Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Cross-posted with our partners at USMC OCS Blog.
The decision to join the United States Marine Corps is not one to be taken lightly. Additionally, the decision to become an officer is also no easy one to make. There are many paths to becoming an officer of Marines: Naval Academy, Navy ROTC, enlisted commissioning programs, and others. What most people don't know is that for many, the path to becoming a Marine Officer leads them through Officer Candidates School (OCS).
Officer Candidates School is located at Brown's Field aboard Quantico, Virginia, a short drive from our nation's capital. With the exception of Naval Academy Midshipmen and Warrant Officers, all Marine Officers have marched across the parade deck at Browns Field as their rite of passage to earn the title of Marine. On these grounds, thousands of candidates will train each year in sweltering summer heat and freezing winter conditions to earn the title of United States Marine.
"The mission of Officer Candidates School (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."(1)
There are multiple programs that lead men and women to Browns Field. Programs take little as six, but as many as twelve weeks to complete the OCS course of instruction. Prominent programs include Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC), Platoon Leaders Course (PLC), and Officer Candidates Course (OCC). To learn about these programs, the first step for most prospective candidates is their local Officer Selection Officer, or OSO. The OSO is an active-duty Marine First Lieutenant or Captain who is responsible for selecting the best and brightest for OCS. Officer Selection Officers can be found in most major cities and some large college towns. They can be found by a quick visit to your regular search engine, but often, they will visit local colleges and law schools to recruit potential candidates.
The OSO will provide qualifications for each program and advice on what best suits each potential candidate's situation. He or she will assist you throughout the application, selection, and preparation for each candidate. The OSO will provide medical, character, and physical fitness requirements, then they will submit your completed package to Marine Corps Recruiting Command for review and selection. Candidates will get a choice of pipelines to pick from, either Ground Officer, Pilot, or Lawyer, each with their own unique qualifications. Once selected, candidates will spend the majority of their wait period preparing physically for their day in Quantico. A first class PFT is a must as a candidate. Max pull-ups, crunches, and a run faster than 24:00 for male and female candidates is a strong recommendation. At the same time, your OSO will finalize your training date and travel arrangements. Most candidates will travel to OCS by plane to a local airport to meet with OCS liaisons, but some local to the area will be permitted to drive themselves to report in for training
Preparing for OCS is only part of the battle. Many view every single day at OCS as a test, and it starts as soon as you get off the bus. Everything you do, and don't do, is under the microscope of the sergeant instructors and fellow candidates. Much like in recruit training, candidates will spend the first few days completing administrative and medical requirements prior to the main training package. They will get uniforms and gear, receive vaccinations, and for men, receive the signature buzzcut. During this period, candidates will also be assigned to platoons and a squadbay, and they will be led through the preparatory process by a non-commissioned officer assigned to OCS.
Training will commence on a day which is standard throughout the Marine Corps: Black Friday. On a hot (or cold) Friday morning, platoons will be marched to the academic hall to meet their Sergeant Instructors and Company Staff. Each of the Marines assigned to a candidate company has extensive experience training both recruits and candidates, so they provide candidates the absolute best the Corps has to offer. Once introductions are complete, all hell breaks loose, and candidates will embark on a multi-week sprint to graduation.
Most training days will begin at 0500 and end at 2100. To begin their day, candidates will
complete morning PT, which can consist of running, body weight exercises, obstacle courses, or any mixture of exercises from the Physical Training Instructor's repertoire. The remainder of each training day is filled with classroom exercises, field training, or conditioning marches, known as hikes. Through the duration of this training, every candidate will be assigned a leadership position in their platoon or company, from Candidate Squad Leader, all the way to Candidate Company Commander. When in these roles, they will be critiqued closely by their instructors, and even more closely by their peers who will complete the infamous peer evaluation on each of their squadmates. Mixed into every training day are numerous event that can make or break a candidate. The PFT, Obstacle Course, Endurance Course, and other events all have benchmarks that are graded and go into a candidate's grade point average (GPA). If a candidate fails an event or suffers a low GPA, they may be sent to review board and removed from training, a stark difference from recruit
Finally, the day they've been waiting will come: Graduation. But first, Family Day must go on. Candidates will start Family Day by completing a motivational run from Brown Field to Mainside Quantico. Family members can stand along the roadway to see their candidate and their platoon run by, then move to the reviewing stands at Brown Field for their candidate to be released for liberty. During liberty, candidates can tour families through their barracks or visit locations throughout the base. A trip to the National Museum of the Marine Corps is highly recommended. The next day families can find a seat in the reviewing stand and watch their candidate graduate from Marine Corps OCS as a United States Marine. After Graduation from OCS, candidates either return to their colleges to finish their studies or are immediately commissioned as Second Lieutenants. Those who graduate immediately are fast-tracked to The Basic School, also located in Quantico, Virginia.
(1): From Marine Corps OCS webpage; https://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/northeast/officer-candidates-school/.