Once again we return to our So You Want My Job  series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.
There are different routes into the military life: you can go down to the recruiter’s office and simply enlist or you can apply to enter one of the service branches as an officer. I know there are guys out there who are curious about how the latter option works. So today we have First Lieutenant Ryan Kwan, who recently became a Marine Corps officer, to walk you through the process. Thanks Ryan!
1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc).
I am from San Gabriel, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. When I was 18 I moved to San Diego to attend the University of California, San Diego. Near the end of college I decided to become a Marine Corps officer. Now, I am twenty-five years old, and I am training to be a communications officer.
2. Why did you want to become an officer in the Marine Corps? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?
The military was an option that was always in the back of my mind. I grew up watching and reading about World War II, and I was fascinated by the military life. The branch that I admired the most was the Marine Corps. They have the reputation of being the best, and I wanted to be a leader of the best fighting force. I also wanted to work on improving my leadership skills and at the same time serve my country.
I really didn’t know if being a Marine Corps officer was what I wanted to do, even at the end of Officer Candidate School (OCS). I still had the option of not accepting the commission because I had one more year in college. By the time I graduated from OCS and was starting my last year at UCSD, I felt that I could do a lot of good and learn a lot from joining the Marines, and so I decided to accept my commission once I graduated from UCSD.
3. Why did you choose the Marines over the other branches of the military?
I chose the Marines because they have a reputation for being the best fighting force, have the toughest training, and are the most admired branch. I also think the commercial with fighting a dragon had something to do with it.
4. What are the different routes a man can take to become an officer in the Marines? What are the pros and cons of the different routes?
There are quite a few ways to become an officer in the Marines; the minimum requirements are that you have to have earned at least a bachelors degree by the time you commission and you are a U.S. citizen. Most officers come straight from college. During college, candidates have to go to OCS through one of two options: a 10-week or two 6-week Platoon Leaders Course. If you’re already done with college, then candidates go through the 10-week long course. The other routes are to join NROTC or attend the Naval Academy. Lesser known routes are the enlisted commissioning programs, but I won’t get into them.
Some pros and cons of the different routes:
Officer Candidate School
Pros: You get to enjoy a normal college life, and you only go through training during your summers or after your college career.
Cons: The only con I can think of is that you lose your summer(s) if you attend OCS while you’re still in college.
Pros: You get your college tuition paid for, and you get more experience with the Navy side and the Marine Corps side. You get to choose whether you want to be a Naval Officer or a Marine Corps Officer.
Cons: You spend your summers in military training.
Pros: You get to experience and learn more about the Navy and the Marine Corps than the normal public does. Like the NROTC route you get the option of being a Marine Corps officer or a Navy officer. Your tuition is also paid for.
Cons: Instead of a normal college lifestyle, you’re in a highly rigid and structured lifestyle that’s not for everyone.
5. How competitive is it to be selected for Officer Candidate School? What is the application process like?
When I applied to OCS in 2007 there was very little competitiveness. Now the process is highly competitive. The experience can vary. First you find an Officer Selection Office; it is similar to a Marine Corps Recruiting Station. Then you have to show that you are physically fit, which means that you will have to take a physical fitness test and score high. There is actually quite a lot of paperwork to process, i.e. citizenship and SAT scores. You have background checks to see if you have a criminal record. You have to get a physical examination. It is a lot of work, so I made sure I finished my application process as quickly as possible, and it took about one month for me to be accepted to OCS.
6. What is the OCS experience like? Do you have any tips on making it through the course successfully?
If you have seen the movie Full Metal Jacket, it will paint a basic picture of what OCS is like. Granted that the goal of Boot Camp and OCS is different; at OCS the mission is to screen and evaluate candidates for their potential to be Marine Corps officers. Candidates can be dropped from the course if they do not meet the standards.
The entire ordeal is going to test your mental, endurance, and leadership abilities. If you can keep a cool head then you will make it through the mental toughness. Make sure you’re in your top shape before you attend OCS. There is a lot of physical training, and the course will wear your body down. As for leadership, it’s hard to give tips for that because there are different styles that will work. Find out what works best for you and speak with the Marine officer working at the Officer Selection Office. They have a lot of good advice.
7. You’re currently training to be a specialized officer in communications. Do all officers become specialized in something, and do you get to choose your specialty?
All officers are first trained to be provisional infantry officers at The Basic School. From there they get to rank which specialty they’d like to do. The only two exceptions are pilots and JAGs; they have already selected their specialty. But to answer the question- yes, all officers become specialized in an occupation ranging from infantry officer to air traffic controller to comptroller. Unless you’re a pilot or JAG you have to rank which specialties you want. I had ranked communications as my number one pick, and I was fortunate to get what I wanted. Others, for example, might have picked infantry as their first pick but ended up with their fifth choice or lower.
8. What is the biggest misconception people have about being or becoming an officer in the Marines?
The biggest misconception is that most people don’t understand the difference between becoming an officer versus becoming an enlisted Marine. My friends and family kept thinking I was going to boot camp.
9. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?
Find a vocation you will enjoy. In the back of my mind I always wanted to be part of the military or law enforcement. I never saw myself sitting in a cubicle and doing a “normal” civilian job. I felt that everyone else was getting a corporate job, but I wanted adventure and excitement. I am glad that I followed my intuition because I am happy and satisfied with the experiences that I have gone through. To keep it short, I followed what my heart told me, and I am enjoying what I do.