I have a friend beginning Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in a couple of weeks. Call him Jersey Mike. He’s in his late 20s, leaving a steady career, decent pay and great friends to immerse himself in an unsteady job, an indecent paycheck and unfriendly environs.
Over the past few months, I’ve helped him with the easy stuff – the physical part. Any ape with a tolerance for pain can do rucksack runs, lift gajillion pounds over his head or train in the rain with a smile. And he is an ape.
Jersey Mike is on his own with the hard part – doing the right thing when everyone else might be doing wrong, making a choice between bad and worse, having a plan when there isn’t one. No amount of training can prepare you for this. Being older helps, although age does not guarantee a good leader. Street savvy is handy, so is tough love.
What follows is a little advice for Jersey Mike, earned painfully over the course of a decade, both in uniform and as a civilian in the Gun Club. This is by no means authoritative. In fact, I want other readers to chime in with their thoughts. However, this should give him a good start in the OCS playpen, The Basic School and whatever else lies beyond.
1. Be yourself. An ex-housemate of mine I’ll call The Hedgehog portrayed himself to his Marines as a cross between John Basilone and John Rambo. For those of us who knew who he really was, this was hysterical – this was the same hairy weeble who was supposed to relieve me on fire watch during IOC in the field one night but slept through his wristwatch alarm and left me hanging through sunrise, the fuzzy Nerf ball who bounced our first rent check, the same Ron Jeremy look-alike who fell back in humps, fell over himself telling off-key jokes and generally annoyed us all. His Marines saw through his act very easily and treated him like a clown they had to salute. Maybe if he were a little more humble, he would’ve earned a little more respect from his men. Maybe, maybe not. I am positive that he blazed his path to eventual failure when he pretended to be someone he was not.
2. If it gets really quiet, everyone is probably waiting for you to say something. You rate a salute because you’re supposed to be The Man with The Plan. I suggest you have a plan.
3. Marine leaders suffer first and eat last. Once you put on those butter bars, it really isn’t about you anymore – it’s about the Marines you lead and care for.
4. Be strong, morally. If it looks wrong and feels wrong, it might be time for you to step in and throw your weight around. As your sergeant instructors will tell you time and again, “It’s why you make the big bucks, candidate.”
5. Ambition is good because it’s an emotion that drives our performance. It becomes bad when we put self-interest above all others. The Marine Corps is just like any other organization, filled with guys who are shit-hot and those who are shit-birds. There are guys who are concerned with doing their job well now, and others who play a twisted game to climb the next rung. We derisvely call them company men. At some point, you’ll have to decide whether it’s about you or the work, as wise Lt Daniels tells a brash Carver in my favorite TV series ever, “The Wire“:
Any other advice for Jersey Mike is most welcome.