Brendan Lawler ’16 has applied to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) this summer in the hopes of serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps after he graduates from Bowdoin.
“I just wanted to do something different,” he said. “I don’t really want to sit at a desk my whole life.”
This alternative career path also appeals to seniors Ben Kekeisen and Wen Barker, who have already completed their two six-week OCS training programs in Quantico, Va.
“It was easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” said Kekeisen, whose grandfather served as a Marine for 23 years and who was looking for something meaningful to do after college.
During the six-week program, students spend the hours between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. rushing between classes and strenuous physical training sessions all while being closely scrutinized by their instructors.
“It’s like a job interview the whole six weeks,” said Kekeisen.
Students are evaluated in categories of physical training, academics and leadership (which accounts for half of the total score).
“For Bowdoin students [this] is a cake walk: sleep deprivation and multiple choice questions. If you can stay awake you’ll be fine,” said Barker, speaking to the rigorous academics.
Staying awake can be quite a challenge, at least at first. Kekeisen said that during the first few weeks, students average about four hours of sleep, which contributes heavily to the stress of training.
Kekeisen explained that instructors focus on creating a high-stress environment as a means of indoctrinating students into military life and testing how they will behave under pressure.
He said it was difficult to like the instructors, who spend the entire day yelling in the recruits’ faces, but noted that “as it goes on, you start to realize that everything they do or say has a purpose behind it.”
That purpose, according to Barker, is to prepare students for the high-pressure scenarios they will face as full-fledged Marines.
“I think they do a good job of preparing people as best as they can,” Barker said.
With their OCS training complete, the next step for Barker and Kekeisen is to attend a six-month course at The Basic School (TBS), where they will learn to be provisional rifle platoon commanders.
However, due to overcrowding at TBS, Barker and Kekeisen will likely have to take a year off after graduation while waiting for openings.
Meanwhile, Lawler is awaiting notification of his application status. If all goes well, he will attend his first OCS session this summer.
Lawler has talked to both Baker and Kekeisen about their experiences.
“It sounds pretty tough,” he said.
As competitive as the application process is, Lawler said he finds the program’s one-third attrition rate nerve-wracking to think about.
“It’s competitive to get in and then very competitive to get through,” said Lawler.
As a history and sociology double major, a linebacker on the football team and a member of Relay for Life, Lawler has plenty of other activities to occupy his mind.
Although life as a Marine is drastically different from life at Bowdoin, both Barker and Kekeisen said that Bowdoin has prepared them for their future careers. Barker said Bowdoin’s academic rigor made him well equipped to handle the stress he faced at OCS. Kekeisen said he expects to apply critical thinking skills he learned in his four years here to challenges he will face as an officer.
“I think the goal at Bowdoin is just making you a more rounded person, which can help you in whatever direction you decide to go to,” Kekeisen said.
Other Bowdoin students planning to take part in the OCS program this summer include Mac Caputi ’15 and Mike Levine ’14.