Candidates Moving Between SULEs

Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE) – Part 3

In the first and second parts of SULE information there was a lot of general material covered. This section is going to focus on providing applicable tips to help you perform better come time to show your competence. Not every increment is the same and things are always changing so take this advice with a grain of salt.

You will get hit from the side

At OCS you are going to mainly be doing frontal assaults as a squad. This doesn’t mean that the enemy is going to be attacking you from the front. The majority of the time the squads are going to be attacked from the side. As a squad leader, you have to be able to shift the squad into a position such that a frontal assault is possible. It is critical that you prepare the fire team leaders for different scenarios during the briefing. Below is an example to give you an idea how a squad leader could reorient the squad. It looks easy on paper, but the reality is that things are going to be loud, the FTs are likely disbursed over several hundred feet, and fire team leaders may not hear you so they will start giving their own orders that creates more chaos.

SULE Example Assault

There are false distractions

This doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes things occur that are meant to throw the squad off. For instance, you could be walking on a road and then you get hit by artillery on the left. Everyone drops to the ground and gets ready to start rushing. A squad leader who starts to freak out might give an order rush, but if you only waited a few seconds to gather yourself you would realize that there is no enemy fire. Get the squad up and keep moving forward.

Estimate the end point

Sometimes you can make an educated guess as to what is about to happen. Pay attention to your surroundings and use common sense. For example, if the squad has to cross a bridge there is a decent chance the enemy is on the other side. Before crossing give the FT leaders instructions on what to do if they take enemy fire.

Be afraid of squad stupidity

Yes, everyone in the squad has graduated college, or is currently attending a university. To assume that such intelligent colleagues have common sense and good judgement is a mistake. During one increment a squad leader lost points because one of the FT leaders had the FT rush through an area with signs that said “Mine Field”.

**MOST IMPORTANTLY** The Enemy Is Not Always The Mission

It is imperative that you understand what the MISSION of your SULE is. For example, assume the MISSION is to deliver supplies to a nearby friendly position. The squad is walking on the road and takes contact on the right. You engage and destroy the enemy. A large number of candidates would assume that they are done. They put the squad in a consolidated 360 position and take reports from the FT leaders. The squad leader walks confidently over to the instructor, gets on one knee, and gives a full report with confidence and vigor knowing that the enemy was destroyed. The evaluator tells the squad leader they just failed SULE.


The enemy assault was only a distraction. For the most part, you will not be assaulted a second time. The only thing you had to do was get the squad back in formation and continue along the road. The instructor will probably stop you immediately afterwards. It was a test to determine if you as the leader understood the MISSION.

Some will fail SULE because of this so make sure that the MISSION is understood before anything else.

Candidate Preparing an OPORDER

Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE) – Part 2

SULE is the most important event at OCS and requires diligent preparation starting right now. Practice is going to be more valuable than anything else you can do, but not everyone has the resources to be able to simulate a true training environment. Those in NROTC are hopefully getting what they need from their units, but the PLC and OCC candidates are a bit out of luck. The information here will get you half way to where you need to be. The rest will come when you actually get into the field.

If you haven’t yet read Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE) – Part 1 you should start there first.

SULE Requires Combat Fitness

Throughout the day you are going to do 50+ buddy rushes. This means you will be falling to the ground, firing a few rounds, getting up, sprinting through the harsh terrain, and repeating. Some SULEs come with extra gear, such as ammo cans, that will makes things more difficult. Being physically fit enough to do this throughout the day is critical to success. Luckily, SULE is towards the end of OCS so you will time to adapt your body to the training regiment.

Form Good Relationships Early On

It has been said before that leading your peer is difficult, and it’s easy to end up with bad relationships. SULE requires serious effort from everyone in the squad. If you become a candidate that is viewed as lazy, an idiot, a jackass, a screw up, or a bad leader then chances are your squad is going to make things more difficult for you. Starting on day one of OCS you must present yourself as a leader worth respect. Don’t screw around when instructors aren’t looking, and don’t be the candidate pretending to fix a rack while others are on their knees sweeping the deck.

Know The Operations Order

If you don’t know the OPORDER like the back of your hand then you’re pretty much screwed and nothing here will help you. The foundation of SULE is built upon the OPORDER. You will get an order, create an order, and deliver an order within about 5 minutes. The details of the orders done at OCS is nothing compared to TBS, but just focus on learning what you need to. For instance, the only “Signal” you will use is “HAVOC”, Hands and Arms Voice On Contact. It isn’t necessary to become an expert in pyrotechnics.

Here are the best resources for getting practice.

  1. The Operation Order lesson from the OCS book – This is the best place to start if you have no knowledge of the OPORDER
  2. The Combat Orders course from TBS – The pdf contains material at a slightly higher level than OCS, but still low enough to understand. The main thing you should focus on is the section about delivering an order.
  3. skeleton order – You should print, laminate, and bring a few copies with you to OCS. Use a map pen so that you can reuse it once laminated. The skeleton can be downloaded as a document file, so feel free to make changes to suit your needs. The skeleton is meant to help you think as little as possible so you can focus on the important things.
  4. An example set of abbreviations – Use whatever shorthand works for you. This list is a good place to start.
  5. An example platoon level order – You will be a squad leader so this is an order that you would receive. Read and transpose it to the skeleton. Use shorthands and then practice reading it aloud, preferably to someone else training for OCS.

Part 3 is going to contain hands on tips for SULE success.

Candidates During SULE

Small Unit Leadership Evaluation (SULE) – Part 1

The Small Unit Leadership Evaluation, or SULE, is the culminating event at Marine OCS. It’s a day long endeavor that tests ones ability to lead a squad through a mission. In some instances, you may end up taking more than a day to complete the evolution. This will be dependent upon how quickly the squads in the company rotate through the various missions, and weather conditions. During one summer session a few years ago, SULE was halted for close to an hour after a candidate found a live round in the field. A few candidates who hadn’t gotten evaluated had to go back out with their squads to finish the next day.


Depending on which OCS program you are going through there may be two events for SULE.

PLC Juniors: SULE I

PLC Seniors: SULE II


Bulldog Program (NROTC): SULE II

Candidates During SULE

The Rundown

You will be in a squad of 10-15 candidates. It will most likely be made up of others in your platoon. Sometimes you may end up with a straggler from another company or platoon.

Every candidate carries an assault pack, 2-3 MREs, a camelbak, a rifle, and some blank rounds.

In the early morning, candidates are shoved into buses and squads are dropped off at various locations.

All of the squads in the company begin commencing their first SULE at dawn. Hopefully, you get staged early enough so that everyone can get on the same page before things kick off.

The evaluator will eCandidate Preparing an OPORDERither pick the first squad leader, or let someone volunteer. It’s probably best to try and get your evaluation sometime in the middle of the day. At that point, the squad will be more cohesive and you can learn from the mistakes of others. At the end of the day, a lot of the candidates who have already finished aren’t going to be putting out as much effort. It is important that you DON’T be one of the candidates that slacks off towards the end. It will hurt your fellow candidates who are getting evaluated.

Each mission lasts between 20-40 minutes. That is from the time you get to a station to when you leave. As a squad leader you will be receiving an order, developing a plan, delivering an order to the squad, and executing the mission. All of those things together make up your SULE grade which is a huge chunk of the leadership portion of your overall OCS grade.

At the end of an evaluation, the instructor will give the squad leader a breakdown of what went well and what failed miserably. They will then choose, or ask for, a new squad leader. That squad leader is given a general set of directions and they are then in charge of getting the squad to the next mission.

Candidates Moving Between SULEs

The stations are roughly 0.5 to 1 mile apart from each other. The move between stations is actually going to be quite enjoyable. There are no instructors with the squads as they move from point to point. You are expected to move quickly, but it’s not like you have to sprint there. What’s also nice is that the MREs are available for you to eat whenever you want. This is a bigger deal than you might expect. Although, some candidates ran out of food by lunchtime. Be smart and conserve your chow.

The day is very long and you will cover about 10 miles. Overall, it is nerve wrecking, stressful, and tiring, but it’s also a great experience.

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to SULE. Therefore, information will be broken into several detailed posts.

Part 2 will discuss what candidates need to do to prepare beforehand.

Candidate On An LRC Obstacle At Officer Candidates School

5 Tips For The OCS Leadership Reaction Course

The Leadership Reaction Course is an important component of your leadership grade at Marine OCS. It is not as heavily weighted as SULE, but the skills practiced in the LRC will carry forward to SULE.

Essentially, the LRC is a group of mini challenges and obstacles that are carried out as a fire team. Every candidate will be required to take the role of a fire team leader and attempt an obstacle.

Candidates are given a set amount of time to receive an order, create an order, issue the order, and execute. The LRC is very time constrained and it’s important that you are completely competent when it comes to the Operations Order.


This is the most important point that you should take away from this information. It’s not about actually completing the challenge successfully. Some of the obstacles are ridiculously difficult to complete and take more time and people to actually accomplish the task. The LRC is all about leadership perception. Candidates must show qualities such as:

  • Decision Making
  • Adaptability
  • Confidence
  • Ability To Convey Orders Quickly

All of these qualities can be demonstrated without successfully finishing the obstacle.

These tips are derived from personal experience, and feedback that candidates received from instructors. Make a note of these and take them with you to OCS. Practicing these ideas will make a difference in your LRC grade and help you better develop leadership skills.

1. Give A Complete Operations Order

Candidate preparing an order for the leadership reaction courseThis is a tough thing to do given time constraints, but do not fall victim to panic and rush things. The instructor will give you a very quick and chopped up order that you must then turn into something that is complete and concise within about a minute. Candidates will likely not receive more than 20% of the information that goes in the order. The other 80% is essentially going to be made up.

For instance, it is almost guaranteed that you won’t get information for the Administration & Logistics section of the order. If your not sure what this means you just have to know that the section contains information about food, ammo, prisoners of war, and casualties. If your instructor doesn’t give you this information then just say something like, “chow will be resupplied on the objective, ammo is whatever you are carrying, POWs and casualties go to the Platoon Sergeant.”

Candidate giving orderA common mistake that candidates make is to skip entire sections of the order because it has no impact on carrying out the actual mission. As mentioned earlier, this is not about finishing the obstacle. The instructors are literally holding a grading sheet that has check boxes next to each component of the order. All you have to do is at least say the name of the section and “none”, or “no information.” A lot of candidates do great showing leadership, but they get hit hard on their grade because they failed to give a complete order.

2. Develop A 60% Plan

As the saying goes, “it is better to have an instant 60% solution than a 100% solution that is delayed.” From the second the instructor finishes giving an order, you must come up with a solution while you are starting to write your own order. It probably won’t be perfect, but you just have to go with it and make changes throughout the execution.

The worst thing you could do is hesitate when assigning tasks. Even if your tasks are vague you must be confident in your plan.

3. Don’t Be The One Carrying Out The Plan

Traversing a wall during the LRCCandidates have a tendency to take control of the physical execution of a plan.

For instance, if the mission is to build and cross a bridge then the fire team leader immediately starts moving lumber and runs across first.

This is not the way to go here.

The fire team leader must maintain a leadership role. If you start building the bridge yourself then how are you supposed to lead the fire team.

Leaders should position themselves in the middle of the group to maintain control. They should give orders to others and observe closely so that changes and new decisions can be made.

 4. Adapt Quickly To A Changing Environment

Candidate falling in water during LRC at Marine OCSThe plan will not go smoothly, and if it does then the instructor will throw in some twist to make it more difficult.

Here is an example:

The mission is to climb over a fence to deliver supplies and then return. You send 1 candidate over with the supplies and he delivers it successfully. The instructor doesn’t like that your plan is working so he tells you that the candidate you sent over was just sniped in the head. Now you must go retrieve the body.

Part of the evaluation process is making sure candidates can come up with new plans and develop decisions on the spot. Don’t be thrown off by unexpected events.

5. Scraping The Original Plan Is Not A Bad Thing

This is a tip that came up a few times from various instructors. Sometimes the 60% plan just doesn’t work. If you spend the entire duration of the course continually attempting to do something that clearly isn’t working you are hurting yourself. There is nothing wrong with pausing for a few seconds, calling in your fire team, and working together to develop a new plan. Get help from other candidates, but make sure that you first demonstrate that you can come up with a plan on your own.

The Leadership Reaction Course is a very challenging and time constrained event. Some candidates end up falling into water while others have to hang on to an ammo can with every muscle in their forearm. There are going to be enjoyable aspects to the course, but main thing is to stay focused and pay attention to everything. If you aren’t the first one to be the leader you should be learning from other candidates’ mistakes. Remember that you are graded on leadership not successfully finishing the obstacle.

Platoon Running At Marine OCS

Connecting Fitness and Leadership. An OCS Perspective

Platoon Running At Marine OCS

Physical fitness and leadership are interconnected in more ways than can be written. On paper, leadership accounts for 50% of candidates’ overall grade while physical fitness makes up 25%. The reality is that the two categories of evaluation and not separable. Physical fitness will play an important role when it comes to proving your leadership ability.

It should come as no surprise that Officer Candidates School tests for leadership competency in the midst of stressful and physically intense environments. Maintaining authority and control when the platoon is sitting on their camp stools eating MRE’s is one thing, but doing so during a 12 mile hike is another story. Candidates will be tested under strenuous circumstances and those who are not prepared physically will have a difficult time commanding their platoons.

Officers Lead From The Front … Literally

As the saying goes, “Officers lead from the front.”

This may not always mean running straight into the battlefield charging your Marines forward, but it does require that you be capable of doing so if the situation ever did arise. At OCS, there are detailed formation guidelines for training evolutions. These formations stem from the way training is conducted out in the real Marine Corps.

Billet holders will be required to maintain a certain position in formation throughout various platoon activities. Failing to do your duty as a billet holder is a red flag that tells the instructors you don’t have what it takes.

Those without billets shouldn’t start relaxing. There may not be as much pressure to perform well, but the instructors are still watching you.

Conditioning March

Company Conditioning March at Officer Candidates School

There are going to be several hikes throughout Marine OCS. Some will be short movements to get the platoon from one place to another. These are usually 3-6 miles and done at a fairly high pace. The most important of these will be the 15-km(9.3 mile) conditioning march which is a graduation requirement. Failing the 9 mile means that you fail OCS. Candidates may have the opportunity to make-up the failure with the 12 mile march, but don’t count on it.

How does leadership factor in?

It is quite simple really. Everyone with a billet is going to be expected to carry out the tasks they are responsible for. If you aren’t fit enough to keep up with the conditioning march, how can you expect to do your duty effectively. Here are some examples for billet holders.

The Candidate Platoon Commander is always in front of the platoon. If he/she can’t keep up and falls back the entire platoon is going to be watching. There is no easier way to lose the confidence and respect of your peers. It doesn’t matter if you are tired, hungry, or have blisters. The Candidate Platoon Commander must remain calm and confident throughout the hikes and not show any weakness as a leader. During rest periods, the Candidate PltCdr should be talking with individuals and reporting to the Staff PltCdr the condition of the platoon.

The Candidate Platoon Sergeant has an even tougher job. That candidate has to manage and take care of everyone in the platoon. This means running up and down the formation checking on individuals, giving reports to the Candidate Platoon Commander and Staff Platoon Sergeant, taking charge during rest periods, getting water refills to everyone, etc. If the Candidate PltSgt can barely keep up with the hike there is no way they will be able to execute the tasks expected of them. Incredibly physically fit individuals can still struggle with this.

Platoon Runs

Platoon runs are another opportunity for candidates to embarrass themselves. One of the first PT sessions candidates undergo is the introductory run which is basically a run throughout the Quantico hills that shows you where everything is. It is not a graded event, but the staff will often record the names of candidates who fall out. You might as well put a target on your back for the staff to aim at.

The responsibilities of billet holders is similar to that of the hikes. The main difference is going to be the added chaos from the increased pace. For example, the Candidate Platoon Sergeant now has to sprint from the rear of the platoon to the front in order to report issues.

The Weak Will Be Chosen

The staff at OCS is aware of just about everything and everyone in platoon. They absolutely do take into account upcoming events when choosing billet holders. If you have show yourself to be a slow runner, don’t be surprised when you end up the Candidate PltSgt for the Endurance Course introduction run done as a platoon.

The purpose of OCS is to evaluate candidates. The staff wouldn’t be doing the Marines justice if they didn’t test candidates where it hurt most.

Be Ready Physically

The PFT and CFT do have their merits when it comes to showing that you are fit enough to lead Marines. However, physical events that are done as a platoon, or in a squad/fire team, carry significantly more weight when it comes to proving leadership ability. A candidate who runs a 22 minute 3 mile is still going to have to keep up with the Staff Platoon Commander who chooses to run the platoon at an 18 minute 3 mile pace.

Minimum Suggested Physical Benchmarks For Platoon Activities

  • 3 mile run – 21 min males / 24 min females
  • 3 mile run in boots – 24 min / 27 min females
  • 5 mile run – 40 min males / 50 min females (actual expected scores for a 5 mile run event)
  • Hike 12 miles with 60-100 lbs of gear (males and females)

Don’t get comfortable because you can pass the PFT. Make sure you train your feet for hiking long distances, continue to improve running speed, and push yourself to new limits. The staff at OCS expect it. The candidates standing beside you expect it. Most importantly, the Marines you are aspiring to lead expect it.

There is no single workout that can prepare you for OCS. Continue to train using the resources provided here and through your OSO/NROTC unit.