A liberal arts education is tailored to fit each student’s unique interests and career path, but as Jake Stenquist ’19 realized, there was neither a major nor minor at Bowdoin that would fully prepare him for his experience in the Marines’ Officer Candidate School (OCS). A captain of the varsity men’s soccer team, Stenquist was recently evaluated on his athletic ability, leadership skills and academic success. The three categories were averaged over the course of his training into a combined score out of 100. Bowdoin will be presented the Commandant Trophy to recognize Stenquist’s final score, which was one of the top seven in the nation.
For many of Stenquist’s classmates at Bowdoin, the military exists to protect America’s borders and uphold personal liberties abroad against totalitarian regimes. It’s an efficient fighting force jokingly nicknamed the “last 500 meters of U.S. foreign policy,” recruiting top students and athletes across the country. But here the idealism ends. As Stenquist quickly noticed during his two summers of intense training, a soldier’s reality in OCS is more likely sleep deprived and mentally draining than full of patriotic fanfare. Each morning, recruits wake up at 4 a.m. and face their worst enemy—themselves—in the mirror.
“Always ask yourself why you’re here,” said Stenquist. “Because you can go home at any point … I was energized and ready to go back to finish [OCS] and earn my eagle, globe and anchor.”
The OCS program is different from a traditional Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) route in a couple key ways. First, recruits are not required to participate in military activities or training sessions during the school year. Second, OCS participants are required to spend two summer sessions training before they are sworn in as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps the same day they graduate from college.
“The cool thing about [OCS] is it gave me the opportunity to pursue a government and legal studies major and pursue all these things outside the military as a normal college student-athlete,” said Stenquist. “[I] played soccer, played the drums in a jazz band and did whatever I wanted to do. It’s two different worlds that I get to have both feet in.”
Other than Joshua Chamberlain’s celebrated Civil War achievements, Bowdoin does not have a significant military tradition. Most students Stenquist bunked and trained with came from large state schools like Rutgers, Penn State and Arizona State, already acquainted with the demands of an ROTC program. Captain Jake Nihart of the United States Marine Corps’ Officer Selection Team hosts a “prep session” for New England recruits to teach them basic skills before they leave for summer training.
“Captain Nihart did a really good job of bringing us together,” said Stenquist. “[He] taught us how to climb a rope, a skill as simple as that. But if you go down there and don’t know how to climb a rope, you’re already a step behind. Climbing a rope is just one small example, physically, of the preparation [we do]. Captain Nihart [also] taught us five paragraph order, the leadership traits, things that you don’t necessarily see on the website but prepare you to succeed down there.”
Traditionally, Bowdoin athletes have been drawn to the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School because their leadership skills and experience working as a team transfer well to the military’s organized environment. Stenquist used mediation skills he learned from Office of Residential Life training to diffuse tense situations between members of his platoon before the drill sergeant disciplined the entire company. Yet even with experience and critical leadership skills Stenquist learned at Bowdoin, one cannot know how to confront a screaming drill sergeant until he is put in that situation.
“I honestly don’t think there’s any real way to mentally prepare for OCS. You just have to see if you can take it or not,” said Stenquist. “There are moments when you have an enormous Marine who’s seen 12 years of active duty and been in combat situations just screaming and spitting in your face. There’s nothing that can really prepare you for that, especially at Bowdoin. But you can’t really knock it until you try it. You’d be surprised at how exhilarating it is. It fires you up and gets you excited to be there.”
For all of the pain, hard work and commitment it takes to be a part of the Marine Corps, soldiers must have a clear reason to join. Common motivations are patriotism, duty and tradition, but Stenquist cites none of these.
“Somebody has to do it and [to] just say somebody else will do it is not really something I could live with,” he said.
A leader in the class of 2019 and one of the foremost officer candidates in the country, Stenquist is sure to have a positive impact in the Marine Corps as he works toward flight school in Pensacola, Fl.