Unsolicited Advice for Jersey Mike

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.


About Chairman Mao

I like fomenting socialist revolutions and purging my homeland of pseudo-intellectualism and capitalist dogma. I also like sports, dogs and food (although I wouldn't consider myself a foodie).
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10 Responses to Unsolicited Advice for Jersey Mike

  1. Bill says:

    Remember Jersey Mike, You work for those young Marines you are charged to lead. They will amaze you every day. Keep them engaged, when you think they cant possibly handle one more thing, add the impossible, they will rise to the occassion. Train them tough but like the Chairman said, be yourself. Ive never been the fastest or the strongest and am definitely not the smartest. I learned to listen to the men and they always, always took care of me. When they earn punishment make sure they get it, but more often when they earn praise, make sure they get that as well. It is the most amazing and fulfilling endeavor you could choose and I wish you the best of luck. Semper Fidelis

  2. robakers says:

    First of all, thank you for your service.

    My advice is simple: be the man that any Marine would trust with his life, his money and his wife. Do the right thing for the right reason, lead by example and never put yourself in a position where your men doubt your motives.

    Semper Fi!!!

  3. Giff57 says:

    OCS: Don’t let your Sergeant Instructor know your name for at least 3 weeks. Enjoy that first OCS libo but watch yourself, your tolerance will be at about 1 sip of beer before your on the floor. Train in advance for sitting on a camp stool for 6 hour increments.

    TBS: Make sure your SPC knows your name within the first 3 weeks. Your tolerance will be pretty damn high by graduation. Don’t lose any gear in the field or you will shut Quantico down in a full panic and weekends will disappear–550 cord is your friend. The graduating class is not hiding the red boxes, you just suck at land nav.

    IOC: Every time you see a red box in the field, hide it, or move it a click or so.

    The Fleet: don’t fall out of a hump or you will be fired. Pray nightly that you get a solid Plt Sgt. In training, lead your Marines like their lives might depend on it, combat has a way of sneaking up on you quicker than you think. In retrospect, I wish I was a little harder on my Marines sometimes– don’t get caught in the “friend zone” or your ability to lead is almost always irretrievably compromised– but try not to be a dick either. Your tolerance will probably be at an all time high.

  4. Giff57 says:

    ….Sorry, I had a grand finale for Jersey Mike.

    Enjoy yourself brother, these will be some of the best days of your life and to echo Chairman’s observations, it’s not about you, it’s about the Marines. Your being prepared and able will keep them alive. You being unprepared and incompetent can get hurt or worse. It’s a heavy burden but the greatest honor I’ve had in my life.

    Semper Fi Jersey Mike.

  5. Jersey Mike says:

    Thanks so much to everyone for your advice and encouragement, with especial thanks going to Mr. Chairman for his support and for all the times he woke up at 4:00am to go on a hump or work out with me and answered everyone one of my unceasing questions about OCS and Marine Corps life. When we started I was in sorry shape. The first time we worked out I couldn’t even complete the whole thing and it took almost an hour for me to get 20 pull-ups. I still have the index card with that work out and some of the best advice I have ever received written on it; “Amat Victoria Curam.” Victory Loves Preparation. Over the past year and a half, that wisdom has inspired me to keep going and never give up. I’ll keep you posted on my progress and hopefully when December 14 rolls around I will have earned a place in the Marine Corps.

  6. Jersey Mike says:

    One last thing. Mr. Chairman, if during my time at OCS my resolve weakens or I hint that I will quit or walk away, I give you full permission now to handle the situation appropriately, aka Jersey Style.

  7. Tom says:

    Hey Mike, I just read all this stuff and its all true….remember a couple simple truths I have learned from 34 years …learn something every day…teach something everyday (start after TBS)…have faith in your God, Country, your training, and your Marines, if you don’t pray learn, …the first time the shit hits the fan act like you know what you’re doing, your Marines need that then the training will kick in….your Marines don’t want a friend, they want a leader, love them like your brother, punish them like their father, reward them when they earn it – a little time off or small piece of paper or ribbon will mean a lot – and work them like the toughest coach you ever had….be tough, they want to believe that you can kick any other officer’s ass….when you lose your first Marine keep your composure get through the fight, when you have time to get them out of the line let them grieve, you can’t not there, when they have had their time, then you can go find some place to rail and wail at the wind where no one but God will hear you, then back to work….your men will fight for each other, build that loyalty in training….keep your sense of humor, never take yourself too seriously-it ain’t about you- take your business deadly seriously…so that’s the basics…call me when you get command and we can talk about that role….I would trade places with you in a heartbeat.
    Semper Fidelis,

  8. Tom says:

    oh yeah…my leadership philosophy …firm, fair, and friendly is optional…SF

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