Several Colgate students spent their summer break as U.S. Marine Corps trainees at the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia.
Two weeks ago, junior Ryan Colameo was presented with the Marine Corps Commandant’s Trophy during intermission at the Colgate vs. RPI hockey game. The Commandant’s Trophy is given each year to the top graduate of OCS, the Marine Corps program for aspiring officers.
Colameo successfully completed the six-week Platoon Leader Class (PLC) program at OCS this summer. His position as “top graduate” was based on a numerical grading system based on the academic (25%), physical (25%), and leadership (50%) skills displayed by the candidates. Colameo finished above 400 other enrollees from around the country to earn the prestigious award.
“The recruiter knew right away, after clearing his background and medical history, that Colameo was going to be something special,” OCS graduate senior Kyle Stuart said. “When I talked to him about Colameo he was excited and he predicted that Colameo was coming home with the Trophy.”
Officials from OCS expressed their opinions about his Colameo’s candidacy.
“He has a strong academic background, and a strong physical background from his time with the rugby team,” Captain David Doucette, the Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer in Albany, said. “But it was his leadership ability that set him apart.”
Colameo explained that he thought the PLC program would be a good fit for him.
“I wanted to test myself, I wanted to see if I could do it,” Colameo said. “The program was everything I had hoped it would be.”
The program, which is designed for college students with aspirations of becoming Marine Corps officers, sent Colameo and about 1,200 others to Quantico for a rigorous six-week test of the academic, physical and leadership skills of the candidates. The PLC consists of two six-week programs for first-years and sophomores or one ten-week course for juniors.
“It is a sort of ‘weeding out’ process,” Doucette said. “The program intends to determine if the candidates have the moral, intellectual and physical qualifications. In PLC, start to finish, it takes about 100 applicants to make 28 officers.”
At the program, sleep is limited to five or six hours a night and the candidates’ waking hours are filled with continual physical and mental exertion. Contact with the outside world is limited to post mail for the first three weeks, while radio, television and newspapers are prohibited.
“OCS is very similiar to the boot camp you may have seen in The Full Metal Jacket or other Marine Corps movies, but the purpose of it is very different,” Stuart said. “When you enlist in the military…boot camp serves to break you down, build you up and instill discipline in you. As an officer candidate, when you report to OCS in the summer, you are expected to already possess the necessary maturity level and self-discipline necessary to be an officer.”
The difference between normal boot camp and OCS manifests itself in the leadership opportunities available at OCS.
“They break you down physically,” Colameo said, “But you are not just responsible for yourself and your rifle. You are in charge of organization. You have to get everyone where they need to be: make sure they get to class and make sure their boots are clean.”
Unlike the enlisted personnel, OCS students and graduates are not obligated to join the military. After four weeks of the program, applicants have the option to leave. Likewise, upon graduation the students are not required to serve, although 90 percent do. OCS grads can become aviators, naval flight officers, ground officers or lawyers. Both Colameo and Stuart will be pursuing aviation at flight school in Pensacola, Florida upon graduation, as will 66% of the Colgate OCS enrollees.
Right now, ten Colgate students are enrolled in OCS or are in the application process. Doucette, who handles the recruitment for central and northeastern New York, reports that Colgate is the second highest producing school in the area after the University of Albany. The level of involvement from Colgate is remarkable given the small size, high status and liberal nature of the university. Last summer, Stuart and Dave Peters ’05 founded the Colgate chapter of the Semper Fi Society. The society, which adopts the “Always Faithful” Marine Corps slogan, is an organization established to assist prospective OCS members. The founders hope that the group will only strengthen what members see as an already positive relationship between Colgate life and OCS.
“There is virtually no interference with a student’s life at Colgate as a result of being in the program,” Stuart explained
Those Colgate students involved in OCS have given it rave reviews. The most rewarding aspects of the program were reported to be the personal challenge, and how much one can learn about oneself in such a short period of time.
“To survive down at OCS, somewhere deep inside, you must know that part of you feels a sense of determination to become a Marine Corps officer,” Stuart said. “My two six week sessions down at OCS were probably the best experiences I have ever had in my life.”
Colameo looks forward to his remaining time at Colgate, but also to the time when he will attend flight school at Pensacola where he intends to pilot F-18 fighters.
“The honor associated with winning this award, and the congratulations deserved by Colameo, goes without saying,” Stuart said. “Colameo is not only strong and smart, but he is someone who uses his strengths to lead those around him.”