Commandant Speaking at TBS

Three-Tier MOS Selection Process Is Out

Most of you have probably heard about the Marine Corps’ three-tier MOS selection process for placing Ground contract officers in their MOS. It’s a historic system that hasn’t changed for decades. Luckily, The Basic School is changing many procedures to better the development and MOS placement of Marine Officers.

UPDATE (23 OCT 2014): I recently heard from a friend at TBS there are still decisions being made with regards to how the MOS Selection Process is carried out. There is a new CO of TBS who is going to be investigating the matter. The old and new systems are both in play as of right now.

OLD MOS SELECTION PROCESS

Assume there are 90 Marines in a company. Everyone is given a rank from 1 to 90 based on their academic (30%), physical (30%), and leadership (40%) performance.

Those ranks are broken into 3 tiers:

  • first: 1-30
  • second: 31-60
  • third: 61-90

Each Marine provides a list of their desired MOS in order of preference. The top of each tier from first to third gets priority pick. In the example, the order for picking would be 1, 31, 61, 2, 32, 62, 3, 33, 63, etc. Once your turn to pick comes up they just go down your preference list. If your number one MOS is available you get it, or else they go to your second choice and so on. This means that the person ranking 30 in the company is going to have the third to last pick.

This process was developed in order to ensure “quality distribution.” That is to say that they want to make sure every MOS has a decent spectrum of quality Marines. As you can imagine, the system can be incredibly frustrating given that the 30th Marine gets the 88th pick while the 31st Marine gets second pick. Many times Marines try to “game” the system by failing tests, or physical events, to drop into a lower overall ranking, but ending up at the top of a different tier. The staff will generally catch these acts and respond accordingly.

THE THREE-TIER SYSTEM NO LONGER EXISTS

The historic system in no longer in play. The Marine Corps has developed a new process for placing officers in MOSs. It involves a more hands on approach by the staff. The idea behind “quality distribution” is still very much in play.

NEW MOS SELECTION PROCESS

Let’s look at the previous example. Instead of breaking the company into thirds the staff will look at the overall average score. For instance, assume the average grade for the company is 85%. Every MOS will be made up of Marines with a sum average that falls between 2.5% of the company average. The average for every MOS would be between 82.5% and 87.5%.

Marines will still submit a preference list, but the staff is going to do everything in their power to get you into one of your top 5 MOSs. In the previous system Marines would end up with the 25th pick on their preference list, since it was a primarily automated process. The Company XO will make the initial determination for placing Marines. Afterwards the entire company staff will get together and SPCs (Staff Platoon Commanders) will trade Marines around. It’s even more critical now for you to constantly talk to your SPC about what MOS you want. When the time comes to trade, if your SPC sees an opportunity to give you what you want then they can do it. At the same time, you have to prove to your SPC that you can do the job you want. If not, your SPC might trade you out of an MOS you wanted because they don’t think your fit for it.

At the end of everything the Company CO will give a final approval. The average distribution rule can be broken if the Company CO approves it. There may end up being a few MOSs where the average grade of the Marines assigned falls out of the 2.5% range.

Radio Operators Calling For Support

Communications Officer Billets

Marine Communications Officers have four basic options to pick from as far as billet assignments go, and they essentially boil down to the four parts of the MAGTF:

COMM BATTALION: Supports the Command Element
DIVISION: Supports the Ground Combat Element
MLG: Supports the Logistics Combat Element
WING: Supports the Air Combat Element

So that describes where in the Marine Corps you’re going, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s easiest to understand using the infantry model as an example.

Division, MLG, Wing

Let’s say you get assigned to 1st Marine Division. You’re going to report to the Division’s COMM COMPANY; this is the unit responsible for setting up comm for the Division Headquarters. From there you’ll be assigned a platoon: Radio, Wire, Data, Satellite Communications, etc. You’ll stay in the comm company for a few months learning how life as a Communications Officer works.

After awhile you’ll be sent out to a unit within the division. That could be an infantry regiment or battalion, a tank battalion, an artillery battalion, etc. If you get an infantry battalion you will be an “independent S-6,” meaning your boss is the Battalion CO and you’re the only comm-o in the unit. If you go to a larger/more complex unit, such as a regiment or a tank battalion, you’ll be the S-6A (assistant). You’ll work for a captain, who is the regular S-6. In either case, you’ll run that unit’s comm platoon, which will consist of about 60 Marines and will be split into radio, wire, and data sections.

That’s how it works at Division, and it’s roughly the same at MLG and Wing.

Radio Operators Calling For Support

Comm Battalion

Comm Battalion (which supports the MAGTF Command Element) is a little different; you’ll get assigned your platoon (again, radio platoon, wire platoon, data platoon, etc), and that will be your platoon. You’ll stay at the comm battalion for the duration of your tour. Comm Battalions typically don’t deploy as a whole, but instead will deploy a company at a time. For instance, when I MEF was in Iraq, it would be supported by 9th Comm Battalion’s Company A for awhile, then B, then C, etc.

You could potentially get sent on a MEU in comm battalion, and in that case you will probably be an independent S-6 or an S-6A for the MEU Command Element.

What are the big differences between each assignment?

Aside from the obvious fact that infantry does infantry and logistics does logistics, there are a few other differences as well:

Division units tend to be very radio-heavy and less data-heavy, especially at the battalion level. Radios are easy to use and set up by your average grunt, they can be operated on the move, and they are highly mobile. Data and other, heavier comm systems require significant time to set up and take down, and major comm nodes are highly susceptible to enemy attack. As such, you’re likely to see more data and other such technical gear at higher levels only in the division. Same applies for MLG.

Wing units are EXTREMELY data heavy. Lots of computers and command and control applications are used to control airspace, and long range communication necessitates Satcom and multichannel radio links.

BOTTOM LINE: No matter what, as a comm-o you will have a platoon of Marines. They’ll also be remarkably intelligent Marines. You really can’t lose, but based on what you’re looking to get out of the Marine Corps you have several options, at least one of which will appeal to you.

How do you go about picking a billet?

In the first week of comm school, you’re asked for your “geolocation” preferences. These give you a broad idea of where you’ll be stationed: East Coast, West Coast, or Overseas. Later in the course you’ll put in your preferences for billet: Comm Battalion, Division, MLG, or Wing. Talk to your faculty advisor throughout the course so you’re sure he knows your preferences and your reason for choosing them.

Then billets will be revealed. Most people will follow the path described above (e.g., reporting to the Division Comm Company, then getting tasked to a lower unit), but some people will be assigned directly to a subordinate unit. If that’s something you feel strongly about, make it known to your faculty advisor as well.

Marine With A UAV

A Note On MOS Selection And UAV Officers

At TBS there is going to be an “MOS Mixer”, which is basically where a bunch of Captains talk about their Marine Occupational Specialties then you go to the bar and talk to them over beers. It is a great experience that will give real insight into what being an officer in a certain MOS means.

UAV Officers

The UAV Officer MOS is a brand new officer MOS and no one knows anything about it. Here’s is some basic gouge about the UAV MOS that came up during the mixer.

  • UAV Officers work with a team of two or three Marines operating a UAV from a FOB.
  • The UAV Officer is the mission commander who directs the operation of the UAV, gathers intelligence from the feed, and supervises the coordination of that intelligence with the S-2 and whatever unit on the ground the UAV is supporting
  • In the future, the Marine Corps will be arming UAVs. When that happens, officers will begin directly operating them, as enlisted personnel are not allowed to operate craft that can drop ordinance.
  • This is a growing industry. It’s the only growing field in the Marine Corps at the time
  • Marines who get selected for UAVs will go to several Air Force schools. You’ll get your basic pilot’s license flying a Cessna, then focus on UAV material. Similarly to flight school, training will take a few years.
  • Currently, Marines selected for UAVs have only a 55% pass rate through UAV schools. This is an Air Force school that is heavily academic, and Marines coming out of TBS tend not to be prepared because TBS doesn’t teach you any skills relevant to operating a UAV. On the other hand, Air Force LTs show up with a thorough understanding of how the aircraft works.
  • Marine UAV operators are extremely successful once they get to the fleet. Since TBS teaches infantry tactics, how to coordinate with infantry, and how to call for fire, Marine UAV operators are effective as forward observers for fire support.

Some thoughts on MOS selection

If you want infantry, you’re probably going to get it. People are getting dropped and DOR-ing from IOC at a pretty incredible rate right now, which is leaving a lot of openings. Some classes have over 50 infantry slots! Some people who DON’T want infantry are probably going to get it. When you take away reservists, flight contacts, and females (not sure how the new regulations will impact numbers), 1 in every 4 male active duty Lieutenants will get infantry.

 

Communications Network Router

Communications School: FEX I, Mastery I, and Certifications

There are 3 components of Communications School that will be covered here. They are all major events and each marks a point of increased pace in the POI.

FEX I: SINGLE CHANNEL RADIO

While Communications School Field Exercises are by no means a nice holiday jaunt, they do involve far less hiking, walking, and otherwise physically wearing yourself down compared to The Basic School. That said, they are incredibly demanding, especially for billet holders.

Here’s how it’s set up.

Your class is split into three groups: RCT-6 (Regimental Combat Team 6), 1/6 (1st Battalion 6th Marines), and 2/6 (2nd Battalion 6th Marines). Essentially, that means a higher (regiment) and two subordinate units (battalions). Students essentially represent the comm platoon for each unit. Each site gets maybe 12 humvees and a 7-ton to play around with, all of which have power amplified radios. A number of man-pack radios, remoting devices, antennas, a COC (combat operations center) tent, generators, and all the gear you need to set up a Command Post is also available.

Each group goes to a different spot in the training area , and attempts to set up comm and talk to each other. Periodically the units will conduct “attacks” (aka, the imaginary grunts are attacking), and the group will have to split into a “tactical” command post and a “main” command post, and leap frog to maintain control of the battle. This is quite a process that requires extensive practice setting everything up, taking it down, packing it into humvees, and setting it up again. All in all, the idea is to simulate supporting your CO (the battalion or regimental commander) with continuous radio comms during kinetic combat operations. As you will discover, this is not an easy task. You’ll spend most of your day troubleshooting a certain net that’s giving you issues or planning your next move.

Bottom line:

  • FEX I = not a lot of sleep
  • Billets are really tough
  • A lot of learning occurs.

MASTERY I

Masteries make up the majority of your grade at comm school. Essentially, you’re given a scenario and come up with a plan. For example:

  • You are the Communications Officer for 4th Marine Regiment
  • You about to invade Country X
  • You are given the ground scheme of maneuver.
  • Plan communications

You’re given about three days to accomplish (e.g., Friday and the weekend). You will spend all three days working if you want to get it done relatively well. As you might expect, it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds.

During that three days come up with a plan, use some systems planning and engineering software to model it, and make a power point with fancy maps and slides. You brief it to a Captain who grades you.

There’s not a lot that can be said about Mastery other than that, because quite a bit of it is a closely guarded secret for integrity purposes. During that 3 day period, you’re literally not allowed to talk to other students about anything comm school related.

DATA / CISCO / CCNA

If you go to comm school, data will hit you fast and hard immediately after your first mastery. As of right now (this may change in the future), Communication Officers cover the CCNA Module 1 certification test in a period of one week. It takes most people about a semester, and you will do it in a week.

A little over half the class failed the certification test and had to try again. It can be done even with no technical background. Study hard and you will be fine.

So what exactly is it that you learn? Basically you learn how to set up computer networks and how the internet works. It’s actually incredibly interesting, but difficult to understand at first. You learn how to plan, install, program, and operate routers, swtiches, and other network equipment. The modern battalion commander has a wide variety of command and control applications available. Programs allow them to see where all their units are, chat, email, or even Skype higher command. Communications Officers learn how to set that up.

In addition to being interesting, this portion of the course also gives you the first part of a major civilian certification from Cisco (the company that provides network hardware for most major corporations), and SERIOUS job credibility should you choose to leave the Marine Corps. People pay good money to get these skills. You’ll get the certifications, and the experience, for free.

Communications Satellite Being Setup

The Start Of Communications School

Before getting too much into communications school, let’s start with what the 0602 MOS is all about. At TBS you learn NOTHING about what Communications Officers actually do. Comm actually has a bad reputation because the one or two classes you get about it are so damn boring, and comm rarely works right when clueless lieutenants are trying to use it.

All in all, if you went through TBS with no outside knowledge of what the job is all about, you would really have no good reason at all to pick it.

WHAT DOES A COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER DO?

Communications Officers “enable command and control.”

What this means is that it’s our job to plan and set up the means by which the commander is going to develop his situational awareness and give orders to his subordinates. For example, planning and setting up a vast array of technical systems: various radios that work on different frequencies, computers, and satellite communications. For instance, several of our radios can be hooked up to a computer to transmit data instead of voice. Let’s say you have a recon unit out at a listening post. An enemy convoy drives by, and they take a picture of it. They can send that picture back to the Chain of Command via radio.

It would be impossible to go into full detail of the capabilities that comm can provide to the commander. Suffice to say that with rapidly developing technology it’s a vast, growing, and really engaging field.

So that’s what comm provides, but what does a Communications Officer do?

They are a unique kind of officer in that they wear two hats. An infantry battalion’s 0602 is simultaneously a staff officer (the S-6) and a platoon commander (in charge of about 60 Marines).

Communications Satellite Being Setup

As a staff officer, you’re responsible for working with the rest of the battalion staff to plan operations; obviously your job is to plan the comm side of the operation. At communications school, you’ll be one of the few 2ndLt’s that gets schooled up on the Marine Corps Planning Process, or MCPP, which is essentially how a staff writes an Operations Order at the battalion level and higher.

As a platoon commander, you’ll have anywhere from 60-80 Marines under your charge. They’ll be split up into sections, such as radio, data, and wire. Each section will have a chief (probably a SSgt), and your platoon will have a comm chief (probably a MSgt). That’s a wealth of knowledge, experience, and leadership to rely on and learn from.

The opportunity to be a staff officer (where your peers on the staff will be senior 1stLts, Captains, and Majors), and a platoon commander with 4 subordinate SNCOs to rely on and learn from is truly unique. Combine this with an interesting, technical, and increasingly important skill set, and the MOS becomes even more exciting.

Now, infantry battalions aren’t the only places that 0602’s can go, so you can expect even more available opportunities.

COMMUNICATIONS SCHOOL

First of all, it’s much less miserable and daunting then The Basic School. Although, this is true with just about every MOS school except Infantry Officer Course (IOC).

It seems that once you hit your MOS school, the “evaluating” issue is less important than it was at OCS (where they were trying to see if they even wanted you or not), and TBS (where your standing determined your MOS and future career). At communications school, they just want you to learn the material so you can be a good at the job. The staff of mainly Captains are extremely accessible, friendly, and knowledgeable.

All that said, it’s definitely a tough course. A lot of information is condensed into a relatively short period of time. Six months is SHORT compared to the information we’re expected to absorb. The POI is divided into “annexes” that cover specific aspects of comm. For instances, the end of the Bravo annex is about single channel radio.

There are 3 Field Exercises, which will be covered in later posts.

Communications school was located in Quantico on mainside. It has since been moved to 29 Palms. The location of the MOS school shouldn’t drastically affect your decision, but those with families may be concerned about living 6 months in the desert.