The OCS Experience- Pt. 2

Well folks, this is my final post about OCS and my experiences with the Marine Corps. Not surprisingly, writing these (and the conversations that result) bring a great amount of closure…I’m ready to end this chapter of my life. Here’s a continuation of “The OCS Experience- Pt.1,” more orientated to the highs, lows, and  lessons learned.

Roses: things that I loved about OCS

  • The feeling that came with the completion of a task or mission that originally seemed impossible is addicting! I felt like I reached a new level almost everyday whether it was a combat skill, PT, overcoming a fear or even just putting my boots on in the allotted 30 seconds. Honestly though, watching your friends succeed and overcome is an even better feeling.
  • In my platoon, we had several staff members who went out of their way to take advantage of teachable moments. Knowing that they believed in you (even if they screamed at you constantly)was a very encouraging reminder on the worst of days.
  • Every day at 0800 and 2000, the colors play as the flag is raised/lowered. There’s no movement and no noise–everyone is still and saluting. It gives me goosebumps just to think about what the colors represents and its significance.
  • After we hygiened at night, we got mail! You just stand at the end of your rack, hoping and praying that your name was called. Something about getting mail–no matter who it’s from–is the most encouraging and motivating event. I am so thankful that almost everyday I got at least 1 letter!

Thorns: things I hated about OCS

  • Not having any contact with friends or family for the first 3 weeks, or during the week. I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to go that long without talking to my sister or friends. At least twice I day I wished more than anything that I could pull out my phone and take a picture or send a quick text.
  • The words “I,” “me,” and “my” are absolutely off-limits, so everything is “this candidate,”she,” or “her.” This isn’t a difficult thing to do, but it’s hard to get in the habit and it’s straight-up annoying. [It’s pretty powerful how In conjunction with only being referred to by your last name, your mindset shifts from thinking as an individual to thinking as a unit.]
  • For the past year, I’ve followed a pretty strict gluten-free diet. At OCS, our diet was almost 100% gluten in the form of pasta, with occasional vegetables and a few fruits a day. The thing is, it didn’t really bother me too much cause I was so hungry all of the time, but towards the end I felt it catching up with me, and boy do I feel it now!
  • Politics run everything; I not naïve…I know that politics exist in every organization. But when it’s something as important as a Candidate’s future, you’d think there would be at least some effort to give fair evaluations. There are candidates who will probably graduate who have no business graduating, and there are candidates who got sent home unfairly. I’m having a difficult time articulating what the bureaucracy at OCS looked like, so maybe more will come on that later.

Lessons Learned

  • You can accomplish so much more than you could ever imagine if you just push yourself and allow others to push you. Never ever quit. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to?
  • Teamwork really does make the dream work.
  • Failing is not the worst thing that can happen; it allows you the opportunity to learn and grow. As Aaliyah once said: “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.”
  • Life isn’t fair, but everything happens for a reason.
  • This isn’t something I learned at OCS, but each day I was reminded to appreciate and cherish members of the Armed forces. The men and women who lead our troops as officer deserve the utmost respect and honor. (I give mad props to those even just making it through OCS–that stuff is hard!)

Thank you! Thank you all for writing and praying for me. I am so grateful that I have such an incredible network of friends and family who encourage and support me. I would never have made it (especially the last few weeks) without you!

Hands down, OCS was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every day was mentally demanding and physically exhausting.

Would I do it again? HECK YES. In a heartbeat.

The OCS Experience- Pt. 1

It’s crazy to look back and consider everything I’ve learned in the past 5 weeks and all of the training we completed. I tried to keep track of everything and my thoughts about it along the way, so here are some basic summaries:

In-Processing: The first 5 days were spent sitting around while everyone got medically cleared, supply & gear issue and figuring out the daily grind of OCS. It was nice to get to know some of the other candidate before we were all stressed out.

Food/Health/Sleep: The food wasn’t bad, we just didn’t get very much of it– I was always hungry! The first week and a half, my stomach killed me, but I adapted. Injuries are so high partly because all we eat is carbs, with little protein or calcium. My feet never blistered, but my ankles and tibialis are pretty worn out…actually, every joint and muscle is my body is worn out. The athletic trainer and Navy Corpsmen were awesome with taping and treating injuries. At one point, I was pretty sick, and they let me take naps during my breathing treatments.  🙂 Literally everyone got sick, and I’m pretty sure it’s because we never slept. Even though lights are out for 8 hours each night, that’s the only time you have to write punishment essays, prepare for the next day, shower, etc. It also didn’t help that every few days you’re on a 2-hour fire watch shift.

Sergeant Instructors: The Sergeant Instructors weren’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated (until they decided they hated me). Early in training they clearly target weaker candidates, but as long as you sounded off and responded with speed & intensity, you were fine. With the exception of 1, it was evident the SIs loved their job and the Marine Corps. When they let their guard down, it was easy to remember they’re people too and we can actually learn a lot from them. l After the 3rd week, they backed off significantly and let us lead ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, they still screamed a lot, but it became more constructive than for the sake of stressing you out.

First interactions!

First interactions!

Squad Bay Chaos

Squad Bay Chaos

Drill: Although I was on the drill team in high school, I’m now a terrible marcher–I can’t stay in step to save my life. I love it though. When the whole platoon gets something, it looks so sharp and our confidence goes through the roof. Unfortunately, more often than not, our Drill SI says we look like “retarded Clydesdales.”

Academics: We typically spent 2-4 hours a day in classes about the structure of the Marine Corps, USMC History, Leadership, etc. Anyone who knows me knows that I love school, but these classes kicked my ass. Even though they’re only a 10th grade level, I failed half of them the first time–by 1 question. It’s just so hard to stay awake in class and there was not usually time to study until after lights out.

Leadership Evaluations: Leadership is the largest percentage of your grade, so it’s constantly being evaluated. First up, we had the Leadership Reaction Course (LRC), which tests your ability to make decisions & plan, then adjust it all when you fail. We also had Small Unit Leadership Evaluations (SULE), which test your ability to use signals, formations and lead your team through enemy territory. I did well with these, partially because I can write a kick ass Operations Order (thank you, OSO ATL!).

Leadership Billets: Candidates are also placed in leadership billets over their peers, which is surprisingly difficult. I was Candidate Platoon Commander and Squad Leader, neither of which were exceptionally good or bad. My last week at OCS, I was the Candidate Company Gunnery Sergeant, which apparently is one of the more dreaded billets. Basically, I was responsible for chow, maintenance, accountability, security and gear for the entire company. I loved it, and did really well–thanks to my Type A, organizational skills. I also got to work with the coolest staff member (who actually wanted me to stick around).

Candidates: Honestly, I had initial inclinations about who would/wouldn’t make it and many of the surprised me! We had several prior service members in our platoon which helped everyone out.  A lot of the girls were catty and immature, but for the most part, there was a sense of camaraderie and willingness to help each other out. I’m also convinced that the only reason I survived as far as I did was because a dear friend of mine from Atlanta was in my squad–she saved my butt on countless occasions and singlehandedly kept me sane toward the end. I didn’t interact too often with the male candidates until weeks 4 & 5, but they were super cool. I was impressed by their willingness to encourage and help without being asked (unlike most females). Overall, the males were much more relaxed and enjoyable to be around.

Physical Training: By the third day of PT, I regretted every workout I skipped. I got it together though and held my own during most sessions. During platoon runs, I was usually a little behind, but I never fell out. I loved the Rifle PT and the Obstacle, Tarzan (high ropes) and Confidence courses. The only PT I failed were the 4 & 6-mile hikes–those things are bitches. Regardless, I’m faster and stronger than when I started, so I’d say PT was a success.

Tactics: Hands down, this was my favorite element of training–mostly because it was really fun and I excelled at it. Day and night land navigation was one of the first things we did,  where you go from Point A to find Point B after shooting an azimuth and whatnot. The combat courses were hella fun as well. Basically that included different crawls and obstacles with your weapon. usually we were in fire team elements and had to navigate enemy fire and secure enemy objectives.

Learning some new crawls

Learning some new crawls

Liberty: I didn’t realize how homesick/stressed/tired I was until the end of week 3 when we got our first liberty. Everyone told me that OCS changes you, but it wasn’t until Harmony and Caryn came to visit that I saw the change in myself (more on that to come later). I spent every liberty on probation, so I was stuck on base and had early morning formation on Sunday, but it was nice to have Saturday evening-Sunday evening to relax, prepare for the week and just act like normal people.

Just thinking about everything we did, is exhausting, but I actually miss OCS and the 0500-2100 days! Anywho, more to come about the OCS Experience tomorrow.

  • Check out tons of photos here

  • This Tumblr account sums up every OCS emotion & thought perfectly…I spent an hour laughing at the entire page

Dropped.

With countless aches & pains, lessons learned and her head held high, this former officer candidate is home.

For the first time in over 5 weeks, I have the chance to sit down with nothing but a cup of coffee and my thoughts. I’m not even sure where or how to begin processing my emotions and recent events.

I am exceptionally proud of the fact that I made it halfway through training. It’s difficult to put into words how difficult those 5 weeks were and the sense of accomplishment that comes with the completion of every challenging evolution. It’s also difficult to describe how frustrating it is to have the end almost in sight and be forced to quit. I know I could have finished, even if it meant crawling to graduation day.

I got placed on an Incident Review Board. with no one pulling for me. There was one Gunnery Sergeant who seemed to be fighting for me, but against 10, 1 doesn’t have much weight. A Board is basically a gathering of all of the company & battalion staff, they look at your paper trail, listen to your argument and determine if you get to continue training; typically the boards are for failing (leadership, academics, and/or physical) or particular incidents. I never stood a chance at the boards–they had their minds made up before I even got there.

In short, I got dropped for “a significant lack in judgment & integrity:”

  1. The Letter: A letter I wrote home, ended up on a public social media site and the content was decided to show a lack of commitment to the program. It was also an “integrity violation” because they believed that I posted it and had therefore kept contraband. This incident in essence, put a target on my back. Everyday became miserable on so many levels; company staff made up their minds that they wanted me gone and a few even told me that they would do everything they could to make sure I didn’t graduate.
  2. The Obstacle Course: Running the obstacle course in a set amount of time, without missing any obstacles is a graduation requirement. There are two obstacles I struggled with: the Single High Vault & the Bounding Logs; on test day, you get 3 attempts at each obstacle before you have to count it as a loss and keep moving. I completed the course in 4:10, missing only the Bounding Logs–I got the Single High Vault on my third try. However, the company XO didn’t see me get the Single High Vault and accused me of cheating for not reporting it as a failed obstacle.
  3. Malingering: One morning I went to medical after PT, and was told to return in 2 days if the injury didn’t improve. The problem was that my medical record didn’t indicate a necessary follow-up appointment, so when I went in, the XO accused me of lying to get out of PT.

By the time my boards came around, I had pretty much checked out. Their objective of completely breaking me down had been secured. I really don’t mind being screamed at by the Sergeant Instructors, but when they constantly make it personal and attack your character, it’s difficult to stay focused. I got blasted and given chits (basically a write-up with a written response) for the most minute things–things that no one else was even noticed for. As much as I wanted to say, “to hell with all,” I felt like that would only prove them right. So, I pushed harder, studied more, and put out more. All to no avail–the more I worked, the more trouble I got in and the more discouraged I became. Honestly, on Monday, when the decision was made that I was being sent home, I felt a sense of relief.

Sometimes, I think it was foolish to think I could make it through; foolish not to have a Plan B. I have no car, no job, no place to live. Some days, I’m so anxious that I can barely eat or sleep. Other days, I have perfect peace. No matter what lies ahead of me, I am resolved to trek onward with my head held high. I did nothing wrong and I did my best–at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

FAQs:

  1. Will I go back? Thankfully, I have the recommendation to (turns out, that’s a really big deal for your permanent record), but no, I don’t plan to. I saw a lot of things in the character of the leadership that makes me want to completely disassociate myself with the Corps.
  2. How do I feel now? When I think too much about it, I get pissed off and anxious. The one thing I don’t feel is sorry for myself (you shouldn’t either!);  I refuse to dwell on things that can’t be changed–there’s a wide world out there, ready for exploring.
  3. What do I need? A job, a car, somewhere to live (as much I appreciate my parents letting me stay at home, that’s not a long-term option)
  4. What am I going to do now? Study & retake the GRE, hopefully find a job, enjoy this time to be still and really pray about what the Lord has for me in the future.

I would sincerely appreciate your prayers as I seek the Lord in figuring out my next steps. Pray for an enduring peace and trust in the Lord to provide & direct.

Do or Die

I am less than 24 hours away from shipping out to OCS!! I am excited, nervous, confident, terrified, peaceful, and anxious–all at the same time. I’ve trained hard BUT I’m not as fast or strong as I would like to be; I’ve studied a ton of information BUT I don’t know as much as I would like. Ultimately though, these “BUT”s don’t matter. Come tomorrow, there’s no turning back. It’s do or die. I’m as ready as I’m gonna be.

While I’m gone…

Please please please please please write me!! I’m going to be miserable and miss those that I love, but letters will help keep me sane, motivate and encourage me. I’m not typically a begger, but right now I am begging! A few days after I get there and either write or call home, someone from my family will post the address when I receive my company & platoon assignment. Read about what to send (and not to send) here and here.

Pray for me!! I am fully confident that with the Lord on my side, I will finish OCS. I am praying and believing that His faithfulness thus far will continue. Pray that I have a supernatural strength and endurance. Pray that I find favor with my Sergeant Instructors and those around me. Pray that I am a Light in a dark place and that I point others around me toward Christ.  Most importantly, pray that I never stop relying on the Lord alone to get me through.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

Atlanta’s Best

I lived in the ATL for exactly a year, and while I hated it most of the time, there are actually quite a few things that I grew to love about the city. Below is my list of must-dos for anyone moving to or visiting Atlanta.

Drinking & Desserts: If you know me well, you know I love a nice drink and the occasional sweet
1. Six Feet Under: this place is the coolest….the bar is on top of the building, so that you have an incredible view of the skyline
2. Kale Me Crazy: refreshing fruit and vegetable juice for days
3. Honey Bubble Tea: if you’ve never had bubble tea, you’re missing out. It’s iced & flavored (dozens of varieties) tea over tapioca pearls
4. Ormsby’s Taverns: no need to bar hop with this one! this place has a huge alcohol selection and in the basement there are a ton of group games (like darts)
5. Piece of Cake: ahhmazing cupcakes…plus, they have an allergen-free selection!

Eating: Really, who doesn’t love a good meal? Atlanta has an abundance of incredible restaurants, but these are the best of the best
1. Mary Mac’s Tea Room: soul food in it’s finest form {it’s also the location of my car accident!}
2. Yard House: hundreds of beers on tap, awesome atmosphere, and delicious (large) food
3. Zen on Ten: awesome Happy Hour specials on sushi and drinks
4. Yeah! Burger: gluten-free buns, local produce and tons of topping varieties–what else could you need?
5. MetroFresh: super healthy, fresh, and creative salads

Playing: I didn’t always feel like there was a lot do, except eat. BUT that’s not actually the case
1. Piedmont Park: tons of trails, greenery, a dog park, flowing water, a farmer’s market–this park has everything! I spent most of my free time where when the weather permitted
2. Atlantic Station: pretty decent shopping district with lots of food options, it’s really cute in the winter with the lights everywhere!
3. World of Coca-Cola: okay, so this is super tourist-y, but it’s pretty fun if you’ve never been to the ATL!
4. X3 Sports: kickboxing, Fast Track and awesome trainers…best membership I’ve ever had. If I wasn’t at the park, I was here!
5. Passion City Church: clearly, I saved the best for last. This church is absolutely phenomenal. Full of people who love Jesus, serve others, and seek truth. I was a doorholder and involved in the community groups there…pretty sure I would not have made it through the year without this amazing house.

If you’ve never been to the ATL, you should go to sometime before you die.

ATL

It’s OVER.

Tomorrow is my last day as “Ms. Fisher.” It’s my last day teaching, parenting, mentoring, and pissing off 6th graders. I could not be more excited.  Along the way there were a few laughs and lots of lessons learned made, but it was mostly the most miserable thing I’ve ever done. Of course, I didn’t realize everything I learned or the things I enjoyed about my job until it became[almost] hindsight.

Lessons Learned: To say that I’ve learned a lot this year would be a gross understatement.
1. 6th graders are children–no matter how fast they’ve grown up or how hardened by the world they’ve become.
2. The education system in America is jacked up on so many levels. I already knew this, but having spent a year in it, I understand so much more how my students are being set up to fail on a daily basis–especially for students with true Learning Disabilities.
3. Take advantage of the knowledge and resources in the people around you. I would have never made it through the year if it weren’t for the teachers who listened to me vent (often about the same things day after day), gave me books and resources to use in the classroom, and taught me how to handle the bureaucratic nonsense.

Accomplishments: For someone who spent the first 27 weeks of school worried about getting fired, I actually got a lot done:
1. Almost all of my students passed the CRCT (end of year standardized testing). This is huge because most of them failed last year or have never passed one in their life.
2. In August, most of my students were at about a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level. As of last week, almost all of them are at a 4th grade or above reading level.
3. [This last one has nothing to do with my students] I am incredibly proud of myself for completing the entire school year. In October, when I hit my meltdown phase (which lasted until January), quitting was a daily consideration. I’m especially proud of this in light of the fact that I had essentially no training on how to be a teacher, how to work with Special Education students, or how to do the hours and hours of Special Education paperwork.

Student Showcase: Any teacher who says they don’t have favorites is a liar.
1. Naquayvius: This kid is such a goofball; he just turned 13, and he’s already about 6′. Naquayvius came in at 1st grade reading level and hated school with a passion. He had never passed a CRCT and never expected to pass or succeed at anything. Naquavius’ dad was killed when he was about 11 and he’s had anger issues ever since. But here’s the thing about Naquayvius: he is the most playful, artistic, kind and insightful kid I know. Naquayvius passed all but one of his CRCTs and independently put himself in an anger management class. Yesterday at lunch, he made a toast with his milk that went like this: “You know, Ms. Fisher isn’t so bad when you get to know her. She never gave up on me or let me give up on myself.”
2. Jasmine: From August to sometime in November, this girl brought me to tears on a daily occasion. I’m pretty sure if you look up “defiance,” “rebellion,” or “attitude” in the dictionary, her picture would have been there. Then one day, Jasmine asked if she could sit next to me at lunch. I hesitantly said ‘yes’ and tried to get to know her a little. Surprisingly, we’re pretty similar: Jasmine is a twin (like me, she’s the dominate one), she loves salad & vegetables, and everyone knows & loves Jasmine. I quickly realized that Jasmine loves to please people, she’s a natural leader and she loves to do well. Once I figured out to use these traits to my advantage (positive manipulation???) , she quickly became my personal assistant. Jasmine is the first one to tell the rest of the class to “shut up” (still workin on that one) and she’s the first one to recognize disrespect and straighten that out. Her current career aspirations are to be either a teacher or a Marine (OORAH!).
3. Brandon: This boy has seen a lot more in his short life than is fair: in the 6 months that he’s been at RMS, he’s gone to 5 different foster homes. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why–I’d adopt him tomorrow if I could! In all settings, Brandon is sweet as can be, incredibly respectful, he does his work exceptionally well, and he’s an outstanding writer. Brandon never lets his circumstances get in the way of his success. I have so much respect of this kid’s diligence and determination.

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I have a newfound respect for effective educators and those who pour their lives into the next generation; quality teachers are without a doubt, the most underworked, underappreciated and underpaid workforce. I’d like to think that in some small ways I fall into the category of “quality teachers” and that this year wasn’t for naught.

Intrepid

Intrepid {adj}: unafraid, bold, courageous, resolute


Mini-OCS On March 21, myself and a few dozen other Candidates set off for Parris Island.  The purpose of this weekend was to get candidates oriented to what OCS is like. I was excited to see a glimpse of my summer and spend time under the leadership of real Marines. At the same time, I was also nervous as hell–“What if I can’t do it? I’m not physically fit enough! I don’t know enough about the Marines! What if I make a fool of myself?” In the end, I survived and learned many important lessons. There are about 10,000 things I could say about this experience, but here are the top 5 things I learned:

  1. Don’t be the person that makes everything more difficult for the whole platoon.
  2. Learn things the first time you’re taught. And learn it it correctly. When told to do something, do it immediately and do it right. Example: always always always SOUND OFF.
  3. Drill Sergeants are supposed to make your miserable. It’s their job–nothing personal (unless you act like a bitch and make it personal)Also, when they’re screaming at you, don’t cry-it’s embarrassing for everyone around you (seriously, this happened!).
  4. Pain is temporary. If you can’t handle a couple of minutes (or hours) of pain, the Marines ain’t for you.
  5. Never walk between a DS and their platoon. I innocently made this mistake once and paid for it with a dozen laps around that platoon.

On Being Anxious

If I’m being completely honest, I am definitely starting to freak out. Mini-OCS was a huge wake up call for what I actually got myself into. And now, I leave for Quanitco in exactly 5 weeks and I have so much to do and so much to learn between now and then! Lately the to-do list, fears, and goals have become a significant source of anxiety for me, some days more than others.

My biggest fear is this: failing out. Only 20-3% of women finish OCS. That amount is staggering and intimidating. If so may of them who are more prepared, stronger, whatever, whatever can’t do it, what makes me so sure that I can? Sure, I was a strong leader at CU, but that’s a small pond compared to those I’ll be with at OCS.  There are a lot of people who’ve invested in, encouraged, and supported me through this process. These are all people I have incredible amounts of respect for, and I fear that if I fail, I’ll disappoint them.

Here’s the thing about fear: If I allow it to, fear can consume me. It can literally make me sick to my stomach.

Intrepid

Over Spring Break, I hung out with my Uncle Matt (among other people), who is always giving advice. He gave me a pretty good idea: choose a word that describes you and whenever you’re feeling anxious or inadequate, remind yourself that you are ___________. It took me a couple of days, but I finally chose the word “intrepid.” I wanted an extraordinary word that was applicable in more than just one way–it reflects my personality, who I choose to be, and who I am in Christ.

I am intrepid because YOLO. I am daring and independent. I don’t think twice before acting (not always a good thing). I refuse to be held back. I get an idea, think it through (sometimes), and make a decision. People were always impressed with me for driving 6 or 8 hours by myself, but I never thought twice about it. I left home really young and didn’t look back; I moved to a city by myself  and established myself as a functioning adult–alone. Sure, I’ve had my doubts but those were never going to stop me. Why should they now?

I choose to be intrepid, because I am not going to let risks and statistics intimidate me. If only 20% finish, then hell, I’m gonna be in that 20%. As selfish and arrogant as it sounds, I choose not to let my insecurities become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I couldn’t make it through, I wouldn’t have been selected. Everyone can make it. Not everyone chooses to. Fear is a designed to be a good thing, to keep us protected & safe. It’s also motivating and encouraging. My newest motto is: KICK FEAR IN THE ASS.

I am intrepid because I have the Lord on my side. He’s gone before, He’s with me now, and He’s coming behind me. It’s incredibly calming and peaceful to remember that my future has already been decided. What happens at OCS is going to glorify Christ regardless of what I do or don’t do. It really isn’t about or up to me–it’s all Him. I am going into this full hope and knowledge that since Christ has blessed this pursuit  thus far, He will continue to.

I am intrepid. What are you?

Earnednevergiven2