When they complete Marine Officer Candidate School (OCS), the candidates are
commissioned as second lieutenants, but they are just beginning their training
as Marine officers.
When they leave OCS, the newly minted officers are transferred to the Basic
School-located at a remote part of Virginia's Quantico Marine Base, called Camp
Barrett-for a six-month program designed to teach them the professional skills
they will need to lead Marines into battle. Classes include recent graduates
of the Naval Academy who opt for the Marine Corps, as well as veterans of OCS.
In these classes, particular emphasis is placed on "the duties, responsibilities
and war-fighting skills required of a rifle-platoon commander," said Col.
John R. Allen, the school's commanding officer.
"Every Marine is a rifleman," he explained. "Therefore, every
Marine officer has to be able to command a rifle platoon. That's true for all
job specialties. It doesn't matter whether you're an aviator, a tanker or a
Students learn to fire and maintain all of the weapons used in a rifle platoon,
including the M-203 grenade launcher, M-249 squad automatic weapon (SAW), M-2
.50 cal. machine gun and M-240 G machine gun.
At the school, the new officers must qualify for the first time with the M-16A2
rifle and the Beretta 9mm pistol. They spend two weeks at the rifle range, learning
to handle and shoot the rifle, until they are able to hit a man-size target
as far away as 500 meters.
The lieutenants hone their weapons skills by extensive use of the Indoor Simulated
Marksmanship Trainer (ISMT) system, Allen said. ISMT includes a computer-controlled
movie screen about 12 feet wide and seven feet high that presents different
locations and targets. Weapons are connected to a carbon-dioxide filled tank,
which provides a simulated recoil.
The Basic Officer Course, as it is called, is "academically demanding,"
Allen said. It consists of more than 1,700 hours of instruction-considerably
more than the average student gets in four years of college. And that does not
include study time, homework assignments, weapons cleaning or countless other
"The lieutenants learn to manage their time right down to the nano-second,"
Allen said. The vast majority of instructors are captains, "hand-selected to come
here," Allen noted. Instructors are chosen from a wide variety of job specialties,
based on their job performance, character and integrity.
The courses emphasize "a great deal of tactics and field craft associated
with the art of war," Allen explained. The lieutenants study the theories
of such famed strategists as Carl Von Clausewitz, Sun Tsu, S.L.A. Marshall and
Che Guevara. Instructors also discuss recent military experience. "We talk, for example,
about Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo," Allen said.
Courses currently use books, films and videos. The classroom facility is scheduled
to be renovated within the next couple of years, Allen said. "We're looking
very hard at a classroom with distance-learning technology," he added.
The lieutenants learn how to perform ceremonial duties, such as how to wield
their officer's swords-the gracefully curved Mameluke swords, commemorating
the Marines' service during the 1801-05 War with Tripoli in North Africa.
About 700 hours of classes are conducted in the field. "We run exercises
called urban patrolling," Allen explained. "We practice dealing with
local militia, with rival sects, with social disorder and deprivation.
"The lieutenants learn that the world-unlike the places where most of
them grew up-is a dangerous place."
The course draws upon the region outside the base. "The lieutenants travel
to the Navy base at Norfolk for an exposure to expeditionary operations,"
Allen said. "They spend a night aboard ship.
"We take them to walk the Civil War battlefields at places like Gettysburg
and Antietam," Allen said. "To stand there and understand the sheer
courage it takes to lead people under fire is a priceless lesson."
The lieutenants need to understand, Allen said, that every Marine officer runs
a higher risk of death or injury during combat than do enlisted personnel. During
the battle of Guadacanal in World War II, for example, the battalion commanded
by the legendary Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller-at the time, a lieutenant
colonel-lost 37 percent of its officers, wrote Burke Davis, in his biography
of Puller, "Marine." Enlisted casualties were 24 percent.
After the Basic School, the new officers are sent on for more training to gain
the skills needed to handle jobs in the more than 25 occupational specialties
in the Corps. Allen finds it satisfying to watch them graduate:
"By the time they leave here, they will have substance. Some eventually
will fall on their swords. Some will save lives. Some will become generals.
Some will even become commandants."