Pie Chart with starter loan allocation breakdown

New Officers and the USAA Career Starter Loan

The USAA Career Starter Loan offers newly commissioned officers an opportunity to borrow up to $25,000 to start their career. This includes students in the ROTC program, those attending a military academy, and newly commissioned officers coming out of Officer Candidates School (or the equivalent in other services).

You can take the loan out up to a year before you commission, or a year after. In order to take it out before commissioning you’ll have to get your command at the academy, or ROTC, to sign some forms to show USAA they have counseled you.

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PFT, CFT, BCP Changes Challenge Marines To Be Even…

The Marine Corps will be drastically changing it’s scoring for the Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and Combat Fitness Test. Changes to the Body Composition Program (BCP) will also give fitter Marines a chance to bulk up without worrying about making height/weight or taping out. As you will see, these changes as a whole will challenge Marines to meet higher standards in order to receive higher scores on the PFT and CFT.

As MARADMIN 022/16 states these changes will “allow for greater distinction between Marines of different fitness levels and age groups.” If you look at the newest score charts that I’ve provided links for below, the Marine Corps is not joking around about this one. There are significant variances in how events are scored for different age groups. Currently, scoring is the same no matter what your age group. Classification of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd was dependent on age. Now scoring is also dependent on age group. There was no mention of changing the classification table, so we can assume for now that it is unchanged.

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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.

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Logistics Regiment carrying out a training exercise

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.

Sergeant Insignia

Trusting Your Marines And NCOs

Throughout NROTC, Officer Candidates School, and The Basic School, the enlisted Marine, and especially the non-commissioned officer (NCO), is put on a sacred holy pedestal. Marine Officers are taught to worship them, trust them, listen to every damn thing that comes out of their mouths and trust it implicitly.

In truth, if you come to the fleet with that attitude it will last you maybe two days before your CO comes down on you hard because you trusted something your Marine said that was total and complete crap.

Just like anywhere else, there’s good Marines and bad Marines. Believe it or not, there’s also good NCOs and bad NCOs. In quite a few occupational specialties, it’s not terribly difficult to pick up Corporal and Sergeant. On top of that, the criteria for picking up Corporal and Sergeant includes rifle range scores, MCMAP belts, and other such qualities that have little to do with leadership or MOS skills.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t trust your Marines and NCOs. As the officer in charge you need to make sure that what they’re telling you makes sense before you make a decision based on that information. Throughout NROTC, OCS, and TBS, you’re going to be exposed to the best NCOs that the Marine Corps has to offer. THEY ARE NOT ALL LIKE THAT. Many of them are, and you need to identify those as your go-to Marines early on.

So just as you need to earn your Marines’ trust, they need to earn yours as well. When you first show up, ask questions. Figure out who the NCOs are that the platoon looks to when there’s a problem. See who knows their job, and most importantly, know YOUR MOS well enough that you can catch bad information. You will have some dedicated Corporals and Sergeants, and you’re going to have some awful ones. One of the first things you need to to is find out which are which.