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Boot Camp vs. OCS - What's the Difference?

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Should I go to Boot Camp? Or instead, maybe I should try Officer Candidates School (OCS)? Is OCS harder than Boot Camp? Aren’t Drill Instructors tougher than Sergeant Instructors at OCS?


These are questions we commonly get on Instagram and here on our site. With today’s article, we will draw some connections and distinctions between boot camp and OCS.

First, a brief overview.

Boot Camp, also known as Recruit Training, is the entry-level training pipeline for enlisted Marines. The Marine Corps operates two locations for boot camp, MCRD Parris Island in South Carolina and MCRD San Diego in California. Training at Boot Camp always is always thirteen weeks, and the essential function of boot camp is to train civilians to become United States Marines. Young men and women who attend boot camp are called Recruits for the duration of their training. All enlisted Marines except for the President’s Own band members must graduate from one of the recruit depots.


Officer Candidates School has only one location, Brown Field at MCB Quantico in Virginia. The length of OCS depends on what your commissioning program is, either one six-week session, two six-week sessions, or one ten-week session. The primary function of OCS is to evaluate whether candidates have the leadership traits required to become Marine Officers, but OCS is only the beginning of a long officer training pipeline. Men and Women who attend OCS are known as Candidates. All commissioned officers must graduate from OCS except for those who graduate from the United States Naval Academy.


At both boot camp and OCS, trainees are led by a cadre of active-duty Marines who are specially trained to provide entry-level training. These cadre are formed into companies, and are led by a commissioned officer, a Captain at boot camp and a Major at OCS. Each is supported by enlisted Marines who are responsible for the execution of the training schedule each day. At both depots, there is a Drill Instructor School. Through these schools, enlisted Marines are trained for thirteen weeks to earn the title of Drill Instructor (DI) and the coveted campaign cover. These DIs are then assigned to a training company to make Marines for the duration of their tour. At OCS, Candidates are trained by Sergeant Instructors (SIs). Each Sergeant Instructor has previously completed a successful tour aboard one of the recruit depots as a DI. They are then specially selected to train officers aboard Brown Field, however they do not wear the campaign cover while executing this duty. In short, the same men and women who train enlisted Marines also train future officers.


Now let's give you some assessments in more specific areas.

The Training Day - Generally the same.

Both boot camp and OCS operate on a sixteen-hour training day. Each begins with “lights” at either 4:00am or 5:00am. Recruits and Candidates will first be counted to ensure all are present, then they complete morning hygiene and dress in the uniform of the day, typically woodland MARPAT. They will next march to the chow hall for their morning meals, then return to their squadbays to change for physical training (PT). Following PT, they will find themselves conducting martial arts training, classroom instruction, or field events for the remainder of the day. Close order drill is an integral part of OCS and boot camp, so it will be prolific throughout the training days of each. Recruits and Candidates end the training day in the same way, showers, mail call, free time, then lights out.


Physical Training - Very different.

Here is where we will see a very stark difference between Boot Camp and OCS. Both have structured fitness plans developed by certified civilian athletic trainers alongside active Marines. These plans consist of running, interval training, MCMAP training sessions, and sometimes swim PT. The difficulty of these workouts is where we will see a difference.


Recruits must ship to boot camp meeting the minimum qualifications to start training. Higher than minimum is highly recommended, but the structure of PT at boot camp is intended to turn the weakest, slowest recruit into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Individual running events are no less than 1.5 mile, but never go over 3 miles. A unique feature of boot camp is the implementation of swim PT when facilities allow. Recruits who fail physical events are likely recycled and given an opportunity to improve so they can graduate.


At OCS, Candidates must report in top shape. Anything less than a First Class PFT to begin training is unacceptable. Like Boot Camp, training is meant to increase in difficulty, but candidates can find themselves failing out if they do not perform at the same level as their peers. Training sessions at OCS are meant to push candidates to the absolute maximum and failing to meet standards can result in a candidate being sent home from training. Candidates will be faced with runs up to five miles, hikes over nine miles, and runs of an endurance course, each with a minimum metric each candidate must pass to graduate.

Leadership Responsibilities - Kind of the same, with exceptions.

At Boot Camp and OCS, men and women will be placed in leadership roles they have never been in before. At the smallest level, they will be fire team leaders, responsible for three to five of their peers. However, at the highest level, Recruits max out at Platoon Guide, but Candidates can be as senior as a Candidate Company Commander. This distinction means nothing to most, so to better describe this, it basically is a difference in responsibilities, duration, and feedback.


At Boot Camp, the Guide and other positions honestly have little responsibilities, can last a few minutes to the entire duration of training, and there is very little feedback or evaluations. At OCS though, things are much different. A Candidate who is put in a leadership position is responsible for keeping count of every person and piece of equipment under their charge. They are often appointed and in place for several days. And last, they will be evaluated by and SI and a commissioned officer in each role they fulfill. If they fail to perform, it could result in them being sent home from training.


Failure - Somewhat similar, but with starkly different consequences.

Unfortunately, sometimes people fail to meet the requirements to graduate from their training pipeline. We won't get into all the reasons a Recruit or Candidate could fail, but we will touch on the most common situation: character, fitness, and drop on request.


Character. Some people just lack the core values of what it means to be a Marine. Many things fit into the category of an individual who fails due to a lack of character. Lying, use of racial slurs, theft, disrespect towards others, all examples of lacking character to become a U.S. Marine. Instances of each will at minimum end with a drop from your training company. For Candidates, they will be sent home, and they will have to reapply for OCS. For Recruits, they could be dropped a few weeks back or sent home. We have personally seen recruits finish the Crucible and be dropped the week of graduation.

Fitness. If you can't keep up in physical fitness, you can't be a Marine. As we have discussed earlier in the article, there are a specific set of fitness events one must pass to be a Marine. PFT and CFT are common to both training pipelines. OCS, however, also requires candidates to pass a scored endurance course, obstacle course, and conditioning hike. Recruits who fail may be moved to a conditioning platoon to work on the event they are struggling with, recycled to another company, or sent home if they have exhausted their opportunities to pass. Candidates who fail are often given a second chance to pass an event, but if they fail again, they are sent home. They may be given a later opportunity to return for another session, but many never return.

Drop on Request. Really, this just means quitting. Not really a thing at boot camp, but it does happen. Sometimes, Recruits just realize this isn't for them, so they will be processed out of the Marine Corps and given a ticket home. Some will later choose to try again, something they will have to work closely with their recruiter to do. At OCS however, the story is a little different. After a short period, candidates can choose to leave on their own accord. Why the difference? You wouldn't want someone who isn't committed to the Corps to lead Marines. If you don't want to be at OCS, you can go home. Those who quit from OCS have very slim chances of being readmitted to OCS.


Well, there you have it. A small comparison of Boot Camp and OCS. Though not an exhaustive comparison, we do hope you've seen some things that correspond to both, and other things that separate the two training pipelines.

Have more questions about the differences between boot camp and OCS? Hit us up on Facebook or Instagram. You can also send us an email at beforethecorps@gmail.com.





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