury. The first day’s classes focused on land navigation, squaring away the barracks, drill instruction and responding to the shouted commands of their sergeant instructors, GySgts. Shelly Bothwell and Charmalyn Knapp.
Candidates woke at 5 a.m. to Bothwell and Knapp’s shouted commands. An hour and a half later, they had eaten, cleaned the barracks, and were ready to take a physical fitness test. For Candidate Eric R. Stewart, a 25-year-old student at Northwestern University, who completed a three-mile run in 25 minutes, 21 seconds, the PFT was the easiest part. "Even though the run is no fun, at least I know what’s going to happen."
Afterward, district personnel led them through an Army obstacle and confidence course. Although not the same as Marine Corps courses, it contained many of the same obstacles found at OCS, such as the "Stairway to Heaven" and the "Dirty Name." Chris R. Fischetti, a 19-year-old University of Illinois at Champaign student, liked the courses’ tests. "I enjoyed a challenge like that. It keeps you physically active with a set goal.
"I wish we could add more time on the confidence course," he said. "We didn’t get a chance to do all of them. I missed out on the Stairway to Heaven and the A frame."
For others, the course wasn’t as enjoyable. Candidate Brigitte L. McMillan, a 20-year-old Marion, Ind., student, said the confidence course was the toughest part of the weekend. "It freaked me out when I first saw it. I didn’t think I’d make it through."
McMillan also said she was nervous about the day’s second event, land navigation. After determining a pace count, teams of three wound their ways through hilly, tick-infested forest finding four points hidden throughout a 1,000-square meter area. "It’s kind of scary walking around with just a map and compass. I enjoyed it, though." McMillan’s team found three of their four points before their time limit expired.
In between land navigation and the obstacle courses, candidates were given Meals Ready to Eat for lunch. Fischetti said they were great – if not unidentifiable. "I had chicken – something. I don’t know what it was but it was awesome."
Next, candidates received more drill time, dinner and more drill instruction. "I wish there was more drill," McMillan said. "I wish they were more strict on it."
Sunday, they got a chance to practice their running cadences during a 1-1/2 mile run around the camp, drawing stares and glares from Army reservists just waking up. After a quick shower and a debrief from Miles, they packed up and left for home.
Candidates from OSTs Chicago, Milwaukee, Lincoln, Des Moines, Kansas City and Twin Cities attended the second preparatory weekend at Fort McCoy. The events were much like the first, only with 91 candidates, much lower temperatures and colder weather. Temperatures dipped to 28 degrees during Saturday’s events, making the morning PFT more harsh. Two sergeant instructors, GySgt. Kevin Lerette, SSgt. Dustin Henderson, and Knapp, were on hand to instill discipline.
For some, the sergeant instructors carried less sting than the chilling winds. "They were exactly what I expected," said Chad D. Melby, a 22-year-old Kenosha, Wis., resident. "They’re extremely talented and good at what they do. When I was getting yelled at, I actually enjoyed it. I was never singled out, though." He said his brother, who's a Marine, greatly influenced his decision to become an officer and helped him prepare, but never pushed the issue.
Still, Hill said the training was essentially the same and the AOP office has no plans to change what has worked well for more than four years. "It seems to work fine the way it is. My philosophy is if it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix it."
Mirroring McMillan’s comments from the prior week, Maximillian P. Ortega, a 21-year-old Loyola University student, said, "I’d like to see more drill with weapons. I know drill is a sacred tradition in the Marine Corps and having a rifle with us would better prepare us for OCS."
Overall, candidates thought the weekends greatly helped them to prepare for OCS. "It’s an eye opener," Melby said. "They gave us a realistic experience. I’d recommend it to any candidate."
"The people who missed are going to be hurting," Ortega said. "We’ll be two steps ahead."
And that’s exactly the purpose of the weekend. "They (candidates) should take away the fact that no matter how hard they try, they will still make mistakes," Hill said. "They should learn to develop thick skin so when they do make a mistake, it won’t cause them to freeze up."