ARLINGTON, Va. – The nation’s “few and proud” are nothing more than few, and nothing less than proud. Amongst them are the leaders. Whether enlisted or officer, the Corps has shaped men and women to continuously compete for a spot at the tip of the spear – a place to lead.
Enlisted to Officer:
Marines often find their way to the next test. Even while enduring arduous training exercises and deployments, Marines simultaneously continue to better themselves by completing online college and Marine Corps Institute courses. Sometimes that’s not enough of a challenge.
The opportunity to become a Marine officer is open to qualified enlisted service members who want to apply their experiences to a position of greater authority. Through various enlisted commissioning programs, all provide the chance to be a leader of Marines as an officer.
“There was only one way to go from here, and there’s no way you can turn down an opportunity to lead Marines from the front,” said 2nd Lt. Joshua Sweeney, a former sergeant who commissioned Dec. 10.
After serving as an infantry assaultman, Sweeney applied for a chance to commission and was accepted through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program. He reported to Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Corps offers three general routes when enlisted Marines choose to enter the “dark side,” as some Marines dub the officer cadre; MECEP, Enlisted Commissioning Program, and Meritorious Commissioning Program.
MECEP is for outstanding Marines, corporals and above, who haven’t completed their bachelor’s degree. After being selected into the program, the enlisted Marines are assigned into a preparatory class, setting the Marine up for success when enrolling in a college with a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program. While enrolled in this program, the Marine will go through OCS training the first two summers of college, and upon earning their bachelor’s degree, they will be commissioned as second lieutenants.
Enlisted Commissioning Program is for Marines who have already earned their bachelor’s degree. Once accepted, Marines attend a 10-week course at OCS and commission as second lieutenants upon completion.
Meritorious Commissioning Program is for Marines who have 75 semester credit hours or an associate’s degree when applying to become an officer. The qualified Marines are sent to OCS before completing their bachelor’s degree and become second lieutenants.
The journey starts when the Marine confers with his commanding officer, said Gunnery Sgt. Jeanette Santoro, the career planner of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. When all the requirements and prerequisites are confirmed, the process of applying for any of the programs begins.
“Becoming an officer is for those who really want to lead – this is their chance and opportunity,” said Santoro.
As students venture deep into their college education and lifestyle, some consider opportunities provided by the military as the vessel to best continue personal growth after school.
College typically expands a student’s mind while dipping into their wallet, but recruiters urge those students not turn to the Marine Corps for an easy answer to financial difficulties.
It’s up to Marines like Capt. Jeffrey Potter, officer selection officer at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., to find the ones who are willing to make a commitment to serve in the Marine Corps, but finish getting their degree in college first.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come and go out of this office, but few actually make it to OCS (Officer Candidate School),” said Potter, from the officer selection station just across the street from campus. “We’re offering programs for students who know they want to be a Marine officer, but say ‘right now, I want to be a college student.’”
Unlike the other armed services, the Marine Corps does not have its own service academy and prefers to find potential leaders among America’s college and university undergraduates and graduates, said Potter.
Here’s what he has to offer: The Platoon Leader’s Class, and the Officer’s Candidates Course.
Platoon Leaders Class is designed specifically to provide college freshmen, sophomores, and juniors enrolled full-time in an accredited college or university with the opportunity to earn a Marine officer’s commission.
Once accepted into PLC, the only obligation potential candidates acquire is to attend Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
In this program, freshmen and sophomores attend two six-week summer courses, one between each consecutive school year, at OCS. Juniors attend one 10-week course. The training is conducted during the summer so participation in PLC does not conflict with school work or toga parties. Upon graduation from OCS, candidates return to campus to continue their journey toward a college degree, and there are no military requirements during the school year – no drilling, wearing a uniform on campus, or attending extra training.
“You simply stay in touch with your Officer Selection Office, keep up your academic standing, and maintain good physical condition,” said Potter.
Candidates who successfully graduate from summer OCS training have a big decision to make during their senior year – do I accept my commission and begin serving as a Marine officer?
Potter said participating in PLC allows you to earn the option of becoming a Marine officer after you graduate from college, all while providing the Marine Corps with the chance to assess candidates’ leadership during the summer to determine whether or not they have what it takes to lead Marines.
“I am here to vet people, all while providing them guidance,” added Potter. “It’s my responsibility to find out if these college students are seriously here to become Marine officers. We don’t want to send someone who isn’t fully-committed to become an officer, because that would not only be a waste of their time, but a waste of space as well.”
Officer Candidates Course is a program for college seniors and graduates with ambitions to become Marine officers. Candidates in this program attend a 10-week course at OCS, the same 10-week course juniors attend in PLC.
Once becoming OCS and college graduates, these men and women are offered the opportunity they sought, a commission as a Marine officer.
Those who accept are immediately assigned to active service and begin attending The Basic School at MCB Quantico.
PLC is the most popular commissioning path, with 35 percent of Marine Corps officers entering through this route. 30 percent of officers entered the Corps through OCC, 14 percent through the United States Naval Academy, 13 percent through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and eight percent through more unique routes.
Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps:
Question: What’s better than going to college with your tuition paid for? Answer: Going to college with your tuition and books paid for, among many other fees.
Although this may be enough information to buy a college student prospect right away, there’s a catch, and it benefits students.
The Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps pays for tuition, books, fees and uniforms, along with other costs associated with being a full-time student. In return, the student must repay the program by serving in their branch of choice for four years upon graduating. Clearer, to become a Marine officer, one must choose the Marine Corps Option when enrolling in this program.
Just like every other way of joining the Marine Corps, there are criteria, standards and competition for a place among the few and proud.
Capt. Robin Arant, the executive officer of Recruiting Station Baltimore, said the program is looking for high school students graduating with at least an SAT score of 1,000 or a composite ACT score of 22, and 74 or higher on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test.
Once accepted into the NROTC program, the students are considered midshipmen when attending a college that offers the program.
“Their college will now be their duty station,” said Arant. “Along with going to school, they will be trained in leadership, team-building, drill and attend Naval Science classes throughout their four years.”
As part of the program, midshipmen will spend their first two summers learning about the Navy and the Marine Corps. In the third summer midshipmen will attend OCS for six weeks.
The program is supervised by Marine officer instructors, comprised of hand-picked Marine officers and seniors staff noncommissioned officers, who oversee all aspects of midshipmen’s collegiate life. It is their mission to make sure the students maintain the qualities and standards necessary to become Marine officers.
“The primary job of midshipmen is to go to school, do well, train with your fellow midshipmen and graduate,” said Arant. “The benefit is four years of college for free and a chance to earn the right to become a Marine Corps officer.”
The United States Naval Academy
Retired Navy Capt. Steven B. Latta, the dean of admissions at the United States Naval Academy, said the academy is seeking highly motive, well –rounded applicants who excel not only academically, but also in athletics, leadership, and service.
Entry to the USNA is a privilege many compete for but few are afforded. Becoming a Marine officer through this route is tougher, and the bar is set high.
The requirements of eligibility are simple – to be a U.S. citizen with a valid social security number, good moral character, at least 17 years old and not older than 23 on July 1 the year they would enter the academy, unmarried, not pregnant, and have no children. If all requirements are met, the student may then submit a preliminary application.
The student must then apply for a nomination from an official source, which normally includes a U.S. representative, a U.S. senator or the vice president of the United States.
The process continues: Students must complete the SAT or American College Test prior to admission. Once the above requirements are fulfilled, the students are official candidates for admission and the admissions board reviews the students’ records.
The few chosen by the board are required to undergo a medical examination and a fitness assessment because of the physical challenges faced in Naval Academy programs and potential service in the Navy or Marine Corps.
Upon completion of all assessments, candidates are interviewed and counseled by Naval Academy information officers on all aspects of the Naval Academy and are accepted as plebes for the upcoming fall semester.