“Lights! Lights! Lights!” Those were the first three words shouted at 0500 every morning, each with an increasing intensity and severity that would set the tone for the following 18 hours. Within three seconds of hearing these words, all candidates must jump out of their racks and have their toes on line, ready to follow orders. All candidates quickly learn to move with an urgency that would make a certain road runner feel embarrassed, lest they suffer the punishments doled out by the sergeant instructors.
Speed and intensity are two words that are seared into the back of candidates’ brains throughout the ten weeks of training at Officer Candidate School because, during training, nothing is ever done fast enough. Throughout these ten weeks, candidates are pushed to the limits of what they can mentally and physically handle. The long days of constant moving, disorientation and sleep deprivation can make even the simplest tasks seem impossible, but all the chaos has a purpose. The demanding screening and evaluation process is put in place to see if one can earn the title of Officer of Marines.
Upon arriving at OCS all candidates step off the buses from the airport and are forced to line up heel-to-toe. Less than six inches separates each candidate, and everyone must stare at the back of the head in front of him, a situation and proximity which would make almost anyone feel uncomfortable. No candidate knows what is coming next. They are simply told to line up and march, and they will discover what follows only when they stop marching. The first few days are filled with confusion and disorientation, both part of the process of indoctrination that will change candidates from young men into Marines over the course of the summer. Many will not make it.
Candidates are immediately told to only speak in the third person, and on the back of either hand candidates receive a letter and a number. This candidate was marked B4. “Candidate Hernandez. Bravo Company. Fourth Platoon.” These six words represent this candidate, but more importantly this candidate represents his platoon. The platoon suddenly is much more valuable than any individual. This all happens within the first two hours of arriving and serves as the introduction to a culture that stands for unity and teamwork.
While the Air Force has its planes, the Navy has its ships and the Army has its rigid “doctrine” which strictly dictates all behavior, the Marines live and die by their culture. It is all that the Marines have, and it serves as the glue that holds them together. Formalistic, elitist and insular, with a huge emphasis on history and tradition, their rich customs are learned through a process of pain, rigor and hardship that builds the highest level of discipline in all their men.
This extreme discipline, training and readiness are required of such a small organization because its existence has frequently been threatened. Why do we have a fourth branch of service? The country already has an army for sustained conflict, but if we have learned anything from history, it’s that the country doesn’t need a Marine Corps. It wants a Marine Corps. Grenada, Somalia and Kandahar all serve as testaments to the effectiveness of the role of the Corps in immediate response. Honor, courage and commitment represent the three ideals that define Marines, that allow them to overcome adversity and differences in race and class, and enable them to form of one of the most elite military institutions on the planet.
At OCS, and in the Corps, everyone realizes that nothing is given. Every step taken, every rope climbed and every log hurdled is a feat to be earned, and being completely immersed in a different and demanding lifestyle quickly makes it clear that you don’t just join the Marines. You become one.
With the return of ROTC to Yale already in the works, this candidate is proud to see that there are others like him with a desire to serve. Hopefully many others will follow in the same path and become part of a brotherhood surpassed by no other. While the path to becoming a Marine is an arduous and taxing one, the reward of such an accomplishment leaves a feeling in your chest that cannot be matched. Do you have what it takes to be one of us? A true marine would answer, “Oo-rah.”
Joshua Hernandez is a senior in Saybrook College.