Senior enlisted Sailors, Marines serve as mentors at officer candidate school
At officer candidate school (OCS) on board Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, recruit division commanders (RDCs) train and mentor future naval officers.
Whether they're coming directly from college or the Navy's enlisted ranks, the men and women who enter the golden doors of OCS receive 12 weeks of instruction from their RDCs to develop their character and professional competence - much like the recruits who report to Recruit Training Command on board Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. The difference with OCS, though, is candidates are seeking commissions as ensigns, and their RDCs are all senior enlisted personnel from both the Navy and Marine Corps.
"This is a senior enlisted billet," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Eduardo "Eddie" Cordero, an RDC assigned to OCS, "so you're going to see gunnery sergeants, senior chiefs [and] chiefs operating as part of the team to ensure that these candidates are set up for success in the Navy. Basically, we set up a foundation, and everyone starts from the foundation and we just build them up from there."
Chief petty officers and Marine staff noncommissioned officers "provide moral, mental and physical development, and instill the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty," according to the Officer Training Command website. To become an RDC, all applicants first undergo a screening process to guarantee only the best are chosen to help mold candidates into officers.
Cordero described the process as very selective, because the Navy is only looking for the absolute top senior personnel to mentor officer candidates. That's because, ultimately, RDCs need to make sure all candidates gain a working knowledge of the Navy through physical training, academic instruction and military inspection.
"This is truly a unique experience because we are working with [the] Marine Corps," Cordero added. "We're working with staff sergeants and gunnery sergeants, master sergeants, and we bring in this blended piece of training, discipline and organization to these candidates so they really have the best chance to succeed out there in the fleet."
Instructors also promote other qualities such as honesty, initiative, accountability and integrity among future officers. Throughout the training schedule, they test candidates, both mentally and physically, during a series of events designed to help them thrive in adverse conditions.
The coursework includes lessons on naval history, navigation, engineering and weapons systems, and current Navy programs, as well as discussion-based case studies. Candidates also learn live firefighting in a controlled environment, and fight to save USS Buttercup, the damage control wet trainer. While aboard Buttercup, RDCs aim to promote confidence and the ability to work effectively as part of a team. Firefighting and damage control evolutions, which include pipe patching, securing doors and shoring up damaged bulkheads, aid in the transformation from civilian or enlisted Sailor to naval officer.
"The first three weeks of OCS are very stressful, and it's not a stress that you're used to," said Officer Candidate Matthew Gibson. "You're not going to come from home and experience the kind of stresses that you're going to come here and [experience]. But it's beneficial because it molds you into people that they need you to be."
Part of that, RDCs said, is making certain that each aspect of training is difficult, yet rewarding, thereby helping candidates develop their abilities to use critical skills and core competencies under acute stress.
"The legacy that I feel that I've done my best with is ensuring that individuals are enthusiastic and demonstrate endurance on a daily [basis]," said Chief Boatswain's Mate Albert Mancha, an RDC. "That's the type of officer I would like to work with, so I make sure that is what I focus on. At the end, it's going to be a struggle; it's going to be hard, but I want somebody to look up to."
Editor's note: For more information about becoming an RDC, please visit the Navy Personnel Command website.