What follows is an account of my very brief experience at Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI. I’m not writing this because I’m looking for pity, but rather to offer advice to those who are in the process of applying so that they don’t end up in the same position I found myself in these past several weeks. I’ve also never read anything about what happens to the people who DOR or NPQ at OCS, so that might be something that people are curious to know. True, you shouldn’t be thinking about such things if you’re going to OCS, but I doubt that knowing will change anyone’s plans.
The short version of my story is that I didn’t make it through Indoc week at OCS. I had only made it to the part with the DIs and beatings and sandpits, but even after just those first few days I knew I wasn’t motivated enough to put myself through everything OCS requires of you. If there is only ONE piece of advice I can give prospective officer candidates, it’s to make sure you are absolutely 100% committed to the goal of becoming a Naval Officer. If you’re not, or even if there is something else that you think you also might like to do, you won’t make it. I understand (and saw for myself) that a large percentage of the people who DOR are prior enlisted who liked their job to begin with and decided that OCS wasn’t worth it to them when they could just go back to their old job, try to make Chief Petty Officer, etc. If you’re a prior and think that OCS is just going to be like boot camp all over again, you’re completely wrong, as every prior I talked to there can tell you.
In my case, I had an alternate plan that I gave up in order to go to OCS, and that was living abroad in China to fully learn Mandarin Chinese and eventually attend graduate school to study a China-related field (probably history). The fact that I also wanted to do that means that I should have done it from the beginning, because once OCS started it turned into a no-brainer for me.
I applied to be an Intelligence Officer (and only Intel) straight out of college and I was really happy when I got it. However, now that I’m being honest with myself that was more because I wanted to work in intelligence than because I wanted to be in the military. You’ve probably heard this before, but if you’re applying to become a Naval Officer, you need to make sure your primary motivation is that you want to be a Naval Officer. If for example, you apply for SNA primarily because you want to fly and you think the Navy is a good way to do that, you’re going to have a hard time finding the motivation to make it through OCS knowing you also have options on the civilian side. Indoc week especially will give you a lot of “What the **** am I doing here?” moments, and you’d better have a great answer, because that’s the only thing that can keep you going.
So even though I went to OCS with a little bit of doubt and probably the wrong motivation, I was still prepared to work hard and figured that I could get through based on what I had read about it here and elsewhere. Wrong. The program is designed to weed out people like me, who don’t want it badly enough or think they might rather be doing something else. I thought I was prepared for the intensity of the program based on what I had read and heard, but you can’t understand what it’s really like until you’re actually there doing it. I won’t try to describe everything, but know that just because all the fun with your DI doesn’t really start until Wake-up Wednesday doesn’t mean that the first three days aren’t very stressful. You will be sore, sleep deprived, and barely able to speak long before you ever start rolling around in the sand. And once that starts, like I said, you had better be life-or-death determined to get through or else forget it.
A week or so before I finally went home, I heard the CO describe Navy OCS as the most difficult officer accession program in the military, which would have really surprised me to hear before I went. Now however, I’m inclined to believe it, even though I think Marine OCS might beg to differ. You will get beat (not beat up mind you). A lot. But the physical demands are just part of everything the instructors do to add stress, because that’s what they’re really after. It took me a while to figure this out, but the main purpose of OCS is not to make you into a good officer; it’s to put you into an extremely high stress environment for a long period of time to make sure you can function in it (and presumably let you learn how to be a good officer later with the help of the chiefs). Being intelligent and/or a PT stud will only help so much, because OCS is not primarily an intellectual or physical challenge. Like I’ve been saying, it’s all about motivation.
One quick piece of advice before I move on. I rolled into H-class right before I dropped, so I don’t know too much about it, but I do know that even though H-class is often likened to spending two weeks or more in a Siberian gulag and is definitely someplace you’d rather not be, it’s also not the end of the world. For some people it can actually be a much needed relief from Indoc week and give them time to get themselves more accustomed to OCS and better prepared physically and mentally. Though of course, it also means at least another two weeks that will suck. So if you happen to roll into H during Indoc week (and quite a few usually do), don’t panic. Just address whatever issue(s) you had and get yourself ready to class back up. Then go and be a leader in the next class, because you will have learned a lot of things that they don’t know yet. In fact, OCS wouldn’t work the way it does without the knowledge and experience that the roll-ins bring to new classes. If you want it bad enough, and as long as you don’t physically or mentally break, you will make it through eventually even if it means you have to spend multiple weeks in H.
I hope this next part will not apply to anyone who reads this, because I hope that everyone who is selected will be motivated enough to make it all the way through (even though in reality I know that won’t be the case). If you should happen to DOR or NPQ, you’ll move to what’s called student pool in another part of the base and be given simple jobs (fix this, move these, etc.) to do every day until all the paperwork is finished to get you released, back to the fleet, or wherever you’re supposed to go. You’re still getting paid as long you’re there, so you do have to work, but most days aren’t hard at all and you’re free to do whatever you want once you’re done for the day. For the paperwork, you’ll need to collect about a dozen signatures from anyone and everyone important, including finally the CO, and each time you’ll have to explain your reason for dropping. With each signature you get as you move along in the process, they’ll often try to talk you into not DOR’ing. Until the CO signs your paper, you still have the option of changing your mind and classing back up. Some guys did this while I was there, even though it of course meant being a huge target for a while. For one guy it even meant going all the way back to the seawall when he had been in his fourth week.
Student pool can be kind of a depressing place, because while some people are like me and just realized that they’d rather do something else, others were NPQ’d by an injury or have other issues and are pretty devastated, sometimes bitter. Everyone in student pool just wants to get out of there, but the absolute fastest that will happen is about three weeks to a month. And that’s if you’re like me and are just a civilian who doesn’t owe the Navy money for college or anything. For priors, program guys, and especially anyone with an injury, the process can take much longer.
So that’s about it. I dropped out of OCS after less than a week of being there. I don’t regret it because I’m confident that it was the right decision for me. My biggest regret is wasting the time and effort of the people who helped me get to Newport, as well as the time I wasted when I should have been doing something else. There were numerous reasons why I was attracted to the Navy in the first place which I haven’t forgotten, and I knew I was giving up a great opportunity. However, I never lost any sleep over my decision (I did lose sleep, but only because they moved the next Indoc class to the deck right above us) or seriously considered getting back in after I dropped, so I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t really belong there in the first place. I definitely have a new respect for those who have chosen to serve as Naval officers, but it wasn’t for me. I accept that and now I’m moving on. If anything I described about my situation seems familiar to any applicants out there, stop right now and think long and hard about whether this is something you really want to do. You don’t want to do what I did.
Good luck to everyone and I hope that whatever path you choose is the right choice for you.