Hello, everyone. Katie here! After spending my years at Gettysburg soaking up Japanese Studies and Political Science, I decided to join the military. Everyone has their different reasons, I won’t get into mine, but I’ve heard them range from money troubles to family history. I’m really just here to be a foil for anyone out there interested in this decision. This little post is meant to let you know that it is a tough decision but you are never alone in making it. This community is one of the most supportive in the world. So, see myself as you and proceed with an open mind. But, DISCLAIMER: I am not a recruiter. I am nowhere near being your final source. This post is also oriented towards the officer corps, not the enlisted side. If you’re really considering the military, you need to contact a recruiter. Go to any of the services websites and do a search for the appropriate one (officer or enlisted). If you have any questions about being in the military, going Navy, or enduring a Marine Drill Instructor (oh, I will explain), feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now, commence my little monologue:
At Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS), you have a class team comprised of a Marine Drill Instructor (DI), a Navy chief (or senior enlisted charged with training junior officers, or JOs), and a Navy Lieutenant. The beginning is heavy with militarization training meant to break you down emotionally and mentally, and in some cases physically, but you eventually realize that these men and women are your greatest allies. Everything they say means the world to you.
Words of Wisdom from the Gunny (my Marine DI)
While in training at OCS, my class team always liked to drill one thing into our heads. Never join the military for a designator, like a pilot, an intelligence officer, or a SEAL. Join because you want to be an officer first, and your designator second. So many candidates came in bright-eyed, excited about their designators, and so many of them were deemed Not Physically Qualified (NPQ’d). They didn’t make it, even if the rest of us thought them to be outstanding candidates. Everyone will tell you what a serious decision it is. There are all these commercials that show parents upset over their children’s decision to join. And those very children are always talking about being a part of something bigger. In my personal statement, I pointed out how I always looked up to those women in uniform. I had not always envisioned myself looking exactly like them, but their bearing was so contagious. I wrote that I wanted to be a role model to young girls who had never met me. To me, it didn’t matter if I got my first, second, or third choice. I was that youngster in the commercials, except my parents weren’t quite as upset. You should never waltz into a recruiter’s office simply because you think (a) being in the military will be cool, (b) you need the cash, or (c) you have nothing better to do. You do it for any of these reasons, and you will probably live to regret it.
Words of Wisdom from the Good Chief
I’ll put it for you bluntly: everyone is a little afraid of the military. And why not, change and raw potential is terrifying. When you are standing on a cliff, aren’t you a little afraid of what lies below? They call it a fear of heights, but I believe it is really a fear of the unknown. What’s down there exactly? Will it try to bite me? The truth of the matter is, no matter how much you speculate, you will never know unless you go take a look. If you, to use the Navy’s old catchphrase, really want to accelerate your life and leave college sprinting, the military will do that to you, figuratively and literally. First you must free yourself of your fear. Take a deep breath. Seriously consider what you want to do with your life. Realize that being an officer in the military is essentially becoming a parent. All those young enlisted sailors and soldiers are looking up to you. You’ve got your life together. You went to college. Its crazy, but they want to be like you. Do not ruin that. It is your greatest tool.
At OCS, the chiefs would always tell us they didn’t want lazy children play-acting officers in their Navy. They wanted strong-willed adults. Those are the sort of people who can lead a fear-stricken youth into battle. You may never lead someone out on a battlefield, but you’ve got to realize that’s your responsibility.
Words of Wisdom from the Aviator Lieutenant
Take pride in yourself. You are an investment, both to yourself and your country. My Lieutenant would always preach about never feeling embarrassed of our O-1 bars, the lowest of the officer corps. We were still officers. We had paid for that honor and we were walking in the footsteps of all those distinguished individuals who had once worn those bars. He had once been a rookie in a flight simulator, but no longer. You will always start at the bottom and work your way to the top. But, as an officer, you will conquer that climb with dignity and esteem.
Words of Wisdom from a New Ensign
So what about this fear-stricken college grad? Well, I will tell you those first few weeks in OCS I did lose myself. I forgot who I was. My leap of faith was more of a plunge, and, boy, did I just sink right to the bottom. There were moments when I wondered if I was going to be able to finish, physically, emotionally, or mentally. But, I will also tell you that, once I embraced my new environment, I found a person I hadn’t even known existed. I had to dig deep to find the perseverance to wake up every morning, bleary eyed and ready to run. As an officer, that’s what’s expected of you. One day you will be in a situation few have been in and you will have a cool head.
Now, how does military service relate to an Asian Studies major? That might be best left for another post. Just know that, yes, I am most certainly using my education in one way or another. And, yes…it is most certainly accelerating every inch of my being.
Katie McDaniel graduated from Gettysburg College with a BA in Japanese Studies and a minor in Political Science (2009). After working a year with ESE elementary students, she was commissioned an officer in the Navy through Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS).