Alumni Column – Treading On the Road Less Traveled

Ryan Harbison '07

The news that my fellow Marine Corps Second Lieutenant Ryan Colameo (’07) and I were to report to the Hamilton area for three weeks of Permissive Temporary Active Duty (PTAD) came as a surprise to both of us. Ryan was on the golf course and I was eating a roast beef sandwich. We were told that our mission would be to work throughout the area in an effort to provide accurate information about Marine Officer Programs to individuals considering careers in the military. We were not sent here to “recruit” in the traditional sense of the word as much as to make information available for those seeking it.

Coming back has been an amazing experience. I can speak for Ryan when I say that our time at Colgate was incredible. I left last May excited to be a newly commissioned Lieutenant optimistic about the future, but the proposition of leaving friends and a town that had become home was difficult to swallow. I never expected that I would reside in Hamilton again, certainly not less than a year after graduation, and certainly not on orders from the Marine Corps.

It is from this unique perspective, as an over-zealous Lieutenant with an immortalized concept of Colgate, that I have recently considered the place of Colgate students chasing dreams of military service among the larger Colgate student body. Specifically, I have been considering the many Colgate students — past, present, and future — who have and continue to pursue commissions as Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps by way of the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School (OCS). It never occurred to me, for instance, that guys running down Broad Street in “boots and utes” or strolling into class with freshly shaved high-n-tight haircuts might spark questions about who, or what, these people represent. Nor did I consider the fact that, as is the case with most issues concerning the United States Military, a variety of misconceptions have likely developed regarding what Marine Officer Programs do and (more frequently) do not consist of. So that is why I am writing this piece — to explain who these Colgate students are and what they are up to.In doing so, I hope to clarify any misconceptions that might exist regarding Marine Officer Programs and Colgate’s relationship with the Marine Corps.

The vast majority of individuals pursuing careers as Marine Officers begin their journey by attending the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. The mission of Marine OCS is to “train, screen, and evaluate potential officer candidates to ensure that they possess the moral, intellectual, and physical qualities for commissioning and the leadership potential to serve successfully as company grade officers in the fleet operating forces.” Essentially, OCS is a highly competitive course, one of the most difficult to complete in the United States military, in which individuals hoping to be leaders of Marines are screened on a number of levels. All Colgate students desiring to be officers in the Marine Corp must go to Officer Candidate School either during their collegiate summers or immediately following graduation.

After successful completion of OCS, Officer Candidates have the option to accept their commission as Second Lieutenants in the Marine Corps. A student who applies to OCS has no long-term military commitment until that individual graduates from college and decides that they want to lead Marines. The Corps doesn’t want an officer unless that officer wants the Marine Corps. From there, young officers choose to be leaders on the ground, in the air, or in the courtroom (JAG lawyers).

As an OCS Candidate, you do not have the same in-school requirements that an ROTC unit would have. OCS Candidates at Colgate do not have to wear uniforms to class once a week or train as a company every second morning. You won’t see them standing and chanting as a unit at football games or see anybody sitting horseback and wearing a helmet like Neidermeyer in Animal House. What you will see are a group of students striving for a similar goal — to become a part of The Few and The Proud. In pursuit of that goal, Candidates work on an individual level to ensure that they maintain their physical and academic requirements as well as in a group environment, providing one another with information and support, often in the form of the Semper Fi Society.

At this time last year, there were eight Marine Corps Officer Candidates or soon to be commissioned Second Lieutenants enrolled at Colgate. That’s a lot — a whole lot. Last year, for instance, the only university in this recruiting district, which includes nine states, to equal Colgate in Candidate output was the University of Albany, whose undergraduate population exceeds twelve thousand. I say this only to evidence the fact that there are a substantial number of Colgate students whose day-to-day lives are significantly impacted by the United States Marine Corps in one way or another. As a result, the United States Marine Corps is significantly impacted by Colgate University. If nothing else, this simple fact should be incentive enough for all of us to desire to have at least a working knowledge of what Officer Candidate School entails. Currently, there are four Officer Candidates at Colgate, including Dave Goodrich (’08), James Zegarelli (’08), Conley Stout (’09) and Peter Leahey (’09).

Colgate is a wonderful place that I didn’t really appreciate it until now. Somehow this school can successfully create a cohesive community of students while allowing each to maintain his or her identity as an individual. It fosters ideas, encourages opinions, and allows people to take a variety of paths in their lives after college. I don’t understand what it is about Hamilton or this institution that stimulates all these things, nor do I have an answer as to why such a disproportionately large number of our students choose careers in the military, specifically in the Marine Corps. Perhaps it is the lack of an ROTC program on campus. Maybe it is because we are an athletic and driven group of students. I do know that each of the men and women who choose to serve in the Marine Corps are driven by a mutual conviction: the freedoms we enjoy in America are not ours solely by inheritance, but rather, that those freedoms must be constantly defended and reinforced from one generation to the next (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan). So, in disproportionately large numbers, Colgate students have signed up to ensure that future generations enjoy the same freedoms that our generation has wholly experienced. Military service is one of many paths open to college students among a maze of post-graduate opportunities. At Colgate, however, that path is traveled more often than one might think.