Does anyone know what the life of a marine infantry officer is like.
Hoops sums it up well. I thought I would dive a little deeper and provide my thoughts. I was a Marine Infantry Officer 30+ years ago but I am certain
that the role hasn’t changed that much.
After six months at the Basic School (TBS) you go to the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) – both of which are in Quantico, VA. IOC is an exceptionally difficult course with a significant drop out rate (mostly for physical/ endurance) failures. At IOC, you will get the best infantry training and skill development anywhere. You also have lots of practice leading fellow students in military operations. After completing this course, you will be sent to the fleet and pick up a platoon.
The USMC pumps out a lot of 2nd Lt Infantry Officers. They fill the pipeline because the reality is that there is a high casualty rate in combat. Because this pipeline is continuously being filled, you will only get so long with your infantry platoon. I wish I had understood this more fully. In the end, I had my platoon for one year. To this day, I consider that role to be the very best job I have ever had. First off, you are doing exactly what you were trained to do – lead Marines in the field. As Hoops said, you are in the field a lot. Often Monday – Thursday. Thursdays were long days as all gear had to be cleaned and expected. Then the Marines had to clean their barracks (“Field Day”) . Fridays were spent inspecting the barracks, handling administrative tasks, training, planning, etc. Usually had the weekend off and started back again the next week.
When you didn’t go the field, you had all kinds of other stuff to do. Training, writing justification and recommending Marines for awards, disciplinary issues, counseling, preparing for IG inspections, blood drives, parades and formations, etc. Lots of physical training! Being a Platoon Commander an amazing role: at any one time you may be a Marine’s father, mother, priest, counsellor, disciplinarian, financial advisor and advocate. You are 22 and your Marines are 18 or so. I don’t believe there is any civilian job that places a new hire in charge of 40+ guys and expects that level of responsibility from him. It is a fantastic learning experience for your future Marine or civilian career.
A new Marine Infantry Officer will have the best “book” knowledge in infantry skills available. Often best practice skills that his Marines haven’t been exposed to. His Marines, on the other hand, may have combat experience, multiple deployments and more years of experience in the fleet. The smart Officer will learn to traverse the fine line between “being in charge” and “learning from his non-commissioned officers (NCO’s). When it works well, you can all learn from each other and become a high functioning team committed to each other in the truest sense. If you are lucky, there will be a moment when you realize that the platoon has “accepted” you as their leader. For me, it was a simple act: As an Officer, I always ate last which meant the worst C-ration left in the box. The day my Platoon Sergeant saved my favorite meal for me I understood the significance. It was a great moment.
You will never be closer to your Marines than as a Platoon Commander. You carry the same heavy pack, in the same lousy weather, hiking the same hills, and laying on the same ground with them every time in the field. Marines are a competitive bunch and Infantry Officers even more so. In garrison, our platoon challenged any one to competitions like tug-o-war, races, etc. This was a great way to conduct fun physical training and build unit pride. Physical fitness is a way of life in the infantry. As a Platoon Commander, you were expected to be in top shape. Often I biked to work (12 miles), had a formal PT run with my platoon, played racketball or basketball at lunch, and biked home.
In my day, the junior 2nd Lt’s stood a lot of duty. As Officer-of-the-day, you were in charge while everyone else was gone. LOTS of interesting “learning” events as you deal with Marines on their off-hours in garrison. There is no end to the stupid things a young, immature, bored Marine might do. As Officer-of-the-Day, you work with a Sergeant of the Guard, Corporal of the Guard and fire watches stationed at the barracks.
At some point, it becomes time to assume a new role. For me, it was during our deployment to Okinawa when I was assigned to a staff job at Camp Hansen. I felt lost as the job took me away from my Marines and my Battalion. I had no direct reports and basically had a day job. My unit deployed all over the far east and I remained on the island all six months. I dealt with a lot of senior officers and learned a new skill set. As a junior officer (now 1st Lt.) I still had some less than thrilling jobs from standing Officer-of-the-Day to inspecting the Officer Club kitchen and food every evening. I also had “ville patrol” where I was assigned to tour the village outside the gates with a senior NCO and try to keep Marines out of trouble. Making lemonade out of lemons, I used my ample off-time to become scuba certified.
When we returned to the States, I had hoped to get a Company Executive Officer (XO) role but was assigned to the S-3 (Battalion Staff Operations Officer) where I learned a lot about planning, coordinating, and executing training operations. It turned out to be a great job under an Officer who eventually became a 3-star General. I learned a lot and interacted with a fair number of Marines but still no direct reports. I missed the intense interaction you get with your own unit. So when it was time to depart the Fleet for a B-billet, I requested a transfer to a Naval Weapons Station as a Guard Officer. This was the closest I could get to an “Infantry-type” role. I didn’t want to be a Recruiter, Officer-Selection-Officer (OSO), MCRD, or I&I duty. I spent three years there and had a number of great jobs during this tour.
In reality, the longer you stay in, your opportunity to lead junior Marines diminishes and you spend more time with your peers and senior officers. You will always be around enlisted Marines but not leading them in the same way. Each job is what you make of it, but for me, nothing beats that time as Platoon Commander.
Hope that helps.