Officer Candidate School (Excerpt from One of the Few)
An excerpt from One of the Few. Pre-order today, buy a book for the troops, and help me reach my funding goal by March 22nd!
(Update: our pre-order funding goal was met! Stay tuned for the official launch in November!)
Day one began in a parking lot where a Sergeant Instructor assembled the new officer candidates. He instructed us to dump out our sea-bags for a contraband inspection. The list of prohibited items included weapons, electronics, non-prescription medications, alcohol. Alcohol? I began to sweat. I packed those alcohol wipes to clean the marker off my maps. Dang it! What about alcohol based pens? Do those count? How strict are they going to be? I’m already blowing it. Should I say something? Surely, they can’t mean wipes and pens. It’s going to be a long six weeks. I called myself out, not knowing whether to be more embarrassed about having contraband, or lacking the common sense to know that it was not contraband. Nothing came of it, and we received our next period of Marine Corps instruction.
Every day was similar. Get up early, PT (physical training), eat breakfast at the chow hall, attend classes, eat more chow, conduct field exercises, go to more classes, receive leadership training, eat chow, clean weapons, clean the squad bay, go to bed and repeat. Developing routines and habit patterns would serve me well; routines were crucial to succeeding in flight school, strengthening my faith, and being a father. Nearly every minute was spent under the instruction of two intense Sergeant Instructors and one Platoon Sergeant. Their job was to mold young officer candidates into Marines they would be proud to serve, but for six weeks, we could not stand them.
“Freeze, candidate, FREEZE!” At their command we froze like statues, no matter how awkward the position while they gave instructions or corrected a deficiency. When your life unravels, sometimes it is best to freeze and let a veteran help correct your shortcomings. Inspections during the summer were miserable. We stood at attention in the sweltering squad bay for an eternity. Sweat from my hand slid down the barrel of my immaculately cleaned M-16 and pooled onto the spit-shined floor. I fixed my thousand-yard stare at the candidate across from me, tried to empty my mind, and kept perfectly still.
A sergeant verbally ripped into someone else down the line. In those moments, a bit of humor goes a long way. Getting chewed out is a horrible feeling, but it can be quite funny when it is happening to someone else. A quivering lip on my opposing candidate broke my gaze, and then he cracked a smile. My bearing faltered. He snickered as the other poor guy was berated for poor hygiene and the improper execution of his weapon inspection. I gradually lost the ability to suppress the internal crescendo. Fearful of receiving my own face full of a barking Marine, I chopped it off with a quick nasal grunt.
My bearing had been challenged before. We conducted inspections during NROTC where new midshipmen provided plenty of humor. Laughter in the face of instruction, though, is the ultimate form of disrespect; I needed a technique to kill the giggles. My trick was to physically bite my tongue. An effective solution and undetectable by upper-classmen, inflicting pain was the only way to effectively squash the instinct to laugh out loud. Just before losing it in the squad bay, I chomped down hard until my body stopped trembling. The din of reproof and all associated humor was supplanted by the taste of pain. I relaxed my face, took a breath and waited for my turn. When the formation was finally dismissed, I looked down at the front sight post of my rifle: it was speckled with rust. Whether you are biting your tongue during an inspection, or holding it from speaking evil, you must control it. Otherwise, you may be next in line to receive the enemy’s wrath.
*UPDATE: My initial pre-order campaign was a success with over 400 copies ordered! Thanks to everyone who helped support the campaign. Don’t worry, you’ll have another chance to order One of the Few as the publication date gets closer, currently set for November 2015.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Kathryn Bynum
About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.