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This article is organised as follows:
- Part 01: Background to Officer Candidates School.
- Part 02: Training Hierarchy.
- Part 03: USMC Commissioning Programmes.
- Part 04: Outline of the OCS Curriculum.
- Part 05: Miscellaneous.
PART ONE: BACKGROUND
This article provides an overview of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Officer Candidates School (OCS).
Commissioned officers in the USMC come from several sources, including the United States Naval Academy (USNA), civilian universities, and the enlisted ranks of the Marine Corps and other services. All of these officers except those who attend the USNA are required to successfully complete a screening process at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, called Officer Candidates School (OCS).
One of the primary goals of OCS is to place candidates under stressful, pressure-filled situations in order to determine their ability to lead others while under stress.
The aim of this article is to outline the training undertaken by USMC officer candidates whilst attending the Officer Candidates School.
1.2 Brief History
The OCS traces its roots to the ‘School of Application’, established in 1891 in Washington, D.C.
Prior to World War I, almost all officers in the USMC came from either the USNA or from the enlisted ranks of the USMC. As a consequence of the war, it became necessary to commission more officers.
In 1918, the Officer Candidate School (OCS) was known as the Camp of Instruction (Stark, 1990), based at the Marine Corps Station, Philadelphia, were all instructional efforts were consolidated.
Due to its successes during the war, the USMC was maintained at a larger size and subsequently started relying more heavily on recruitment through civilian universities via the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC).
In 1934, the USMC developed the Platoon Leaders Course (PLC) for colleges with no NROTC programme. After two six-week periods of instruction, at either Quantico or San Diego, students would be commissioned as reserve officers.
With World War II looming, in 1940 the USMC added another programme known as the Officer Candidate Class.
There were a number of name changes, including Officer Screening and Basic School and Training and Test Regiment, before the Camp of Instruction was officially designated the Officer Candidate School in June 1963.
OCS courses are delivered at Brown Field, although prior to 1987 the PLC (Juniors) was delivered at Camp Upshur (approximately 12 miles away) (Stark, 1990).
1.3 Factors Predicting Graduation
In 2002, Donald McNeill completed his master’s thesis as part of his degree programme at the Naval Postgraduate School.
In his thesis McNeill (2002) noted that, during the year 2000, there was only one company of 238 PLC Seniors but three companies of PLC Juniors totalling 698 candidates. McNeill’s research suggests that only 55% of PLC Juniors will continue on to the PLC Seniors – There is no requirement for PLC Juniors to continue to PLC Seniors unless they have received financial assistance.
McNeill argues that the commissioning source is significant in estimating the probability of success of candidates at OCS for two reasons:
- The varying financial incentives offered to candidates based on their commissioning pathway; and
- The interaction between Officer Selection Officers (OSO), who recruit PLC and OCC candidates, and Marine Officer Instructors (MOI’s) at each college that has an MCROTC programme. Each OSO has a certain geographic area, often covering thousands of square miles, and works at the colleges in that region to recruit candidates. In contrast, most MOI’s work at a single university to oversee the MCROTC candidates enrolled there.
PART TWO: TRAINING HIERARCHY
This part of the article highlights some of the organisations involved in the selection and training process for officer candidates.
2.1 Training and Education Command
The US Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) is responsible for the training, development, and education of Marines. TECOM’s mission is:
“To develop, coordinate, resource, execute, and evaluate training and education concepts, policies, plans, and programs to ensure Marines are prepared to meet the challenges of present and future operational environments.” (TECOM, 2017).
TECOM is located at Quantico, Virginia, and is led by the Commanding General, a Major General (CG) (OF-7). The CG is assisted by an Executive Deputy, a civilian, and a Sergeant Major (OR-9).
TECOM is composed of ten organisations/directorates (TECOM, 2017):
- Five Directorates:
- Centre for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL).
- MAGTF Training Education Standards Division (MTESD).
- Training and Education Capabilities Division (TECD): Provides training and education support to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of training and education programs across the mission spectrum
- MAGTF Staff Training Programme (MSTP): provide training in MAGTF operations across the range of military operations, within the context of a Joint and/or Combined Task Force environment, to improve the war-fighting skills of senior commanders and their staffs
- Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
- Education Command (aka The Marine Corps University, MCU): MCU is a group of accredited higher-education schools at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. It was established on 01 August 1989 by General Alfred M. Gray, Jr., then Commandant of the Marine Corps.
- Training Command: Delivers officer and enlisted:
- Entry-level Military Occupational Specialty (MOS, aka Phase 2 Employment Training).
- Career progression and career enhancement skills (aka Phase 3 Training).
- MCRD Parris Island: Delivers recruit (aka Phase 1 Initial) training.
- MCRD San Diego: Delivers recruit training.
- Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Training Command: Manages the MAGTF Training Programme (MAGTFTP) and conducts service level MAGTF combined arms training to enhance the combat readiness of the operating forces and support the Marine Corps’ responsibilities to national security.
2.2 Training Command
The US Marine Corps Training Command (TRNGCMD) is responsible for the training of Marines. TRNGCMD’s mission is:
“Training Command consistently produces officer and enlisted entry-level Military Occupational Specialty, career progression, and career enhancement skills trained Marines and Sailors to meet force generation and operating force requirements, while reinforcing our warfighting ethos and facilitating the growth and resiliency of our permanent personnel, students, and families.” (TRNGCMD, 2018a).
TRNGCMD is located at Quantico, Virginia, and is led by the Commanding General (CG), a Brigadier General (OF-6). The CG is assisted by a Sergeant Major (OR-9).
TRNGCMD is responsible for a number of training organisations, including the Officer Candidates School (OCS).
2.3 Marine Corps Base Quantico
Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ) is located near Triangle, Virginia, in approximately 55,000 acres of land.
MCBQ is home to the Officer Candidates School (OCS) and The Basic School (TBS), where the US Marine Corps trains its civilian volunteers as officers and future leaders of the USMC.
2.4 Officer Candidates School
The US Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School (OCS) is located at the Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ), Virginia.
OCS is led by the Commanding Officer (CO), a Colonel (OF-5). The CO is assisted by an Executive Officer, a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) and a Sergeant Major (OR-9). The mission of OCS is to:
“…educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills within a controlled and challenging environment in order to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.” (TRNGCMD, 2018b).
OCS conducts training year-round, but the bulk of the screening is done in the summer, causing the permanent OCS staff to swell from “35 officers and 120 enlisted personnel to 75 officers and 490 enlisted Marines.” (Stark, 1990).
The officers and drill instructors who augment the staff are essentially ‘on loan’ from other units on base. All are given a two-week Staff Training Course to ready them for the upcoming surge of candidates. Permanent OCS staff are intermingled with augmentees to provide a well-rounded team.
PART THREE: USMC COMMISSIONING PROGRAMMES
This part of the article provides an outline of the commissioning pathways open to candidates desiring to attain a commission in the USMC.
The recruitment and selection criteria for the USMC can be found here, which the reader is advised to read.
OCS delivers courses for officer candidates depending on their commissioning pathway.
3.1 Officer Candidates Course
The Officer Candidates Course (OCC) is a commissioning programme designed to allow college graduates who have earned a bachelor’s degree from any accredited college or university and desire to pursue a commission in the US Marine Corps or to simply participate in OCS training without any military obligation.
The OCC is primarily for college graduates, woman officer candidates (WOC), and Marines participating in the Enlisted Commissioning Programme.
The OCC is 10-weeks and there are usually two or three per year (summer, fall, and winter).
3.2 Platoon Leaders Class
The Platoon Leaders Class (PLC) is an undergraduate commissioning programme that is designed to allow college freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who are currently enrolled full-time in any accredited college or university to pursue a commission in the US Marine Corps or to simply participate in summer training without any military obligation.
In this programme freshman and sophomores attend two six-week courses at OCS, whilst juniors and seniors will attend one ten-week course (Table 1 below).
- Platoon Leaders Class, Juniors (PLCJR): This is a six-week class, conducted twice each summer, open only to freshman and sophomore males.
- Platoon Leaders Class, Seniors (PLCSR): This is the final six-week increment of OCS. The officer candidate must have completed PLCJR and be between their junior and senior year of college. Once the candidate, has obtained a four-year degree, they may choose to be commissioned.
- Platoon Leaders Class, Combined (PLCCOMB): This is a combination of male and female candidates who are either college graduates or between their junior or senior year of college. If lasts 10 weeks and is usually conducted once every summer.
Upon graduation from OCS, candidates return back to their school for fall semester continuing on towards their Baccalaureate Degree. Candidates must ensure they maintain 12.0 semester hours and above a 2.0 grade point average. During the school year, candidates simply communicate with the Officer Selection Team via phone or e-mail bi-monthly and maintain proper physical condition if they desire to stay enrolled in the programme.
The PLC will not interrupt your academic career and it is not an ROTC programme.
3.3 NROTC and USNA
The Marine Option Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (MNROTC) and US Naval Academy (USNA) programme is delivered by NROTC staff and held at OCS. There are three increments of six-week classes per summer for MNROTC students and midshipmen from USNA. These combine to form ‘Bulldog’ platoons.
3.4 PLC Aviation
The PLC Aviation programme is designed for students who are interested in becoming pilots and Naval Flight Officers (NFO).
If qualified and chosen, those selected for this programme will be guaranteed to attend flight training for designation as Marine Corps Aviators.
The Flight Indoctrination Programme provides civilian flight instruction to fully trained members of the PLC Aviation option who have agreed to accept their commission. Students who have completed their summer training and are within one year of their graduation are eligible for this programme.
3.5 PLC Law
The PLC Law programme is designed for college seniors, and first and second year law students.
Candidates must meet the basic requirements for the PLC Ground programme and 150 on the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT).
In this programme candidates will attend:
- A ten-week course and, if successful, be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the USMC, then,
- Be placed on inactive duty without pay or allowances while you finish your law degree,
- Receive credit for your time in service for promotion and pay purposes while you are in law school, and
- Upon graduation from law school and admittance to the state bar of your choice, you will attend The Basic School, followed by the Naval Justice School in Newport, Rhode Island.
3.6 Woman Officer Candidates
In 1990, woman officer candidates (WOC’s) were evaluated alongside their male counterparts during the 10-week increment (Stark, 1990). Women were placed into an all-female platoon with a female staff. They trained with the male platoons, although the physical training programme was modified slightly. Women did not participate in the offensive combat preparatory classes.
3.7 College Timelines
Table 1 highlights the timelines for the various stages of college.
|Table 1: College Timelines|
Candidates are paid as an E-5 (aka Sergeant) whilst attending the six- or ten-weeks of OCS, plus there are a variety of other financial incentives.
PART FOUR: OUTLINE OF THE OCS CURRICULUM
This part of the article provides an outline of the curriculum undertaken by candidates during their time at OCS, including arrival information and the training conducted.
““We are not here to train,” explained Fox, a former enlisted Marine. “Our job is to evaluate and screen candidates to ensure they possess the leadership, moral, and physical qualities needed for a commission in the Marine Corps.”” (Stark, 1990).
Although training was conducted in the 1990s, it was used as a tool to aid in evaluating a candidate’s potential (Stark, 1990).
4.1 Arrival Information
Pertinent arrival information for candidates includes:
- Reporting to Yeckel Hall.
- Wearing appropriate (clean and pressed) civilian attire consisting of: a collared shirt; trousers with a belt (belts are not required with female trouser styles without belt loops); and dress shoes.
- This includes prior-enlisted personnel.
- Clothing with Commercial/Unit logos is not recommended.
- Wear their civilian attire for the first 2-3 days!
- Wearing running shoes (that are appropriate and fit properly) as soon as you arrive (i.e. place in the top of your luggage).
- Carrying a black pen (when checking-in).
- Having cell/mobile phone and car keys in hand when checking in.
- Military clothing will be issued during the first week.
- Basic overnight toiletry items for the first week, including: razors; shaving cream; soap; shampoo; deodorant; toothbrush; toothpaste; and solid colour towel.
- Female candidates should also bring hygiene items
- d birth control prescriptions.
- Medication (if applicable).
- Money (either through cash or credit), between $60 and $100.
- A bag issue is paid for by debit/credit card, between $320 and $405.
- Wearing a rugged watch (shock and water resistant).
Things that would be beneficial to memorise before arrival include:
- The Leadership Traits.
- Leadership Principles.
- General Orders of the Guard.
- Code of Conduct.
- Rank structure.
- Five paragraph order (aka SMEAC) and BAMCIS (the acronym for the troop leadership process).
- US Marine Corps history.
You can find some pointers in the Useful Publications section below.
4.2 OCS Training Programme
Table 2 provides an outline of the five phases of the OCS training programme.
|Table 2: Outline of OCS Training Programme|
|IV||Decision-making & Execution||Weeks 6-9||
Candidates will attend the Commanding Officer’s Orientation Brief first followed by an introduction to their platoon commander, platoon sergeant, and sergeant instructor.
After this candidates are at the mercy of their instructors and “The stress begins.” (Stark, 1990).
Candidate squad leaders will be posted by the end of the first week, with platoon posts by the second week, and company posts by the third week. Each post is rotated every 48-hours.
Reveille is at 04:00 (or 4am) and generally starts with physical training, which is also used as an evaluation tool. Not only are candidates responsible for themselves, they now become responsible for others in the platoon, and they must also cope with the physical and mental fatigue of arduous activity and long hours.
4.3 OCS Training Events
Table 3 outlines some of the training events undertaken during the OCS training programme.
|Table 3: Outline of OCS Training Events|
|Marine Corps Martial Arts Programme (MCMAP)||
|Leadership Reaction Course||
|Team Assault Course||
|Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE)||
|Individual Movement Course||
4.4 Physical Training during OCS
Physical training undertaken during OCS is outlined in Table 4.
|Table 4: Outline of OCS Physical Training Events|
|Confidence & Tarzan Courses||
|Pugil Sticks||Simulates close combat fighting.|
|Muscular Endurance Course (MEC)||
|Seniors Medal of Honour Course||
|Rifle & Log Drill||
|Montford Point Challenge||
4.5 Evaluation during OCS
Candidates will be evaluated from the moment they arrive at OCS – i.e. as soon as you get off the transport. The USMC has determine that evaluations are crucial to the proper screening of candidates to become Marine officers. Candidates are evaluated daily by their Sergeant Instructors for their performance and how well they are developing an understanding and personal ownership of core values, ethics, and leadership.
With this in mind, evaluation at OCS is divided into three categories:
- 50% of evaluation is associated with leadership, which should not be a surprise given the importance of leadership within the overall role of an officer.
- During OCS, a candidate’s leadership grade is based on practical application events and staff observation.
- Evaluations are based on command presence, communication skills, decision making, and leading subordinates.
- Leadership is evaluated using the following events and opportunities:
- Command Evaluations I and II.
- Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) I and II.
- Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE) I and II.
- SULE commences after an eight-mile forced march beginning at midnight, the candidates are given problems to solve and, throughout the day, are evaluated on their leadership, problem solving skills, and endurance after very little sleep (Stark, 1990).
- 25% of evaluation is associated with academics – officers should be both educated and knowledgeable on past and present military and civil affairs.
- General military subjects taught to candidates includes: Marine Corps history, tactics, operations and organisation, land navigation, and other military subjects.
- Candidates are evaluated via written exams and practical application.
- Further information on academics can be found in the Section 4.1 (Useful Publications).
- All candidates are given a book, known as ‘Knowledge’, and expected to study at night and at certain scheduled times of study.
- Candidates should become familiar with the Five Paragraph Order (aka SMEAC) and the BAMCIS process.
- Physical Fitness:
- 25% of evaluation is associated with physical fitness – officers should lead by example, being physically capable of completing the same tasks as the Marines they lead.
- The physical training programme undertaken by candidates has been designed to teach, then test and evaluate, a very high level of physical fitness in a minimum amount of time.
- The programme is built on the principles which will test physical courage, will-power and determination, while preparing candidates for the rigours of future Marine Corps duty.
- The physical aspects of OCS are designed to test an individual’s general strength and endurance under varying field and tactical conditions.
Practical applications (Prac Apps) are generally outdoor exercises where the candidate learns ‘hands-on’ skills first taught in a classroom environment. Examples include: fire-team; squad tactics; rifle skills; and compass skills. This training will be graduated, for example, candidates will be given a classroom lesson(s) on land navigation before moving on to a small outdoor course, and finally being tested on a larger course/exercise.
All tests conducted in the classroom use multiple choice sheets.
For candidates who feel the US Marine Corps is not for them are allowed to Drop on Request (DOR) at any time after four weeks, for the six-week programme and seven weeks, for the 10-week programme.
For candidates who do not pass academically or physically, or who do not demonstrate sufficient leadership skills, a company board is held, and all company recommended drops are referred to the CO for review.
4.6 The Seven Graduation Requirements
Candidates must pass the seven graduation requirements in order to successfully graduate from OCS:
- Combat Course.
- Command Evaluations I and II.
- LRC I and II
- SULE I and II.
- Academic exam.
- Physical fitness.
- Battalion Commander’s Inspection.
4.7 Family Day and Graduation
Family Day and Graduation take place on the last two days of training, and consist of:
- Family Day starts with the Commander’s Motivational Run, a three and a half mile run that both candidates and OCS staff undertake.
- Family Day Orientation is an informal, hour-long presentation led by the OCS CO, and provides an overview of OCS training and an opportunity to ask questions to the CO.
- Candidate Liberty is granted in the afternoon, after orientation, where candidates can show their guests the base or spend time together in the local area.
- The formal Graduation Ceremony and Parade takes place at Brown Field on the final day of training, lasting approximately one hour.
- The Commissioning Ceremony, taking place on the Parade Deck and lasting approximately 30 minutes, is for those who successfully complete OCS and choose to accept a commission in the USMC as Second Lieutenants.
4.8 Transition to The Basic School
Following the commissioning ceremony, the newly commissioned Second Lieutenant is required to report to The Basic School with immediate effect for administrative check-in and briefs.
The Basic School ensures all Marine officers have the same basic education and qualifications when they arrive in the fleet.
PART FIVE: MISCELLANEOUS
This article provides the reader with an outline of the training undertaken during the USMC Officer Candidates School.
5.1 Useful Publications
The following documents are for information/illustration purposes only.
- OCS Academics 01 – Outline
- OCS Academics 02 – History 1-3 x
- OCS Academics 03 – Op Order x
- OCS Academics 04 – Close Order Drill x
- OCS Academics 05 – Introduction to Marine Corps Leadership x
- OCS Academics 06 – Fundamentals of Marine Corps Leadership x
- OCS Academics 07 – Land Navigation 3 x
- OCS Academics 08 – Weapons Manual x
- USMC OCS – Academic Preparation Guide (2017-08)
- USMC OCS – Five Paragraph Order, Student Handout
- USMC OCS – FY18 OCS Pre Ship Checklist (2017-10-12)
- USMC OCS – Marine Corps 101 (2016-02-18)
- USMC OCS – Summer 2018 60-day Prep Letter – OCS Prep Guid for Enlisted to Officer Candidates (2018-03-16)
- USMC OCS – Summer 2018 60-day Prep Letter – OCS Class Dates, Candidate Pre-Ship Prep & Req (2018-03-16)
- Physical Fitness Test:
5.2 Useful Links
- Training & Education Command (TECOM): http://www.tecom.marines.mil/.
- Training Command: http://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/.
- Officer Candidate School (OCS): http://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/Units/Northeast/Officer-Candidates-School/.
- Marine Corps Physical Fitness: http://www.fitness.marines.mil/PFT-CFT_Standards17/.
- OCS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/USMCOCS/events/?ref=page_internal.
- Blogs & Forums:
- Marine OCS Forum (Part of the OCS Foundation Network): https://www.marineocs.com/.
- USMC OCS Blog: https://officercandidatesschool.com/.
Stark, K.V. (1990) Officer Candidate School. Leatherneck. 73(9). Available from World Wide Web: https://www.mca-marines.org/leatherneck/1990/09/ocs. [Accessed: 11 April, 2018].
TECOM (United States Marine Corps Training & Education Command) (2017) TECOM Training & Education Command. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.tecom.marines.mil/. [Accessed: 30 November, 2017].
TRNGCMD (United States Marine Corps Training Command (2018a) Training Command. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/. [Accessed: 10 April, 2018].
TRNGCMD (United States Marine Corps Training Command) (2018b) Officer Candidates School. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/Units/Northeast/Officer-Candidates-School/. [Accessed: 10 April, 2018].
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