Article by MIDN 4/c Jack Venden, photo provided by MIDN 2/c Steven LaDine
As a high school student, organization was never one of my major concerns. I was able to keep track of my homework assignments, test dates, and extracurriculars very easily. I excelled in these activities without writing myself notes or maintaining a calendar. As a result, I felt disciplined. Feeling control over my surroundings in high school made me confident that I would require little organizational development as a college student and NROTC midshipman.
After my first week of college classes and my indoctrination weekend, it was clear I was far from organized. I felt blindsided every hour with a new academic or NROTC assignment, event, or task, and I had no plan of how to record it all. Nonetheless, I still felt disciplined. At least I was making more of an effort than the average college student to stay organized and complete my tasks on time. As far as I was concerned, “trying my best” was good enough, and that eventually, the organizational piece would magically come together. It wasn’t until the Field Exercise (or FEX) for Marine Options that I discovered what it truly means to be organized and disciplined.
Upon our arrival to Peddocks Island, I was feeling good to go. I had checked my gear lists, my canteens were full, my moleskin was precut, and my skivvies were rolled and stashed in zip-lock bags. I was hydrated, fed, rested, and motivated. The second we hit the pier however, I was consumed by the chaos. I ran up the hill following the cadre towards the bivouac, my left shoulder burning from the weight of someone’s ILBE, the pole of the guidon banding my shin with every step. I had no control over my surroundings. I didn’t feel disciplined. I felt like an idiot.
Things only got worse after stepping off. I took too long fumbling with the poles and loopholes of the tent, so I had to disassemble it and start over. Halfway through our six-mile hike, I wasted precious minutes looking for my foot powder, so I didn’t have time to eat. I had to fill my stomach with water from my camelback instead. Worst of all, coming back from getting my feet patched up in sick bay, I forgot my rifle. Standing in front of the whole platoon and shouting to the cadre “sir, this candidate does not have his rifle” was by far the most difficult part of my FEX experience.
Our weekend on Peddocks Island taught me the importance of organization in the United States Marine Corps. It became obvious that regardless of speed, volume, intensity, fitness, leadership ability, or drive, people cannot succeed at officer candidate school (OCS) and become effective leaders of Marines without being exceptionally organized. They must be accountable for their own equipment and plans, as well as the equipment and roles of the Marines under their command. Failure to live up to these expectations cannot be tolerated regardless of how hard one tries. In combat, when someone fails to do their job, people die.
The responsibility of our future roles as leaders of Marines is daunting. We will need the ability to make difficult decisions in stressful situations. That ability will be tested to the extreme at OCS, and the only way to learn where we need to improve is to get in the field and practice. This FEX was my first practice, it showed me that I have a long road ahead of me before I can be an officer. More importantly, however, it showed the specific skills I would need to improve upon in order to earn the title “United States Marine Corps Officer.”