The following is an awesome retrospective from a recent graduate of OCC-208 under the pen-name “tfo6″. This was originally posted in the MarineOCS.com forums, but I thought it certainly deserved to be shared. Thanks to tfo6 for this 2000+ word OCS retrospective masterpiece, as it is EXTREMELY helpful to anyone currently preparing for Marine OCS. Without further introduction, here we go.
An OCS Retrospective from tfo6:
I graduated from OCC-208 a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to share my overall experience and some personal advice for prospective candidates. This kind of insight helped me tremendously before attending OCS, and I hope this can serve the same purpose:
OCS applicants seem to worry primarily about physical fitness, since the Marine Corps has a certain reputation for its PT, so I feel I should address this first. Although OCS is certainly no joke in that regard, with proper training any reasonably healthy person can pass the physical events and avoid injury. Physical fitness makes up 25% of your final GPA as a candidate, and that grade is decided by several events ranging from the standard PFT to the notorious endurance course. OCC-208 was a competitive class and as a company we had a pretty high fitness standard (our company commander liked to tell us we were fast but not that smart). Nonetheless almost everyone struggled with something, and that depended on the individual and his or her particular level of fitness. OCS has a tendency to humble even the most self-assured PT studs simply because it will introduce you to things you are completely unaccustomed to. For me the two biggest physical challenges were the endurance course and the 9 mile hike, which surprised me because, being from New Hampshire, I’ve done my fair share of hiking. But in utilities, carrying a loaded pack and rifle, and moving at a forced paced, hiking takes on a whole new meaning. The sergeant instructors would still find ways to torture us, like handing out 300 word essays for dragging out feet. The hikes, like everything else at OCS, are a mind-f**k. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to get through these physical events, but you do need a good amount of willpower and mental toughness. PT will be a lot more bearable, however, if you train correctly before arriving at OCS.
My biggest recommendation is to run. Run a lot; not just three miles. Run longer distances, at least 5-6 miles, run sprints to build up your speed, and time your three mile often. You will not run long distances at OCS, but for everything you will need endurance, and the best way to build that is to follow a balanced and frequent running routine. As for upper body strength, I recommend crossfit. Avoid going to the gym and lifting heavy weights. With a simple pull-up bar, you can build the kind of strength OCS requires: a complete, whole body fitness. Push-ups and pull-ups are the perfect exercise because they work out several muscles at once, and when done in an intense, crossfit workout will build up your overall muscular endurance, not just your glamour muscles. The muscular endurance course at OCS, for example, is not about how much you can bench press; it is about how long you can endure a varied circuit of muscle building exercises combined with running. Focus on endurance in your training, and if you push through PT events at OCS with a strong mindset, granted you don’t fall off the rope and break your ankle, you will not fail.
PT doesn’t take up that large a part of the training schedule; although it is more intense there is less of it than enlisted boot camp, from what I’ve been told. You’ll also spend a fair amount of time in classes learning about Marine Corps history, customs and courtesies, leadership, land navigation, and various other military subjects. The classes are a relatively laid back environment where you are usually encouraged to ask questions. You will be exhausted in every class, because as soon as you stop moving at OCS you just want to shut your eyes and go to sleep. Classes are most often the standard lecture type. The material is not hard—they say it is tenth grade high school level—but there is very rarely any time to study (unless you have a very generous platoon staff). The only time you will realistically have to prepare for exams is after lights, which means when you are on your own time. OCS is designed to test your time management skills, and often you’ll be forced to make decisions about what to do between lights out at 2100 and reveille at 0500. Do you study a little more for that exam the next day, or get an extra hour of much needed sleep? By the time lights come on you need to have your uniform and gear ready for the day, because you’ll be out the door in a matter of minutes. Don’t be that candidate caught unprepared, missing a cover or a canteen. My rackmate was prior enlisted, and he’d be sleeping like a baby by 2105; meanwhile I was spending hours marking my gear, preparing for billets, memorizing uniform regulations and the dates of famous Marine Corps battles, and getting in an average of 4-5 hours of sleep a night. A 6 hour night at OCS was a blessing. I got my s**t together after some time, though, and found I was getting more sleep as the weeks wore on because I made that time count—you will learn to move faster and get what you need to get done in less time. And that means more sleep, which is scarce but essential if you want to survive OCS. Other than liberty there are only two things that candidates look forward: chow and hitting the rack.
Your level of exhaustion is a combination of that lack of sleep but also of very long days. Except for weeks 9 and 10 the daily schedule is always packed. From the time the instructors start blasting you at 0500 to the time they stop at 2100 you are constantly on the move and you are moving fast. Part of that is just the mental game of OCS—to wear every candidate down physically and mentally to see how they perform under an extreme amount of stress—but it is also to identify the weak individuals; those that move slow, don’t sound off, and just aren’t motivated. The method to Marine Corps training is to weed out the weak in any given group and be left with those that meet the standard. In whatever you do don’t ever be last at OCS, don’t act like you’re tired or don’t want to be there. The instructors will find those people from day one and they will drive them into the ground. OCS is even harder if you are targeted by the instructors as a s**tbird, and the best way to prevent that is to give a hundred percent every day and never show weakness. That takes a lot of willpower, but that’s exactly what they expect from Marine officers. That constant stress was one of the hardest aspects of OCS for me; it is unrelenting and almost unbearably intense at times. But it will also, or at least it should, humble you real quickly to what the Marine Corps is testing you for as a potential officer. The one respite to it all is glorious liberty, the period of leave that goes from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening. But even liberty only starts on the third weekend, and that first part of OCS—from pick-up to the first liberty—is undoubtedly the worst. After that, however, the weeks will seem to fly by despite the long days. Remind yourself why you’re there every day and remember that ten weeks is, on the whole, not really all that long.
But of course OCS would not be what it is without the leadership grade. It makes up half of your GPA, and it is, unfortunately, very difficult to prepare for. The bulk of this is the two LRC and two SULE events. SULE II is the culminating event, though we did it week 8. The grading is somewhat subjective; some instructors will be more lenient than others (you might get a more understanding captain as your instructor or a salty gunnery sergeant who won’t give any favors). The best thing you can do to prepare for those is to pay attention to what you are taught and show confidence—that is what command presence is all about. The two biggest mistakes I made during these kinds of events were lack of command presence and indecisiveness. Be assertive and make fast decisions. Remember that, during the LRC, you do not need to actually complete the mission you are given, you simply need to show leadership potential in the execution of that mission. If you fail an event, correct your mistakes on the next one. If you show improvement and keep your GPA above passing there will be no reason for them to drop you, so don’t get hung up on an unfavorable first LRC or SULE.
I feel the real challenge of OCS lays in the command evaluations, which are given by your instructors, and the peer evaluations, where your overall performance is assessed by members of your squad (about twenty people). These evaluations can be a killer for some candidates; while it is possible to prepare in advance for SULE II and know what to expect when your time comes to be graded, the command and peer evaluations represent the complete picture of any single candidate. There is no hiding from your peers; if you’re a “blue falcon,” that candidate who will screw someone over for their own gain, or a bad leader with no command presence, they will notice that and they will be honest on their evaluation of you. We had one candidate in our platoon that everyone just about hated and he got blasted for it on his peer evaluations. Two people mentioned integrity violations (both instances of lying on his part) which led to his being dropped near the beginning of week nine. And it was his second time going through OCS. He deserved being dropped for lying, no doubt, but perhaps his peers would have been more generous if he hadn’t been such a generally difficult person to get along with throughout the cycle. At OCS, although you are being tested as a leader, you are also part of a platoon, and your buddies will appreciate unselfishness in such a tightly wound unit. Be a team player or you will get a bad reputation. Don’t hesitate to seek out help, especially from the prior enlisted candidates who might already know a lot of the knowledge you are being taught, but also help others as much as possible.
For the sake of brevity this is the most pertinent advice I can offer to prospective candidates. One of the things my OSO told me before I left is that there are no “tricks” to complete OCS; unlike boot camp this is not a place where you’re expected to melt into the pack and make it to the finish line. OCS is an evaluation of each individual; it is essentially a job interview to see if you have the potential to be an officer in the Marine Corps. A few questionable candidates will slip by and commission, but for the most part it’s a highly effective system to root out the physically or mentally weak. The sergeant instructors are all prior boot camp DI’s, and they are the most ruthless yet professional group of people I have ever met. When you commission you will be their boss, and they’ll do everything they can to ensure unqualified candidates either quit or get dropped.
I mentioned that OCS is a mind-f**k; don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the mental and physical exhaustion. If this is your first experience in a military setting, you will undoubtedly be more stressed than you’ve ever been in your life. And although some days you will seem to lose all hope at ever seeing graduation day, remember that OCS does end at some point. When it does, make sure you don’t go home with any regrets.