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THE MARINE ENLISTED COMMISSIONING EDUCATION PROGRAM

 

 
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BY

1ST LIEUTENANT JASON D. GROSE
ADJUTANT
1ST TANK BATTALION
JUNE 4, 1999

INTRODUCTION
Being a successful graduate of the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP), I am often asked about the program. So I thought I would sit down and write out all the things I like to cover when it comes to the program. This written collection of advice is not intended to replace my face-to-face explanations, but rather to reach a greater number of people with the attributes of this wonderful program. For a Word 97 version of this program, click here. All I ask is for some feedback if you find this useful.

I break down the program as follows:

INTRODUCTION
WHAT IS IT?
PHILOSOPHICAL REASONS FOR BECOMING AN OFFICER
APPLYING
    Packaging the Goods
    Additional Application Information
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT IF ACCEPTED
    Your Reserve Commission
    MECEP Prep
    Arriving at college
    What should you major in?
    GI Bill
    Scholarships
    Bulldog Prep
    OCS
    Downhill slide the BEGINNING of the adventure
TBS
    Uniform and other costs
    MOS determination
MECEP PREP SCHOOL

I hope this explanation will help young Marines. The official order that outlines the program is MCO 1560.15L and can be found at: http://www.usmc.mil. Click the  Information for and About Marines and then chose the Orders and Directives link.

Good luck, God Bless and Semper Fidelis.

                 Jason D. Grose
                 1st Lieutenant
                 United States Marine Corps



WHAT IS IT?

The MECEP is a commissioning program that allows an enlisted Marine to go to college, earn a degree, and graduate while still on active duty. Upon graduation, he or she receives a reserve commission as a Second Lieutenant. There is no broken time, meaning that the time you spend it college counts toward your time in the service.

The BOOST program is a different program. In fact, the BOOST program is not even officially a commissioning program. It is an education program that, until recently, was intended for the type of Marine who was educationally challenged by their situation during their upbringing. The parameters have changed and now there is no longer the requirement to have a “sob story” to be competitive. The BOOST program is covered in MCO 1560.24D.

Although not automatic, the majority of Marines that graduate the BOOST program are picked up for the MECEP.

The BOOST program is much like the MECEP Prep course (see below) but lasts about 13 months. As I understand, it is a rigorous course and by the time you get to MECEP prep and college, you are getting rather tired of the scholastic realm. Despite the rigors, the results are the same. You will be on your way to those gold bars.

Historically, a Marine Officer that has risen from the enlisted ranks enjoys a heightened respect from juniors, peers, and seniors alike. The “Mustang” Officer has worn the boots of an enlisted man and can identify with the trials and tribulations of being a troop. This special bond he or she has, plays a vital role in becoming the kind of Officer every Marine enlistee deserves.

But be forewarned; while your new designation as a Mustang will harvest a certain amount of instant respect from others, it is not a guarantee you will keep that respect. In fact, it is a challenge to uphold the reputation as a “former enlisted” that you must never, ever compromise.


PHILOSOPHICAL REASONS FOR BECOMING AN OFFICER

Before we get to specifics, I want to cover the reasons to become an Officer. If your response is “more money” or “for the education,” you need not apply. There should be one and only one overriding reason to become an Officer of Marines. You must want to be a Marine Officer in order to lead the most valuable component in the Corps: the Enlisted Marine.

When you decide to become an Officer, you must make a very sober commitment. You no longer exist for any other reason than to take care of your Marines. If you do this, you will build a team that is invincible which, by the way, is your mission. You must be the Officer that you wish you had leading you when you were wearing those enlisted boots. It is summed up in the often-repeated advice “Never forget where you came from.”

You will know what they are going through. You will have been where they are and you will know what they are thinking. They will respect you unquestionably just by the virtue of your background but with that respect comes a mountain of responsibility. You MUST live up to the almost spiritual expectations they have of their “Mustang Officer.” You exist for no other reason. No longer does your comfort, your free time, your self-preservation exist. You are simply their insurance that they will survive in a combat environment. You are their father, mother, preacher, teacher, disciplinarian, praiser, and defender. If you are any less than this, you have done them a grave injustice and your existence is wasted.

When I went through bootcamp, I, like millions of other privates before and after me, was convinced that there was no higher pinnacle of military excellence than a Marine Officer. The mere presence of an Officer made me wonder in awe how such perfection could be attained. From the start, I always knew that my ultimate, if not unreachable goal was to become one of these almost spiritual icons of military existence.

After bootcamp, the average Marine is then exposed to Fleet Officers and they realize that this holy vision is more human than they were led to believe. They realize that an Officer, while highly trained and a true professional, is a regular Marine with strengths and faults who has chosen a different path than an enlisted Marine. Many Marines are even disappointed if they encounter an Officer they do not believe lives up to the sterling image of an Officer of Marines.

After bootcamp, I was trained in Avionics and was sent into an environment void of all Officers. Staff NCOs ran the entire Avionics field. Therefore, I never had “my bubble burst” when it came to Officers and I still thought them to be immortal superheroes. I carried this view through my enlisted career so when I had the audacity to apply for a program that sought to include me in their ranks, I felt a great weight to live up to that view.

Continuing on into MECEP Prep, I encountered a group of NCOs that were hand-picked out of 1200 applicants and were considered to be the best the Corps had to offer. This solidified my view that Officer HAD to be immortal and my intensity to live up to this view increased.

They thought I was crazy when I got to TBS. I could not handle some of what I saw to be substandard Marine Officer behavior and was not shy about letting them know. This made more enemies than friends but I always stayed true to my beliefs.

I tell you this because you will encounter people who do not hold the title of Officer of Marines to this level. My challenge to you is that you cherish and protect the title of Marine Officer, not letting anyone lower your standards. The reason for this comes back to my original point. Whether they will admit it or not, your troops are depending on you. They need that icon. They need to know you exist only for their sake and that you will do anything to see that they are trained to win and will come home safe with victory in hand.

For years, I held a vision in my head of a group of young, faceless Marines looking at me. They did not know me and I did not know who they were. All they knew is that I was their Lieutenant and they wanted to know what to do next. Whenever I got tired of studying, felt like falling out of a run, was bored at another endless history lecture, I thought of them. The harder I trained, learned, ran, studied, sweat, endured, the better prepared I would be when the day came that those faces came into focus. Never do you want to have to knock on a door and inform someone’s mother that her son was killed while under your command because you were not prepared or had not properly prepared her son.

Those future Marines of yours are probably in junior high school right now. They have no idea they will even be a Marine but your dedication to them starts now. They do not know it but your paths’ will cross in a few years. By then, you had better be ready for that level of responsibility. That Marine will not question your ability. You will be his concept of perfection. You will be his Lieutenant.


APPLYING

You apply by submitting a package outlined by the order. Headquarters will hold a board and choose the selectees depending on the submitted packages. The competition is very high, as you can imagine from such a great program. When I was selected, there were over 1200 applicants and only 66 of us were picked. But this changes every year depending on the competition. A package that would have been competitive one year might no be the next.

Packaging the Goods
The best place to start is the basic requirements for applying to the program. They are:

 a. Status. Personnel of the Regular Marine Corps.

 b. Grade. Corporal or above.
      1. There were several Corporals in my class and you will usually pick up Sergeant while in the program. While being a Corporal falls within the criteria, the competition for this program is so tight that it may hinder your package. Additionally, the board might consider a Corporal eligible to re-apply in subsequent years when there are Sergeants that are nearing the age limit and have less chances left.
      2. The good thing about promotions in this program is that you are put in the “non-competitive” category. Because you are not in your MOS (which you retain all through school), you are unable to compete with your peers for promotion. So what do they do? They put you at the top of the list and the next available promotion in your MOS is yours, as long as you meet the time in grade and time in service requirements. You pass over all those other Corporals or Sergeants back at your old command that were senior to you. Ah, the cup runneth over!!

 c. Age. At least 20 but less than 26 years old by 1 July of the year applying. Consideration will be given to waive this requirement based on previous college credit. The intent is to commission the applicant by age 30.
      1. Watch out for this. Calculate for the year you would begin school! The packages are due in September of 1999 so when you calculate this, use July 1, 2000.
      2. If you have to waive this, include a paragraph in the Battalion endorsement and that is all that has to be done. This is where prior college credits come in because if you can show that you will graduate with your degree before you are 30, then they will consider the waiver.

 d. Education. High school graduates must have ranked in the top 50 percent of their class. Non-high school graduates must have a minimum of 3 years high school and have successfully passed the GED high school level tests with a minimum score of 75 percent in each of the five areas of the GED requirement. This may be waived in cases of otherwise highly qualified applicants.
      1. I hate to say this but if you have a GED, your chances are slim. They set these standards and allow you to submit with a GED, but with a competition level this high, there are plenty of competing applicants that have a high school education. GEDs are just not competitive in this program.

e. Classification Testing. Applicants are required to have a minimum Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score of 1000 combined math and verbal score. Minimum verbal score is 400. Waivers to these requirements will be considered only if the applicant has an EL score of 115 or greater.
      1. If your SAT is LESS THAN  5 years old, you do not have to retake the test. You must write the SAT headquarters and get them to forward a copy of the results to the MECEP board. Remember, if your EL score is 115 or higher, you can waive this entire requirement.

f. Obligated Service. Applicants must agree to reenlist or extend or a combination thereof as necessary, to have 6 years of obligated service in the Regular Marine Corps upon assignment to college. Prior to graduation from the MECEP Preparatory School, students will be extended/reenlisted to acquire this 6 year obligation. The minimum obligation while enrolled is 4 years. Therefore, upon successful completion of the second year of college, steps will be taken to acquire a 6-year obligation. Upon graduation and commissioning, all formerly incurred enlisted service is vacated, and the officer is required to serve a minimum of 4 years.
    1. This simply means that you will have to get an extension so that you have six years on your current contract. While in school, you will have to maintain that so when you are down to 4 years, you will extend for two more years. This requirement covers for the off-chance that you flunk out of the program; they have you for six more years on active duty. There have been some cases where someone went to college for 4 years and purposely flunked out the last semester, got kicked out of the program, and then only had a little time left on his contract. So he got out, finished up his college, and basically swindled a free college degree out of the Corps.

 g. End of Active Service. In order to allow for sufficient time to complete the MECEP Preparatory School prior to attending college, MECEP selectees must have an expiration of active service (EAS) no earlier than 30 September of the year their college program is scheduled to commence.

 h. Physical. Must meet the physical standards for officer candidates prescribed in reference (b), except as modified herein. Final determination of physical qualifications rests with the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED).
      1. You have to take a full physical and be in almost perfect health. The details and parameters of these requirements are outside the scope of this paper but you can read the details in the order or from your local Doc.

 j. Marital Status. May be either married or single.

 k. Citizenship. Must be a citizen of the United States.

 l. Security Clearance. Must be capable of obtaining a satisfactory national agency check and be eligible to receive a SECRET clearance.

 m. Previous Participation in Other Commissioning Programs. Must not have unsatisfactorily participated in any other officer commissioning program.

Additional Application Information
From the above requirements, you can see that there is NO PREVIOUS COLLEGE PARTICIPATION REQUIRED. That is part of the beauty of this program. I had no previous college credits when I was accepted. College experience is recommended, though, because it accomplishes three things:
     a. It shows that you are serious about going to college
     b. It shows you have the skill and commitment to excel academically
     c. It cost the Marine Corps less to put you through three years of school than four, making you a sweeter deal for the budget-minded board members.

You are able to choose any college that has a Navy ROTC unit (there is a list of them at the end of the yearly MARADMIN covering the program). You can also go to the Naval Academy, VMI, or the Cididel.

You apply to the college just like any other student and fork over the non-refundable fees to even be considered. Do not go overboard with this because it costs money. The acceptance letter will be part of your package but do not fret too much if you have not received word by the time you have to hand in your package. Many colleges (mine included) will not release notices of acceptance until after the packages are due to the board. Just put in your package that you have applied to the college and are awaiting notification of acceptance. When you get your letter, forward a certified copy of it to the board and they will marry it up with your package. Roughly 30% of the selectees in my class did not even have a college until days before they left.

One of the requirements of the package is a handwritten statement covering biographical information. There are two reason for this. First, they want to make sure that you can put together a coherent paper and they are not sending a baboon to college. Second, they want to know a little bit about who you are. Do not feel you have to stay within the guidelines when it comes to the length of this paper. The order states that it should be 500 words but since this was my shot at the big time, I wrote a thesis! The bottom line is that you should say what you have to say and ignore the length requirement. But remember that it must be handwritten.

A final note about your package: Consider it a request with many parts. Some of the parts will not automatically disqualify you if they are missing but you must make as perfect a package as you can with the above-stated competition. Send in what you got and try to make arrangements to fill in the holes. THIS SHOULD BE THE EXCEPTION! The board does not look kindly on procrastination or half-baked attempts. Go at it with fury! Get a folder and on plain sheets of paper, write what piece of the package it represents. When you get that piece, replace the piece of paper with the item. Once you have replaced all the sheets, you are done.


WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT IF ACCEPTED

After you send in your package, you wait for a message to come out on the MARADMIN system. Your command will notify you if you are selected.

Your Reserve Commission
There are two kinds of commissions: reserve and regular. Do not confuse this with the Reserve and Regular components of the Marine Corps. They are two totally different things. The Reserves are the “weekend warrior” types that train every other weekend and two weeks in the summer. These are the ones that add “USMCR” to the back of their title. A “Regular” is a Marine that is on full active duty.

A reserve commission means that you are basically in an evaluation status. You have an EAS and must compete for augmentation after about three years of service. This means that you will go to the Fleet, do your job, and then apply to be augmented when you have enough time in as an officer. You submit a package and a board convenes and decides who will be augmented and who will not.

The minimum number of years you can serve as an Officer in this program is four years after commissioning. At about the three-year mark, you have to decide what you want to do. When you apply for augmentation, the Marine Corps decides whether or not they want to keep you. You decide if you want to stay or not. If the Corps decides they want you and you want to stay, you are augmented and receive a regular commission. If they decide they do not want you but you want to stay, you might be able to get an extension so that you can apply for the next year’s augmentation board. If they decide they want you but you decide to get out, you serve your last year and you are free to go. Obviously if they decide they do not want you to stay and you also do not want to stay, you serve out your last year and go on your way.

Once you accept the regular commission, you no longer have an EAS and your ID card states “INDEF” which stands for “indefinite.” As scary as it sounds, you are in the Marine Corps for as long as they want you to. But the difference is that you can resign your commission at any time (actually 4-14 months prior to the date you want to leave). The hook the Marine Corps has is that if you resign before they release you, you lose all the benefits of retirement.

The majority of the time, you can apply for retirement at 20 years and there are no problems. There have been cases where an Officer has wanted to retire but due to the importance of his MOS, was not allowed. He did not want to lose his benefits so he stayed on. They had him over a barrel but, like I stated above, this is very rare and not worth worrying about.

MECEP Prep
When I started the program, they required all selectees to go to the MECEP Preparatory School. Because the average MECEP participate had been out of high school for a few years, the Corps had a problem with sending them straight to college and then having them fail out of the more academically challenging courses they tended to run into their Freshman year. So the Corps set up a 10-week prep course that covered the basics at double-time. See enclosure 1 to get a feeling of what this course was like.

The course used to be right on MCRD, overlooking the drill field. They have since moved it to Newport, Rhode Island. Because of budgetary restraints, they have cut back on the number of seats available and therefore have slackened the requirements for who has to go. Basically, they rank all the selectees using calculations such as previous college, SAT scores, EL scores, shoe size, who knows? But somehow they rate you and then they take the bottom of the list up to however many seats they have and voila! If you are one of “the chosen ones,” then off to Rhode Island you go.

Arriving at college
After either completing the course or ordered to report straight to school, you will proceed to your college’s NROTC unit where you will meet two Marines that will have a rather large influence on your future. The Marine Officer Instructor (MOI) is usually a Major who is third in command of the unit (behind the CO and XO who are Navy Officers). The MOI is in charge of all the MECEPs and the Marine Option Midshipmen. Working for him is the Assistant Marine Officer Instructor (AMOI) who is usually a Gunnery Sergeant and ex-drill instructor. He is in charge of the overall discipline of the unit and, as you can imagine, is the hammer in the unit. He is there to guide you on your fledgling steps to becoming an Officer.

Depending on the college, you might be integrated into the midshipmen battalion or not. At the University of Washington, where I attended, you are totally integrated and must do everything they do. The good thing is that you are a Sergeant and are treated as such. The staff use your experience to help shape the young midshipmen who have never seen a day on active duty. You will be put in the leadership positions right away and will be looked upon with respect and a little fear. You will maintain all Marine Corps regulations such as haircut, uniforms, conduct, etc. In fact, you will be held to a higher standard not only by virtue of being a Marine Sergeant, but also because you are aspiring to become an Officer of Marines. The AMOI will let you know what is expected.

Other colleges just have their MECEPs sign in once or twice a week but I think this is a great tragedy not only to the future Officer, but also to the midshipmen and Marine Options.

After going through a week’s worth of Battalion Orientation (BattO), which is a watered down bootcamp processing phase where you will know more than the midshipmen supposedly running it, you will go to college like any other student. The only difference will be that you will also have responsibilities to the unit and might be on the drill team, PFT team, Battalion staff, Bulldog, etc. All tolled, I spent more time doing NROTC-related duties than I did both going to class and studying combined. I also had a wife, two kids, an extra job, and maintained a 3.3 GPA in an Engineering degree. Still, my busiest day in school does not even touch a half-day in the fleet.

What should you major in?
My thoughts about college and what to major in falls into two categories. What you want and what the Marine Corps wants. To tell you the truth, the Marine Corps does not really care what you major in. One of the prerequisites for a commission is a college degree and your mission while attending school is to get that diploma. Within limits, the Marine Corps not only has little interest in your choice and does not take into consideration your education when assigning you to any particular job once you are in the Fleet.

For example, my background as an enlisted Marine was a highly technical field as an avionics technician for Harrier aircraft. I went to a full year of training after bootcamp and was taught how to repair over 40 pieces of complicated avionics gear using computers. Additionally, I was trained how to repair the test computer, including rewiring, in the event that it broke down.

After being accepted to the MECEP, I took the ten-week prep course to get ready for a technical, college-level course load. In college I studied calculus, chemistry, physics, and an endless line of computer programming and engineering classes. I majored in technical communications (an engineering degree) with a focus on computers and web page design. Additionally, I worked on my own projects at home designing web pages, learning HTML, and teaching myself the ins and outs of upgrading my own computer system. I graduated college with honors and wanted to be a communications officer, thinking I was best qualified for the job.

The communications field and the data processing (DP) field had just combined and I was hoping to land a job doing the DP, specifically something to do with computers.

Despite this extensive background, I was assigned as an adjutant with not much chance of changing over since adjutants are hard to come by these days. I petitioned to Corps for reassignment stating the above facts but to no avail.

Now do not get me wrong, I enjoy what I am doing and get a great deal of satisfaction as an adjutant. It fits my personality and work ethic and I consider myself well-suited for the job. But it supports my view that it does not really matter much to the Corps what you study.

If it does not matter to the Corps, then it falls on what you want. I knew some people who were aware of this fact and concluded that they would take an easy degree and have a good time in college. My take on this was this: How many times in my life am I going to go to college? How many times in my life will the Corps pay for a four year degree and have my GI bill pick up my tuition? With this in mind, I decided that I had better take advantage of this opportunity and make the best of it. So I chose a good degree that, while not being the easiest road, provided me with a solid technical base and was also marketable to a large part of the job market, in and out of the military. It was the best decision I could have made and the knowledge I gained from this degree touched many areas of my military life including the job I am doing now.

So my advice is to work for a degree in something you like. As the world gets more and more technical, technical degrees become more valuable. But if you do that, make sure you balance that out with classes in psychology and history. On leadership, history and psychology are invaluable!! Keep yourself well-rounded and learn how to learn. THAT will be your most valuable lesson out of college. As an officer, you had better know how to learn, how to absorb information, process it, and them make an educated decision for action in a short amount of time.

GI Bill
If you have the GI Bill, you can use that to pay for your tuition but you will only get the exact amount of your tuition. I learned this after I got to college and up until that time, I thought that I would get the flat rate sent to me in monthly checks. I was aware that the money the VA sends usually exceeds the cost of tuition so I was looking forward to the little extra cash each month. But if you are on active duty and use your GI Bill, they split up the cost of tuition for the quarter and then send you checks every month.

Unfortunately, the school wants their money at the beginning of the semester so I would take an “Emergency Loan” out every quarter and then reimburse the loan with the monthly checks.

You must cover the costs for your own books but sometimes you can borrow them from the NROTC library if they have extra copies. Check with the Supply Officer when you get to your unit.

Scholarships
Scholarships are often overlooked when it comes to this program. Remember, the University couldn’t give a rat’s behind that you are an active duty Marine. To them, you are just another student. As “just another student,” you can apply for scholarship and grants.

When I attended college, I received a Pell Grant every quarter. I also got a certain amount from being a gulf War Veteran. Look into these programs for opportunities to save some money.

Three important things I want to cover about grants. First, make sure that you include your non-taxable income on all of your applications ONLY IF THEY ASK!!! The only part of your income that is taxed is your base pay. Your BAH, COMRATS, etc are not taxed so should only be included if the application specifically asks for them. The Pell grant DOES ask so make sure you include it.

Second, such things as the Pell grant are reported to the VA and they compute your GI Bill entitlements after the Pell Grant is subtracted from your tuition. You do not see the cash but what this does accomplish is to extend your finite amount of GI Bill entitlements to last your entire college career. My GI Bill lasted through four years and two summers of college.

Third, other grants and scholarships do not have to be reported to the VA and if you get these, it means more money in your pocket. The best of these are grants because they do not have to be paid back. You simply apply for them and a lot of them are based on grades or merit so if you do well in your first years, you could get financial boosts along the way. Many of them require you to write an essay but the investment is well worth the extra work.

Make sure you go to the Scholarship Office at your school for more information. Many of them have an online database where you enter a bunch of information about yourself and it spits out hundreds of possible scholarship and grant opportunities for you. Some of them you might find surprising and obscure such as a fund that you can get if your father worked in the coal mines in Nebraska, etc. THIS IS THE BIGGEST UNDER-USED RESOURCE I ENCOUNTERED DURING THIS PROGRAM!!!!

Bulldog Prep
During the Spring semester of your freshman year, things get busy. You will go through a semester-long extracurricular activity known as Bulldog Prep. This course is intended to prepare you for the rigors of Officers Candidate School (OCS) you will be attending in Quantico during your first summer. Depending of the school you go to, you will have some combination of early morning PT sessions (oh, yeah, FROM HELL!!!) coupled with academic classes and weekend field evolutions. Along with your normal class-load and the stress of the upcoming summer, your days are long and difficult. Take the lightest class schedule you can during the Spring (you must maintain a “full-time” status).

By the way, do not think that once you get past OCS, you are exempt from the Bulldog Prep. Normally, you will be in charge of the logistics and leadership of the subsequent springtime training.

OCS
There are a few different OCS courses and the one you will be attending is called the 6-week Bulldog course.

Another one is the Platoon Leader’s Course (PLC) and it is for a college student that does not participate in the NROTC program. Because he or she does not get the benefit of NROTC training, he or she is required to go to either two 6-week courses over two summers (PLC Juniors and PLC Seniors) or one 10-week course.

The difference between OCS and bootcamp can best be summed up from exchange  I had via email from a young man thinking of joining the Corps:

The young man writes: “Could you tell me about life in OCS? I heard that it's even tougher than bootcamp, which makes it all the more challenging. The recruiter I spoke to mentioned that integrity and leadership are very important considerations in OCS and that an officer candidate will not be given a second chance for a violation in these areas. Could you tell me about that?”

My answer:
“That is pretty much true. I do not think OCS and bootcamp are fair comparisons because they are different. Yes, the environment is harsh and they are both mentally and physically difficult. But OCS, as you pointed out, is about leadership and integrity. It is a weeding out process to see if you have what it takes to be an officer. Bootcamp is teaching you more of the basics about being a follower and learning all the basics about being an Enlisted Marine. In bootcamp, if you get to the end and the DI still can't remember your name, you have done well. You want to be a brick in the wall. But this cannot happen at OCS because you are constantly being put in leadership positions and then evaluated on how you lead.”

The one thing I would add to this is that bootcamp is a tearing down and building up process. You are expected to come into the Corps “an average young American” where you are then molded into a Marine. It is different at OCS. They are there to strip you down to see what you have and if it is good enough to be an Officer. You have to go into OCS in the best possible shape (hence the Bulldog Prep course) and then you are spit out to recover on your own. If you pass, you will be over the hardest part of becoming an officer.

OCS sucks. There is no other way to put it. For six weeks, you pop off those chevrons and are known simply as “candidate” with the same insulting insinuation as “private.” I think there is more internal pressure to do well, especially since you are already a Marine. But do not let this go to your head or you will make many enemies really fast. You will be ahead of the game at first and will be put in charge first just because you are a “Mustang.” But at the end, you will finish depending on who you are, not what you have done prior to OCS. If you are a superstar Sergeant, you will be a superstar candidate. If not, well, you will fulfill your potential.

Downhill slide the BEGINNING of the adventure
After finishing OCS, you will return to your college and finish out your education. Because you will be required to finish as soon as you can and you are being paid, you will be required to take full-time course loads even during the summer. At my school, full-time status dropped during the summer so that I usually only took two or three classes as a welcome break to the monotony.

The day that you graduate, you will be commissioned a Second Lieutenant. From there, you can take some leave but will receive orders to The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia.


TBS

TBS is a six-month school that teaches you everything you need to know to be an Officer. It gives you all the basics. The pace is fast and the curriculum is diverse. You learn everything from etiquette to attacks and everything in between. It is classwork, field work, inspections, discussion groups, physical training, exercises, tests, and much more. It is basically six months of total emersion into the Marine Corps where you learn about everything the Marines do, see, use, and believe. No other service does this and it is the hallmark of the Officer Corps.

You will arrive at TBS and start training immediately. You are allowed to bring your dependents if you have them but plan on getting an apartment in town. You are only there six months so will not get base housing.

The Company is broken down into six platoons which is further broken down into two sections, A and B. You will be assigned to a section and will be led by a Special Platoon Commander (SPC). Your SPC is a Captain that will guide you through everything during TBS and has a large role in your MOS determination.

Everything you do at TBS is run by a schedule. Every single hour of the course is pre-planned and the weekly schedule is published on the read board. This is key since you can copy it down and plan accordingly. After the first week, you will be assigned billets and you will be in charge of keeping the Company on schedule. Throughout the schedule, you will have “SPC time” or “Company Commander’s time.” Depending on your SPC, this could mean extra PT or free time to catch up on studying (OK, rack ops).

Uniform and other costs
You will get a one-time allowance of $300 for initial uniform costs. Unfortunately you will be required to spend ten times that amount to get your new uniforms. Cammies and maybe some green trousers will be about the only thing that you will be able to recycle. You could have your Service A’s converted (the pockets are different) but after 4 years of college, your Alphas will most likely be worn out.

As an Officer, you do not rate a uniform allowance so you can kiss that little yearly bonus goodbye. Also, COMRATs take a plunge into a flat rate of about $150 per month. I guess they think Officers eat less than enlisted Marines. All complaints aside, I got a 73% raise the day I got commissioned. My wife was happy about that.

At TBS, you will be suckered into the package deal and will be pressured to buy every little trinket with the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on it. Resist this or you will be nickel-and-dimed to death. You do not need the jewelry box because the contents can be bought separately for a fraction of the cost. I suggest you buy your Dress Blue coat from The Marine Shop since it has the quilted lining. Do not let The Marine Shop pressure you into over-spending and for the love of God, minimize your dealings with the Boulinese money magnet (Baloney-Nose, we called him).

Two unavoidable scams exist within the TBS continuum. First, your “Social dues” will cost you about $50 per month. Don’t fight it, just pay it and complain like everyone else. Next, you will be “highly encouraged” to become a member of the Officer Club. This is another $13 per month you will throw in the round file because you will not have time to frequent the Club despite your membership dues. And if you decide not to join? Well you will be explaining your views to the Colonel on a Saturday morning while doing some menial duty you just happen to be assigned by pure coincidence.

But not is lost. You will have the opportunity to go into severe debt while at TBS. The good thing is that you will be charged very low interest rates for these loans. The two biggest and best loans you can get are $5000 each. One is from the Marine Federal Credit Union, with a 5% APR, conveniently located right on the TBS complex. The other is from the Navy Mutual Aid Association which requires you to get insurance from them. But their rate is 1.5 APR and you only have to keep the insurance until you pay off the loan. They set up allotments for you so payment is easy. With these loans, you can either get yourself set up with uniforms and consolidate all your debts, or you can be an idiot and buy a “Lieutenant-mobile.”

MOS determination
Your assignment after TBS is dependent on how well you do at the school. You are rated in order from one to however many Lieutenants are in the Company. This rating depends on your academic scores, peer evaluations (Spear Evals), input from your Captain, etc. These scores are always changing so there is no way to tell for sure where you fall at any particular time.

At the end of the course, they take the list and break it into three equal parts: the upper third, middle third, and lower third. Then they go to the top third and ask #1 Lieutenant what he wants from a list of available Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs). He picks and then they go to the #1 Lieutenant in the second third who is actually about #80 overall. He picks and then they go to the #1 Lieutenant in the bottom third who is actually about #160 overall. After he picks, they go back up to the #2 Lieutenant in the top third who is actually #2 overall but gets 4th pick. They #2 in the second third and then #2 in the bottom third. This goes on until everyone gets an MOS.

You are probably asking why they do this. It is called quality spread. To explain, I will show you what would happen if they DIDN'T do this.

Say you have 300 Lieutenants in a class and you let them pick an MOS without the quality spread. For some reason, the majority of Officers want Tanks. I don't know why but it is probably because it is considered a "sexy" MOS. Historically, there are about 3 slots open for tanks so you would get the superstars (1, 2, and 3) pick tanks and the tank community gets the cream of the crop. Now you get to the end and you have the MOSs that not a lot of people drool over: Supply Officer, Motor Transport (Yes, Adjutant is in this group, too). Now you get the bottom feeders (those Lieutenants who are less than stellar compared to their counterparts) and they are "stuck" in a bummer of an MOS. As this process repeats itself class after class, you get a great tank community because all the water-walkers are being fed into it. But your Motor T and Supply section keeps getting the leftovers. Over time, the Corps suffers because you have a collection of weak officers in one MOS.

To try to alleviate this, they came up with the quality spread. That way, you get good officers and less-than-outstanding ones in all MOSs. It is good for the Marine Corps because you get the two mixed where the good can help the needy. But it is sometimes bad for the individual because you could work your butt off at TBS and not get what you want while a bottom-feeder gets a great MOS.

Case in point, I came out 78/236 (the 66th percentile) but the cut-off for the thirds was 80. Therefore the picks went something like:
1. 1st place
2. 80th place
3. 160th place
4. 2nd place
5. 81st place
6. 161st place
.
.
.

As you can see, I was at the bottom of the top third and out of 236 Lieutenants, I got about 230th pick. Adjutant was my 5th choice out of 25 so I was not as jammed as you would think. In fact, I feel lucky to get what I got but I originally wanted to be a communications officer so I could get into data processing. But alas, it was not to be and I am happy with my current assignment.

TBS is one big endurance course. The pressures you will have will be mostly internal: trying to excel and live up to your own expectations. Like in bootcamp, you will see the best and worst in yourself and in others. Many times you will feel like a “Third Lieutenant” or “Lieutenidate” but remember that you have one and only one purpose there. You are there to learn the basics and absorb as much knowledge as you can. You will be an Officer of Marines. Your respect for that will be immeasurable.


MECEP PREP SCHOOL

The first thing we were told when we got to MECEP Prep was that it was not a PT academy. The second thing we found out was that the first thing we were told was a lie. Like it or not, MECEP Prep was intense academically, physically, and mentally.

You will choose between two courses of study when you get there. You can take the technical course or the non-technical course depending on your intended degree. I took the technical course and therefore subjected to calculus, physics, chemistry, and English. The non-technical students learned philosophy, political science, etc. all I remember is that there was a lot of reading on that road and I was glad I was on the technical side.

Your days at MECEP Prep consist of arriving in Service “C” for formation followed by a full day of class. The pace is double of that you will be exposed to in college. After a short lunch break, more class. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are PT days that make any PT you have ever done before seem like the daily seven. Afterwards, it takes everything you have to crawl back to the barracks, iron your uniform, and study until you collapse.

Every Friday there are tests so every Thursday night is spent staying up most of the night studying. All day Friday is testing followed by the most intense PT of the week. The gunny in charge made sure we remembered him all weekend. The weekends are spent recovering and catching up on papers you did not have time to do the previous week. I lived in Yuma at the time so would some how make the three-hour trip back there on Friday nights and come back on Sunday night.

You get no college credit for this course but are well-prepared for your Freshman classes. The PT cut my initial PFT run for 21:30 down to 18:46. It is another portion of your Marine Corps career where you can say you were glad you did it but would not like to ever do it again!


SEMPER FIDELIS

Email -- jdgrose115@polyglut.net
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