top of page
  • Captain Harper

The Marine Officer: A Jack of All Trades

By: Alex Cappellino, Candidate OSO Manhattan

So you want to lead Marines? Awesome, you’re now preparing to enter the toughest entry level school the military has to offer. Yes, Marine Corps OCS is agreed both on the internet and among the military to be the toughest program for young Military officer hopefuls. If you’ve been selected, congratulations. The Selection Boards are highly competitive, and rightfully so: It takes an extraordinary person to lead and influence any group, but a good leader proves paramount when considering the future of the Corps’ Junior Officers.

The first step is over, and now begins the path through OCS toward earning the coveted Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and with it the challenge of eventually stepping in front of a platoon of Marines as their new leader. The time to start prepping for this begins now. As a graduate of OCC-231 through the PLC combined program, I can tell you that one must prepare for the multi-faceted Period of Instruction (POI) taught at OCS. Your performance is based on three aspects: Physical Fitness, Academics, and Leadership.

If you look closely, you can see my receding hairline as I completed morning PT (Facebook)

The first aspect, and one that each candidate can prepare for the most, is one’s physical fitness. The Marine Corps standards for Officer fitness dates back to Roman Legion; The Centurion (their version of the platoon commander) would set the standard (Think, the OCS motto translates to Ductus Exemplo) through strenuous hikes, wrestling, running etc.. It was expected that the Legionnaire would be in the front, encouraging his troops and setting the example*. As such, the physical fitness program at OCS is set around graded events and nearly daily PT. There will be a further breakdown of the events, but they include: an initial and final PFT, 3, 6, and 9.3 mile hikes, an Endurance Course (similar to a Tough Mudder), and a few other events. Ungraded PT events test Candidates in various aspects of physical fitness, whether in the tough fartlek runs, Kettlebell circuits, or Obstacle course runs. Thus, one must prepare for this diverse regimen aptly. As a 5’10 220 pound meathead and rugby player, I had to adjust my training to prepare for this. Instagram fitness accounts like CronusFit, Crossfit, and military fitness moguls like Tim Kennedy and Nick Barre have workouts and programs that I personally used. They incorporate weight training, long distance running, and shorter distance cardiovascular training to push each candidate to his or her limit. Those who struggle at running should use Hal Higdon’s 5K plan (free and accessible via google). Pull-ups can be improved through the Armstrong pullup program, which is also accessible via google. Recovery also plays a role in this process. Nutritional wellness, proper rest, stretching, and active recovery (lighter, longer cardio) proves just as important as pushing one’s physical limits on the gym floor. Lastly, the metric for OCS that males should strive for is as follows: 15 or more pullups (strive for the maximum, which is 23), 21:00 or less on the three mile run, and maximum crunches (115). A safe metric for female candidates is 3 pullups, 22:30 on the three mile run, and maximum crunches (115).

Academics is the second graded aspect of OCS. While training, the candidate must also balance studying for and passing (80% or greater) exams spanning a number of subjects including Marine Corps History, field tactics, the 5 Paragraph order or OSMEAC, finance and a number of others. Unfortunately, there is no explicit study guide or solidified study materials that are issued widely for one to study. I found academics easier because I’ve studied and understood many of the aspects of the Marine Corps for quite a while now. The Marine Corps has an illustrious history as a fighting force, from fighting bravely as the “Soldiers of the Sea” in the American Revolution,, to raising the flag on Iwo Jima in WWII, fighting on the tundra at “Frozen Chosin” in the Korean War, and into the modern day in Helmand Province and throughout the Middle East. A Marine Officer shouldn’t just know, but be proud of the history of the Marine Corps throughout American history. The other factors are things that one’s Officer Selection Officer (OSO) will educate them on the various other academic factors which are less accessible through normal means. One should memorize and carry with them to OCS a template of the 5 paragraph order, as it not only plays an academic role, but also hinges on one’s leadership as well. Lastly, there will be applications of what you learn in the classroom out in the field through the land navigation courses, fireteam assault courses, etc. The way to prepare for academics doesn’t have a clear-cut prescription. By nature, some people excel in the classroom, others on the PT field, others on the simulated battleground. Using flashcards, highlighting information in your “Green Monster” (A binder chocked full of academic material) and memorizing and studying the Enabling Learning Objectives and the Terminal Learning objectives of each chapter worked for myself and many others. I hate to give ambiguous advice for such an ambiguous period of life, but it’s something that’s varied and prepared for in different ways. Lastly, do whatever it takes to use the time you have that’s meant for studying to study. Falling asleep in your for five minutes feels nice (until you wake up in a pool of drool being yelled at by your Sergeant Instructors), but you chose this career to put yourself out of your comfort zone. In the words of my Platoon Commander, “Don’t seek creature comforts”.

Candidate Alex Cappellino, diligently preparing to fight the Centrullion Revolutionary Force, Quantico VA. 2019 (Colorized) (Source: Facebook)

The last, and arguably most important aspect of OCS grading is Leadership. You will be graded on leadership through the graded events like Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) I and II, Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE) I, II, and now III, and 3 day billet cycles. In terms of the LRC’s and SULE’s, the first and most controllable aspect is knowing and memorizing the mission brief, the 5 paragraph order. Using this template, you will be given a mission to complete in an allotted time. Specifically, for the LRC, you’ll be in a small area with an objective to complete within a 10 minute timespan. In both of these, you’ll have to utilize the three other people in your fire-team to complete an objective given to you by an officer or enlisted marine, who will evaluate your performance based on your brief to your team, your poise, and your ability to maintain confidence and control, even when you fail at first. The SULEs prove the most challenging in my opinion, but the POI will give you more than enough opportunities to hone your skills and practice them out before the grading comes. SULE I will take place early in the POI, or during PLC Juniors, and SULE II will take place at the end of the POI or during PLC Seniors. SULE I will require you to command a 4 man team, and SULE II you will be commanding a 13 man squad, similar to the normal Marine Rifle Squad. I remember my SULEs being extremely nerve wracking and stressful in the moment, but thankfully I had a superb fireteam and squad who I was able to employ to accomplish my specific mission. The Marine evaluating you will almost certainly place stress on you as a leader, by choosing simulated casualties, setting up ambushes and “enemy mortar strikes” around your objective, and pushing your pace. Understanding the hand signals and formations for the squad and fireteam level now will help down the road, and your OSO should provide materials before you ship off to Quantico.

You will also be evaluated on leadership through Billets, or jobs simulating the style of a Marine Infantry company. Each billet comes with different responsibilities and daily tasks. Specifically, I was given Candidate Platoon Commander and Candidate Company First Sergeant. These roles prove tough, and what makes it tougher is that your evaluation comes from both peers and the Marine who holds that actual billet. One thing to remember is one should not panic at failure, failure is a part of the “Fog of War” your staff will create to test you as a leader. In your preparation, if you’re a college student specifically, I recommend getting involved on campus. Personally, I was Student Government president my junior year, I was a 3 year captain of the SUNY Maritime Rugby team, and held a number of captain positions in high school, as well as being a Senior Leader. What helped me was being at a “military” college and earning a number of Billets within the college’s infrastructure. Now that I’m done bragging, what I’m trying to get at is you should seek a variety of positions where you can try your leadership so that you can try it with different people. The style of leadership at OCS which is encouraged is probably not how you’ll act with your Marines if you earn a spot in the Officer Corps, but it is the standard that must be met. Also, to be a good leader, be a good follower when your fellow candidates are in billets. The people who failed or were sent home were those who couldn’t earn the respect of their squad or platoon. Another great way to learn leadership is to learn from the example of others. Read about people like Dick Winters, Jocko Willink, William Barber, and other great military commanders who came before you.

All in all, this seems like a lot. Know this, the Marine Corps didn’t promise you a rose garden. I’ll leave you with some parting wisdom from my Platoon Sergeant at OCS “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch”. Thanks for reading and good luck with your career. Hopefully, one day I’ll see you in the fleet. SF.

The end goal, Earning your EGA. This isnt me pictured, but it was one of the most impactful moments of my life.


Recent Posts

See All

Do I Need a Waiver?

There is a distinction to be made between a Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC) waiver and a medical waiver. The MCRC waiver is written by an Officer Selection Officer (OSO) and the medical waiver

OCC and PLC Selection Boards

I am often asked about selection boards and how to become competitive for selection. In this post I'll take you inside the board room, share some key background info, and get you one step closer to ac


There are various paths to becoming a Marine Officer: NROTC, MCEP/ECP, the Naval Academy, Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), or Officer Candidates Course (OCC). Officer Selection Officer (OSO) solely recrui


bottom of page