On April 23rd and 24th, a group of 15 Smeal MBAs attended a leadership immersion trip to the US Marines Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. Joining other MBA students from UPenn and Cornell, the group got to experience first-hand some of the training required for Marine officers. The immersion is designed to demonstrate some of the leadership principles instilled through the OCS, understand how decision-making is affected in high-stress environments, and teach the group more about the philosophy of the Marine Corps.
The first part of the immersion was described as “transition training” and happens at the beginning, from the moment the busses arrive on-base. Drill sergeants immediately set the tone of the evening by telling the group the expectation is that they will be referred to by their rank, as it bears the same importance to them as an advanced degree does to us. Furthermore, anytime you were addressed by a sergeant, an acknowledgement response is required. This is the idea of “manners” in the Marines, and is somewhat different than the daily interactions in the civilian world. From here, orders and directions came quicker and quicker during the check-in process and while we had to set up the barracks area for the 1-night stay. This involved gathering some gear we would need in the morning, such as helmets and canteens, and making our beds military-style. Any lapse in how the sheets were tucked or the blanket folded caused us to go back into the night air and run around a large parking lot for a while. This activity served two purposes. First, it created an element of stress for us to operate under. Second, it demonstrated the standard of excellence that is strived for in the USMC, even in activities as mundane and making a bed.
After about 3 hours of sleep, we were greeted by our drill sergeant “hosts” for the morning routine of folding the sheets and blankets perfectly to be turned in. We had some light training as we ran back to a central building with an auditorium. There were sighs of relief as we found we would be sitting for a few speaker sessions about the Marines’ war philosophy and a preview of the day’s events. For us, this announcement meant that there would not be yelling or running, at least for an hour or two. The commanding officer of the OCS talked to us about the significance of the immersion, both for us and them. For us, it was a rare glimpse into the live on-base that most civilians never get. Then he stressed how valuable it was to the Marines that we have that inside-perspective due to likelihood that many of the attendees may be working in the government sector and influencing decisions that affect the USMC in our future careers.
After the morning sessions, the group realized the events for the day would be a great experience, regardless of how much sleep we were working on. We would get to experience the ropes course, a combat-style obstacle course, and a series of scenarios designed to test leadership reactions under constrained time and resources. We were placed on small teams of 4-5 MBAs with 1 Marine as an instructor and mentor for the day to give us support and instructions as we completed the challenges. The ropes course was much as we could expect. We worked our way through a series of obstacles like climbing rope nets and shimmying across a line from platform to platform.
Any mistake could lead to a 10 foot fall into a safety net below us. The combat course was much more unique. We were geared up with helmets and training rifles as we moved through waist deep water, under barbed wire, and slid through narrow cement tubes. The team moved through as a cohesive unit, just like a team of Marines would.
The third event for the day was called the Leadership Reaction Course. This was referred to as a “playground” by a couple of the Marines but proved to be a challenging, and sometimes frustrating, experience! As a team, we were given 10 minutes to solve whichever scenario was given to us by our instructor. Although they seemed easy enough, each was made more difficult by the lack of resources needed to complete the task and the mental fog from sleep deprivation. It was designed to test our leadership instincts in areas such as delegation, motivation, and problem-solving.
The immersion concluded with a reception at the USMC museum outside the OCS. This was a great opportunity to talk casually with the new friends we had met from other schools and the Marines that had facilitates such a unique and valuable 2-day immersion. We shared our stories of the day over food and drinks and heard from the various organizers of the trip before everybody parted ways back to our respective cities and schools. The ride home was quiet as everybody slept after an exhausting day, but there was no doubt about the excitement present whenever we discussed this trip. A majority of the attendees will finish our MBA in just over a week, and the Quantico immersion was a perfect chance to make another life-long memory with classmates and friends.