One-hundred eighty-six of the Marine Corps’ future leaders left their protected collegiate lifestyles for a three-day, sleep-deprived, physically-exhausting introduction to the Marine Corps.
The candidates arrived at Fort McCoy, Wis.— their commitment to the Corps still untested—dressed in business-casual civilian attire. Their large suitcases, of which more than a few appeared to need the weight of a friend to properly close, were stuffed with the niceties of modern life. Looks of optimistic eagerness filled many of the candidate’s faces, like the face of a child first approaching to Disney World. These men and women came to the Officer Candidates School Prep Weekend because they wanted to learn. They wanted a taste of what leading Marines would be like, and a chance to digest their decision. They were excited.
“The OCS Prep weekend really helps to reduce the initial shock of dealing with the drill instructors,” said Maj. Bryan Hill, 9th Marine Corps District Aviation Assistant for Officer Procurement. “It also shows them how important teamwork really is in a structured environment. They are also able to meet other poolees from the district so when they show up at OCS a basic team structure is already formed.”
The candidates' excitement might have been dampened were they informed of the reality that many of them would never complete OCS.
“Although the intent of OCS Prep is not to get them to quit, it sometimes opens their eyes as to what they are going to be facing at OCS,” said Hill. “It is definitely a gut check and sometimes they determine that they don’t have the intestinal fortitude they thought they did. If the drive isn’t there, the chance of them surviving OCS is pretty slim.”
Now seated in an auditorium, sheltered from the wind-driven Wisconsin climate, the candidates were just minutes away from their introduction to the Corps .Many would soon wish they had stayed at home.
Three drill instructors entered the classroom under the guides of an ordered march. Their faces fought instinct, as they twitched with controlled rage. Alfred Hitchcock used to say it was the time just before one sees the monster that is the most horrifying. Then, with a soft-spoken order, the candidates where turned over to the drill instructors for the first time. The room exploded with movement as the candidates where instructed to go outside. The drill instructors moved with a speed and ferocity that can only come from training. The candidates’ faces reflected a uniform fear. The OCS Prep Weekend had begun.
“The candidates receive mental preparation for the shock and pace of Marine Corps Officer Training,” said Maj. Charles Miles, 9th MCD Aisststant for Officer Procurement. “They also are introduced to some basic military skills such as drill, land navigation and rope climbing. They also learn about Marine Corps History and our customs and courtesy.”
The three-day journey was intense, and the cold, wet weather did not comfort the weary candidates who, despite the numerous trials, remained motivated and excited about the larger challenge of OCS.
“I thought the whole evolution was outstanding,” said Staff Sgt. Shaun Wright, Officer Candidates School sergeant instructor. “For the most part (the candidates) were motivated and ready to whip it on. One of the challenges for these kids is being able to make a decision. They need to understand it is better to make any decision rather than no decision. But a lot of these kids have never failed at anything.”
Mental preparation is vital to success at OCS, but Miles said that physical readiness is one of the easiest ways to prevent failure.
“Most candidates can recover from the initial shock and adapt quickly to the OCS lifestyles,” said Miles. “However, if one does not go to OCS physically prepared, they are going home.”
It was time for the candidates to go home, but not in the disgust of failure but with a better understanding of what a future in the Corps would entail. Their tired faces again reflected excitement. This time, however, it was at the prospect of a full night’s sleep.