Michael McBride

The daily functioning of Marine Officer’s Candidates School (OCS) is hinged on “the Word.”

“The Word” is the culmination of instructions that guides the conduct of the next event. It includes uniform, time, method of transportation (usually the Shoe Leather Express, or individual buses), other equipment, such as rifles/packs/etc., and any special instructions. Much of OCS, after push-ups and bends-and-muthas, is spent waiting for the Word.

The Word has its pre-determined pathway. The Company Commander reviews the training schedule and expresses any special instructions to the Company Executive Officer. The XO distills those instructions into a language most Candidates should be capable of understanding. (This is often a challenge, for the stress of OCS easily scrambles the nimble minds of college juniors and sends errant neurons rebounding inside 250 helmets). The Candidate Company Commander processes the Word, as he understands it, and passes it on to the Candidate Platoon Commanders, who in turn pass it on to their 40 or so Candidates, all hungry for the next set of instructions.

While nearly linear in its design, and efficient looking on paper, this system is often simply a higher form of the game “telephone.” Typically (in my experience), by the time the Word reached the last man of the last squad, having been impacted at each level by the neuroses of Candidate leadership, all afraid of getting the Word wrong, the Word was a garbled mess. Invariably one of the six Candidate Platoon Commanders would get some minute detail of the uniform wrong, and that platoon could make a sore thumb blend in at formation.

Then it would come, in waves. All the platoons would be sent scrambling into the barracks to undergo yet another uniform and equipment inspection, after a new, clarifying Word was issued. For those on the upper floors the scramble to get 160 Candidates up the stairs ensured that no platoon would make the impossible three minute deadline set by the company staff.

Invariably, the new, clarifying Word would have confused at least one platoon, and after falling back out on the deck outside, all 240 Candidates would be sent back in the building, up the stairs, with more, new, clarifying Word on what the uniform and equipment would be.

Bayonet on the deuce gear. Bayonet off the deuce gear. One canteen. Two canteens. Poncho, no liner. Liner, no poncho. First aid kit. Soft covers, no helmet. Helmets no soft covers. Helmets and soft covers. Mathematically it could go on for some time. And it often did.

Michael McBride

Michael E. McBride retired as a Major from the Marine Corps and blogs at http://www.mysandmen.blogspot.com.

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