TBS

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

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.

TBS Gear

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.

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.

Marines Training At MCB Quantico

How The Reduction In Manpower May Affect You

In the midst of budget cuts and a war that is winding down, it should come as no surprise that the Department of Defense is continuing to reduce manpower. With the Marine Corps having the smallest budget of all the services, it is even less surprising that we are getting hit hard. What does this mean for new officers, the number of NROTC scholarships, and OCS applicants? You won’t find a definitive answer here, in fact much of this information is speculative. However, there seems to be some evidence supporting a lot of the chatter going around.

Newly Commissioned Officers And The Basic School

If you weren’t aware, TBS is having serious trouble trying to manage the flood of new Lieutenants that are making their way into the Corps. Many of these officers signed on several years ago when the budget situation and outlook of the war was much different. For instance, most NROTC Marine Option Midshipman graduating today got in at least four years ago.

The solution has so far been to place new officers on hold, or more formally in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). In some instances, the holding time could exceed a year.

In addition, it has recently come to my attention that TBS is giving new officers the option to:

  1. Extend their time in the IRR, or
  2. Resign their commission

As of today, there are NO available TBS slots until April of 2015. Those who have an upcoming ship date can delay their entry further. This may be ideal for someone expecting a child, or dealing with other personal, financial, or private industry work related issues. The second option does seem a surprising at first, but when you examine the severity of the reduction it makes sense.

NROTC Scholarships – Can you still pick one up?

Although speculative, you can pretty much guarantee that the Marine Corps is going to be much more careful in determining who gets a full ride through college. When you think about it, the amount of tuition paid for a single person can range between $50k to $200k and up depending on the university. Given that Marine Officers coming out of NROTC only have a 4 year commitment, it doesn’t seem likely that the Corps is going to invest very heavily in this particular path given budget cuts.

As an example, my old unit, one of the smallest, generally gets between 3-5 Marines Options on scholarship each year. Last fall they only received 1.

OCS Applicants – Will You Get Picked Up For OCC/PLC

Can’t really say too much here, except that you are likely to see the same patterns. Traditionally, OCC graduates went straight to The Basic School with little time between the two. However, don’t be surprised if you end up in some temporary admin job waiting to pickup for real training.

Don’t be discouraged. The Marine Corps will always need new officers, and the best pool of applicants still have the chance to claim the title of Marine Officer. Things will balance out in the years to come.