Navy Officer Candidate School is done. On 22OCT2010 I graduated from the school and commissioned as an Officer in the United States Navy. This is an accomplishment that I am extremely proud of and very happy that I made the decision to raise my right hand. It has been over a week since I graduated and left Newport, RI, and already my stay there seems like a distant memory. I wanted to wait a little while before writing my post-OCS thoughts to let the whole experience sort of settle in. If I wrote my OCS thoughts after the first week, my words would have been completely different than if I wrote them after the 6th week, and again would be different than what I am about to write.
So here we go…
I went into OCS with the full knowledge of most of the evolutions that took place. I knew about Wake Up Wednesday, Outpost, RLP, ORLP and the Academic phase. I knew about the sand pits and the remedial physical training sessions and drill. I knew that OCS would have some extreme physical and mental challenges. I did countless hours of research before heading off to Rhode Island and I knew various people’s personal accounts from both perspectives of flying through and struggling through (in some cases quitting). Basically, I knew about as much as I felt I could know about what OCS was before showing up that sunny Sunday morning. And honestly, for the most part, what I knew was spot on. What I had learned about the various evolutions was pretty near what happened in my time there. The big surprise was how I personally reacted to all the evolutions.
I thought myself fairly squared away mentally for OCS. I worried a bit about my physical preparedness, however. But if you asked me again at the end of week one, I would have said my worries were the complete opposite. I did not realize how much of an emotional rollercoaster OCS would be. The day’s events had the ability to take you emotionally to heights and valleys within minutes. And the crazy thing about the journey was I was full aware of them taking me on this journey. There was no post emotional breakdown when I realized what the staff of OCS were doing, in plain sight (and most of the time they tell you what they are doing) you see how OCS works. They don’t try and disguise the method to their madness. But just through the struggles and trials of each day, pure exhaustion mixed with a good bit of homesickness led to a rather stressed out me at times, teetering on an emotional edge. Thankfully I had a great roommate who struggled in many of the same ways I did (thankful for the roommate, not that he had struggles) and provided an ear when needed. Also so very thankful that I have a wife and family who wrote supportive letters that helped me through the ugliest days in more ways than they will ever realize. Honestly, I owe a lot of my success at OCS to them.
As for the physical parts of OCS, wow it really sucked at times, hah. I have heard of (and seen) other classes that had a much more physically challenging OCS than we did, but even still, in no way were the physical demands of OCS anything less than brutal. There wasn’t as much group PT as I thought there would be. Every morning we would PT as a regiment from about 0530 to 0630. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday we would do runs (about 3 miles) and on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday we would have strength and conditioning. Yes, on Saturday we would do the 3 mile run with intermittent stops to do strength and conditioning. But beyond that hour in the morning there was no organized group PT. Naturally there would be a bit of remedial physical training (RPT) and that was tough, but no more scheduled times for PT. As for the RPT, this was what made OCS a physically challenging place. There were a few sandpits around that the Drill Instructors would use to aid our physical progress. For 5 or 10 minutes at a time (or sometimes more) we would be ordered to do various physical exercises with no rest. It may not sound too bad to someone who hasn’t gone through it, but I promise you it is. People’s arms would be giving out, their abs would be burning all while trying to sound off and yell at the top of their lungs to make a Drill Instructor just stop the pain, haha. Good times. I was by no means the strongest at OCS, but I was by no means the weakest either. I used this mentality to help make it through an RPT session. I knew that someone was going to hit the ground before I did if I gave it my everything, so I always found more to give. Easier said than done.
The physical and mental challenges of OCS basically sums up what the entire place is. I’m convinced there is really no way to prepare yourself 100% for what you are about to experience if you are on your way to Newport. Depending on who makes up your Class Team, the time of year you are there, and what random restrictions for candidates have been recently set in place or lifted, you stay at OCS will be very different (or similar) to mine. Even between the classes that were there at one time with me, at times I was jealous of others and other times I’m sure classes were jealous of ours. I have heard from lots of people to not really take any of the gouge you read about OCS seriously. I say that is stupid. I think you should read and learn as much as you can about the place and talk to those who have gone through, just keep an open mind about the experience you will have. Don’t come in expecting your OCS to be like my OCS.
The one other challenge of OCS that I think is worth mentioning specifically is Academic Phase. This was four weeks that were spent in class some 8 or 9 hours a day trying to stay awake. You take four classes: Sea Power (Naval History), Engineering/Weapons (High School Physics concentrated in weapons systems), Naval Operations and Seamanship (Maneuvering Boards), and Navigation (Charts). From my perspective (Computer Science major, but by no means an engineer) the classes aren’t too difficult. The difficult part is staying awake and retaining the information. Taps is at 2200 and you generally wake up a 1/2 hour before reveille (0500). So we are talking at most 7 hours of sleep each night, but more likely somewhere between 5 and 6 hours. I tried to close my eyes at 2300 and woke up between 0400 and 0430 each morning. I know of people that did sleep at taps and wake at reveille every night, but I don’t know how they managed it. I was extremely tired my entire way through OCS. This was one of the biggest challenges for me. But during Academic Phase, you spend two weeks learning material, take a midterm, spend two weeks learning new material, take final exams. Rather stressful, but manageable if you spend your time wisely.
The rest of OCS: Drill, Chow Hall, Wet Trainer, Fire Trainer, Gun Range, High Ropes, Inspections, Inspections, Inspections… among whatever else I’m not thinking of at the moment are just various ways for the staff at OCS to help raise your stress threshold while teaching you a little bit about life in the Navy and being a Navy Officer. I could write pages and pages about the details of every little thing that happened over my 12 weeks at OCS, but really that’s not necessary. My short few sentences of advice about OCS would be as follows:
- Get as much sleep as you can. You need as much as you can get.
- Find a time to de-stress. I personally used my time in chow hall to block everything else out and relax.
- Make friends with whom you can be normal with. Talk about what’s going on around you and talk about home.
I guess I will end with what surprised me most about OCS. The people. I am really not sure what I was expecting of the people that I was going to go through OCS with, but they were some of the most normal, nice and down to earth guy and girls I ever met. I think I was expecting the stereotype of high school band vs. high school football player in a sense to continue at OCS. I will never think of myself as someone that is physically strong and/or good at sports, and I just kind of assumed that the jocks that no doubt became Navy Officers would poke fun of the band geek. So wrong. Once at OCS, everyone is on the same playing field and more importantly on the same team. It doesn’t really matter where you came from, just that you are working right alongside everyone else. The teamwork and camaraderie between everyone in our class couldn’t be beat.
Simple as that. OCS is no fun, I would never want to go through it again. But it sure is quite the adventure. Happy to be “DONE SIR DONE” and I sure am glad to be wearing my butter bars :-)