TBS Family

Should You Bring Your Spouse to The Basic School

Deciding whether to bring a spouse to Quantico, VA, while attending The Basic School (TBS) can be a sensitive and challenging topic. I got married about 6 months prior to TBS with the intent of dragging my wife across the country to Virginia. However, we eventually decided that it would be best if I left alone. At the time, it didn’t seem right for me to make my wife quit her job and leave her family for the short 6 month period. Not to mention the unknown MOS school to follow and eventually my first duty station. Possibly three moves within the span of a year didn’t sound all that great.

All of the decisions we made were based on conjecture. Although we ended up being happy with the decision, it should not dissuade you from bringing a spouse to TBS. There are several factors to consider which I hope to address here.

Read more “Should You Bring Your Spouse to The Basic School”

TBS Report Card The Basic School

Final Report Card from The Basic School

There are more questions and comments related to MOS selection and The Basic School than any other topic. While going through old paperwork preparing to update my OMPF (VERY IMPORTANT!) I stumbled across my report card from The Basic School. Seeing as how everyone wants to do well at TBS and get a sweet MOS it seemed only right that I share this information with you all.

Disclaimers:

  • The weights may not be the same when you get to TBS.
  • Some of the events may have changed.
  • My rankings were relative to my class. Don’t think that matching my scores will equate to doing well. Do better than I did!
EVENTSCOREWEIGHTSCORE*WTSTANDING
REVIEW EXAM90.00001.000.90
PHASE I EXAM I91.66702.502.2317
PHASE I EXAM II97.77782.502.4444
PHASE II EXAM I95.55563.002.8667
PHASE II EXAM II91.11123.002.7333
PHASE III EXAM I91.11123.503.1889
PLT CDRS ADMIN TEST97.00003.002.9100
PHASE III EXAM II100.00003.503.5000
PHASE IV EXAM I88.88904.003.5556
PHASE IV EXAM II86.66684.003.4667
ACADEMIC TOTALS92.85753027.857216
2ND LEADERSHIP EVALUATION85.00008.006.8000
3RD LEADERSHIP EVALUATION85.000012.0010.2000
4TH LEADERSHIP EVALUATION85.000016.0013.6000
LEADERSHIP EXAM98.50004.003.9400
LEADERSHIP TOTALS86.254034.540089
RIFLE QUAL88.000012.0010.2000
PISTOL QUAL90.00001.501.3500
COMM PRAC APP95.00001.000.9500
COMBAT LIFE SAVING99.00001.000.9900
LAND NAV DAY80.00003.002.4000
LAND NAV NIGHT85.00002.001.7000
CREW SERVED WEAPONS94.00002.001.8800
COMBAT ORDERS 87.00003.002.6100
TACTICAL DECISION MAKING 183.00004.003.3200
DOUBLE OBSTACLE COURSE100.00002.002.0000
ENDURANCE COURSE98.75003.002.9625
TACTICAL DECISION MAKING 283.00004.003.3200
PFT96.00001.000.9600
CFT100.00001.001.0000
MIL SKILLS89.208330.0026.762522
OVERALL89.1597100.0089.159738

Overview

You can quickly see that academics and military skills carried me through TBS and helped get me into the top 20%. Leadership dragged me down significantly, but I’ll talk about that a little later.

If you look at my military skills scores, I didn’t do well on a lot of events, but I still came in 22 overall for that category. Take that as a hint you can make some real money there. My Tactical Decision Making scores are 83%, but the average was in the 60’s and those test CANNOT be retaken. You get what you get. The details related to those tests are a bit of a secret, so I don’t want to spoil the surprise by giving more details. Just don’t memory dump information after an academic test.

Physical fitness also helped carry me with solid double obstacle course and endurance course scores. The PFT/CFT are only 1%, so don’t worry about those. Your real focus should be on practicing the obstacle course and doing the endurance course on weekends as much as you can.

Land Navigation really hurt me and was disappointing. I did much better on the practice courses, and just dropped the ball when it came to the finals. Do the remedial courses on the weekends if you’re not getting perfect scores. It sucks to lose a Saturday, but it’ll be worth it. I regret not getting more practice in.

Leadership Evaluation

Leadership grading is very strange at TBS and constantly changing. It used to be that your SPC would rank the platoon from 1 to whatever. Your grade then correlated with your rank. The number 1 person got 100%, number 2 got 99%, etc. I may not be completely accurate with the old method, but it was something like that.

My company decided to do 5 tiers that would follow a bell curve methodology. For example, let’s say there were 30 people in my platoon. It might go something like this:

  • Top: 3 people at 95%
  • Top-middle: 5 people at 90%
  • Middle: 14 people at 85%
  • Bottom-middle: 5 people at 80%
  • Bottom: 3 people at 75%

Every SPC would follow this scheme to prevent any particular platoon from having a higher average. To receive above 95%, your SPC would have to submit a request to the company CO and prove your awesomeness.

I was placed in the middle tier for all 3 evaluations, thus my scores were 85%

This method has most likely changed, so don’t read into it too much.

Departing Tips

There’s not a whole lot that you can do to prepare for TBS.

PT events are 100% in your hands, so don’t let those points slip away.

Leadership is out of your hands and based on your SPC’s opinion of you. Be confident when you speak and try to get a high visibility responsibility. For the most part, the PT representatives get high leadership scores because they are constantly in the spotlight.

Help out your peers, but be authentic or they’ll see through the fake persona. TBS is incredibly challenging, but it may be the last time you get to fly on an MV-22, shoot the .50 cal, and hang out with those who will become your best friends. So have fun and make the best of it.

Marine with books Education

Non-military Books For Personal And Professional Development

Technology and vast sources of entertainment surround us. As a society we watch and play more while reading, learning, and doing less. Holding the title of “U.S. Marine” doesn’t make us superior to, or more educated than, our civilian counterparts.

It does, however, dictate we are warriors with the responsibility of leading others and performing in dynamic and chaotic environments.

As leaders and Marines, cultivating a “5000 Year Old Mind” is not a suggestion, it is a requirement.

Most will become fatigued from constantly reading military books and literature. These suggestions offer alternatives to commonly recommended books.

To truly embrace the “whole Marine” concept one must be versed in all trades related to their personal and professional character. It is about harnessing a diverse set of skills that will increase creative capacity and enable the realization of effective solutions.

DON’T MAKE EXCUSES

I know all about making excuses. I’ve used them many times and, unfortunately, still do.

Allowing good consistent habits to dictate your time will cultivate rewarding behaviors.

Tell yourself you can’t afford the books and I will tell you there are free books online.

Tell yourself you don’t have time and I will tell you to reevaluate your habits.

Tell yourself you don’t want to learn and I will tell you not to lead Marines.

I have read most of these books and a few are in my queue. Note there are affiliate links and these suggestions are offered based on personal opinion and recommendations from others.

Leave comments and let me know what you think, or add suggestions.


Writing

The Basic School will be a first realization writing is important. Expect to write peer evaluations, response to counselings, orders, and a biography. Seemingly insignificant mistakes will have your SPC throwing the paperwork back at your face.

A Marine’s career is reliant upon the awards and recommendations you write for them. A small typo could cause promotion delays and have serious repercussions.

Simply put, officers are writers, so learn how to write.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

A book focused on the principles and methods associated with writing. It’s about simplifying the way we write in order to connect with readers and keep them engaged. Take this as a framework for the mindset you should have when writing.

Audiobook | Paperback | Free Digital

The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well by Paula LaRocque

An easy to understand guide on the best and worst practices when it comes to writing. LaRocque advocates for clear and concise writing using fewer words to convey ideas. The book is not dedicated to grammar, and focuses more on techniques essential for writers to be familiar with.

Paperback | Digital

Communication and Relationships

There’s no substitution for the advice you will get from SNCOs on how to work with young Marines. The military is without a doubt a social engine unlike any other. What other organization encourages yelling and makes employees rake sand as punishment?

Reading different books will help you build perspective on varying methods of leadership and communication.

Challenge the status quo, build strong, trusting, relationships, and communicate more effectively.

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Carnegie’s focus is on making friends by appealing to ideals one could argue is biologically programmed into people. Most seem commonsense such as remembering a person’s name, listening more than talking, and directing conversation towards the interests of others. Unfortunately, they are rarely a natural occurrence in conversation.

It’s been said officers shouldn’t be “friends” with their Marines. Challenge the perspective of others and determine what an officer and enlisted relationship should be for yourself.

As General Lejeune would have it,

The relation between officers and enlisted men should in no sense be that of superior and inferior nor that of master and servant, but rather that of teacher and scholar. In fact, it should partake of the nature of the relation between father and son, to the extent that officers, especially commanders, are responsible for the physical, mental, and moral welfare, as well as the discipline and military training of the men under their command who are serving the Nation in the Marine Corps.

Audiobook | Paperback | Free Digital

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts by Robert Bolten

Life and getting things done is about interacting with others. Bolten asserts that people naturally  possess bad communication patterns, and he seeks to provide a framework to alter the way we talk with one another. The book focuses on listening, assertion skills, conflict-resolution, and problem-solving.

Paperback | Digital

Investing

The way you manage money and invest will have long term impacts on your life. Many officers start their careers deep in the hole after taking the USAA/Navy Federal Career Starter loans. A great option for someone wanting to pay off high interest credit cards, or student loans. A questionable option for someone wanting to buy a new mustang!

Learn and teach your Marines, because everyone needs to understand investing and finance.

One Up On Wall Street by Peter Lynch

An incredibly well known book filled with timeless knowledge about the fundamentals of investing. Lynch simplifies investing to it’s very core and offers pros and cons for all types of investments such as stocks, mutual funds, bonds, etc. A surprisingly interesting read that won’t take long to get through.

Audiobook | Paperback | Digital

Get Rich Carefully by Jim Cramer

A modern look at investing, exploring today’s companies, CEOs, and investment strategies. Jim Cramer is well known for his shows, appearances on CNBC, and decades of experience. A hands on approach to choosing great companies to invest in.

Audiobook | Paperback | Digital

Productivity and Decision Making

The Marine Corps is a machine that prides itself on efficient and consistent systems which enable fluid decision making. We do not live in a black and white world, and war is no exception. There are great military books that discuss tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as tactical decision making. Here are a few with a more business and social perspective.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

A look at how habits influence individuals, businesses, and retailers. A huge chuck of our daily routine revolves around habit. As leaders, it is important for us to develop productive habits such as running, strength training, studying our profession, and READING. More importantly, we want our Marines to understand and develop good habits.

Audiobook | Paperback | Digital

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Explore the systematically illogical mind of humans. The fast thinking system is a result of human development since the beginning of time. We make quick decisions in order to survive, but they are natural occurrences that do not apply human logic. The slow thinking system is about examining situations in the context of more than a single event.

Audiobook | Paperback | Digital

Military

Despite the purpose and title of this post, it seems fitting there should be at least a few recommendations in the military genre. If none of the above suits your taste, maybe these will draw some interest.

On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by Dave Grossman

A critical must-read for all military personnel. Grossman reveals the tough and realistic truth about the physiological affects of combat and stress on the human body. More importantly, he gives insight into how we might train to prevent debilitating bodily occurrences.

Audiobook | Paperback | Digital

Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership by Bryan McCoy

A book by a Marine for Marines. Colonel McCoy provides detailed guidance into how Marines should be trained, disciplined, and held to high standards. There is an emphasis on the idea that what may seem like a small deficiency can lead to further degradation of standards which affect our combat capabilities.

Paperback | Digital

 

Photo by Lance Cpl. John Wilkes from Marines.mil

TBS Gear The Basic School

Gear You Will Want And Need At TBS

One of the biggest surprises you will face at TBS is the ridiculous amount of money you will spend on uniforms, gear, and ops funds. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about required uniforms and monthly ops funds (~$50). However, I can help when it comes to buying non-essential, but highly desired gear. Lieutenants in the hills of Quantico will do anything they can to make things easier, or more comfortable. Purchasing random gear at the MCX and Stafford Uniform (tactical gear store outside the gate) becomes commonplace. At the end of TBS you will be left with a bunch of stuff you didn’t really need. I would say that most people spend between $500-$1000 depending on how many “extra” pairs of boots you decide are needed. Here’s my two-cents on what you may need.

The links don’t necessarily offer the best prices for these items. Consider shopping around and you may save a few bucks.

Finding Great Gloves is HARD

I ended buying 3 pairs of gloves and spent well over $100. The best tactical gloves with durability, dexterity, and grip are not the best at keeping your hands warm during the winter. The only option is to buy some warmer winter gloves which is unfortunate because quality gloves are expensive. Every company at TBS will catch part of the winter. You will learn that the cold is ferocious and investing in proper gloves is essential. Here are some recommendations based on my experience and what others have told me.

Wiley X Tactical Gloves – A bit pricey for my wallet, but I’ve heard others swear by these goatskin and kevlar infused gloves. These will do just about everything you need them to except keep your hands warm.
Seirus All Weather Gloves – I picked up some of these at REI the day before a FEX hoping they would keep my fingers from freezing over. Overall, they held up well despite being thinner than some other winter gloves. The thicker ones will obviously keep your hands warmer, but then you lose dexterity and can’t do much with your hands.

The green issued gloves work, but they aren’t waterproof. The black leather ones are warm and waterproof, but you can barely move your fingers in them. Nonetheless, if your on a tight budget they will do.

The Multi-Tool Dilemma

I was too cheap to get a Leatherman or Gerber at TBS, but then I found myself constantly borrowing one. Both companies make high quality multi-tools. Seriously consider investing in a good tool that will last years. The Leatherman linked to is awesome. The flathead on the Leatherman was the only thing that would get the rusted screws loose on my kevler.

Night Marking

For some reason everyone lost their mind when we started doing night operations. The platoon ended up with about 100 glow sticks, 50 IR chem lights, 10 useless cans of glow in the dark spray paint, and a stupid amount of glint tape. The platoon can get away with:

10-20 IR Chem Lights – Good for each FEX and The War. These worked best when marking the PLD and the route.
1 Roll of Glint Tape – Should last the POI. The tape is great for marking key leaders (1 strip for squad leaders, 2 strips for the Plt Sgt, and 3 for the Plt Cdr).

Digging Doesn’t Get Easier

The platoon went crazy for FEX II and we ended up bringing like 10 extra shovels and pickaxes. Having more gear to dig with was definitely nice, but it wasn’t worth the money or effort to carry it around for a week. Not a single person brought their shovel/pickaxe during FEX III. Most people ended up giving, or throwing, away the $20-$30 shovel/pickaxe they bought. If you can get some extra stuff for free then I would take it out for FEX II. Mainly because it’s going to be your first time digging a skirmishers trench and there’s some peace of mind knowing that you have something other than an E-tool. By the time you get to FEX III you will be an E-tool expert. Plus, no one wants to carry more crap on top of the M240B.

I do have to admit that it’s sweet having a hatchet to chop away roots. Get one if you have some extra cash to burn, else you will survive just fine without it. Chopping down trees is not allowed so don’t expect to be out there acting like a lumberjack.

Weapons Cleaning

I would suggest putting all the cleaning gear you are issued by the armory in a drawer somewhere so you don’t lose anything while in the field. You can get away with these three items and an old shirt.

Extra AP Brush – Keep the one from the armory tucked away.
Mini-Clp – You can refill it at the armory.
Bore Snake – Some people got a 7.62 and 9mm snake as well, but it’s not necessary. Get the 5.56 snake.

Cold Weather Gear

Gloves were discussed earlier, but there’s other gear you might want to consider picking up.

Wool Socks – Hands down the best type of sock to keep your feet warm.
Cold Weather Boots – If you went to OCS you should have some CW boots already. Everyone else, except aviators, should consider investing some money in boots.
Long Sleeve Green Undershirt – The MCX sells two brands of this: Underarmour and Dri-Duke. Unsurprisingly, the Underarmour stuff is four times more expensive. The Dri-Duke gear was more than adequate. You can also grab some leggings, but you probably won’t wear them much. It’s too difficult to shed layers on your legs.
Face Mask – The neck gator issued is great. A face mask is a nice alternative if you find the gator feels awkward when worn.

Random Stuff You Just Need

Red Lens – You will hardly ever use this, but you still have to have one.
Cat Eyes – These will be SPC dependent, but most likely you will have to get these in desert and woodland.
MCMAP Belts – Hopefully you will get to green belt at TBS. At the least you will need a tan belt.
Camo Paint – You may have to try a few brands out to see which one destroys your skin the least.
Carabiner – The best way to attach a kevlar helmet to the flak jacket.
550 Cord – Color doesn’t matter. I bought 550 in desert and  green, but it’s not necessary.
Rite in the Rain – The last thing you want to worry about is your order getting destroyed from the rain.
Rank Insignia / Subdued Rank Insignia – They will get scratched up, lost, and turn colors. I ended up with about four pairs. Not to mention the pair you will give your pistol/rifle coach when you get expert!

Gear You Can Live Without

Most of this stuff is either a waste of your money, or something you should consider twice before buying.

Knee Pads – Nice to have during MOUT when kneeling in the concrete buildings, but unnecessary otherwise. Their likely going to cause chaffing and aggravate you after 3 days in the field anyways. If you can split a pair with someone then it could be worth getting.
Bates Lites – These are awesome boots that are great for just about anything. If you got a pair for ROTC/OCS definitely wear them at TBS. Don’t go out and spend $100+ for Bates Lites just to take a few minutes off of your Endurance Course time. I know a handful of lieutenants who did this and it really doesn’t make sense. The Marine Corps is shifting towards RAT boots and Bates Lites probably won’t be authorized much longer anyways.
Anti-fog – Why would I need anti-fog you ask? Your going to go blind during night land navigation. A tree is going to poke an eye out if you don’t wear eye pro and the lenses will fog over if you do. There is no winning with night land nav and anti-fog isn’t going to help.
Hydration System – If your Camelbak bladder bursts or leaks, go to supply and get a new one. Don’t waste money on a “better” one.
Elixir Tablets / Gu – Nice to have, but not necessary. The salt packets in your MREs will accomplish the same thing.
Laminated Patrol Overlay /Range Cards/Etc – You will learn what these are. Save the $5 bucks, you will hardly ever use these.

Logistics Regiment carrying out a training exercise Marine Officer

Hitting The Fleet As A Junior Officer

The transition you will make from your MOS school to the fleet as a junior officer is both exhilarating and nerve wrecking. Those first few months will be the busiest of your life. Here are some takeaways.

What you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know

TBS made me overqualified in many areas. I learned more than I will probably ever need to know about leadership, MAGTFs, infantry tactics, field skills, communications, PT, and PowerPoint. In one sense, the schools leave you far more qualified than most if not all of your Marines in a lot of key areas.

That said, while both schools do a fantastic job of teaching you the technical details of doing your job leading Marines in the field, they are both woefully inadequate at teaching you how to do “garrison” work. In my two months at my new unit, I’ve spent two weeks in the field. Those two weeks were the only time I’ve had fun doing my job. Garrison life will be your downfall. There is an insane amount of administrative work that will take up a significant amount of your personal time. On top of that, it’s really easy for your Marines to get in trouble in garrison. More on that later.

Bottom line: You can report to your unit confident that you’re going to be a badass platoon commander in whatever MOS it is that you get. However, be prepared to learn a great deal about garrison life on-the-fly. It’s the least sexy stuff, but it’s the stuff that’s going to take up the vast majority of your time as a Marine officer.

More Marines, More Problems

All the stories you’ve heard are true. Young Marines do some stupid stuff. Within days you will be faced with the most mind-boggling personal problems you can imagine. To name a few that I’ve run into:

  • A Marine who got married to another Marine, fathered a kid, and then promptly got divorced.
  • A Marine who is about 300lbs, because for the past 6 months he’s been on light duty for mysterious pains.
  • A Marine who has experienced some personal trauma ending up in the hospital after cutting herself.

These are just to name a few. I’ve stood duty twice, and both times I was unable to sleep at all due to a Marine getting stabbed downtown and a drunk Marine beating the shit out of a random person on the street.

The importance of the SNCO

One of my peers has a MSgt for a SNCO, and he’s totally checked out, just waiting to retire. The peer in question isn’t a terribly strong platoon commander herself (probably because she didn’t have a strong SNCO to mentor her), and consequently, her platoon sucks.

So like I said, my Gunny is “pretty good.” He’s not perfect. Some SNCO’s will be bad, like that MSgt. As such, you need to warm up to the uncomfortable reality that you will potentially have to give direct orders and negative counseling to a Marine who’s like 35 years old and joined the Marine Corps the same year you were born. That’s not easy. But it may be necessary.

Hopefully you get a great SNCO. If you get a shitty one, you’re in for a wild ride, and you’re going to have some unique leadership challenges. Just remember: you’re an officer and you’ve received the best officer training the world has to offer. Some things you’ll have to learn by experience and asking questions, but on a lot of things, you KNOW what right looks like. If your SNCO isn’t enforcing that standard, you can’t be afraid to tell him so.

Leading Marines Is Incredible

A lot of the above detailed the challenges you will face and the new kind of suck you will experience. I’d be doing you a disservice if I left all that out… there’s a lot of suck.

The little things that make it all worth it are the moments when you realize the tremendous impact you’re making on these Marines’ lives. When you teach them something new that makes them see their job in a whole new light. When you go to bat for them to bail them out of undeserved trouble or provide them a unique opportunity. When the decision you make appreciably changes the quality of work your platoon puts out.

It’s hard to put a quantifiable value on all these things. And the frustrating times are far more numerous than those that are rewarding. But when there’s rewards, they feel good.

So as bad as it gets, just remember that it’s not just everyone who gets to lead young men and women who, each for their own reasons, decided they wanted to endure the toughest training to join the best branch of the best military in the United States.