Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Letter to My Former Self: 2nd Lt Colleen E. Randolph

In the "Letter to My Former Self" series, USNA graduates lay out the advice they would give themselves as midshipmen based on their experiences as junior officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. This week's letter was written by 2nd Lt. Colleen Randolph, a 2014 graduate who is currently attending the Basic School.

If someone would have told me, on Induction Day July 1, 2010, that I, Colleen Randolph would graduate and earn a Commission as a 2nd Lt in the United States Marine Corps, I would have told them that they were out of their mind. Not because I was against joining the Marine Corps, but because at that point, I had never given any thought to becoming a Marine. It sounds a bit cliche, but hindsight is always 20/20, and I wouldn’t change one thing about my Naval Academy experience and journey to become a Marine. I hope that this letter provides, if nothing else, a bit of advice to those of you who wish to wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. In addition to providing a bit of perspective to those of you who have never considered the Marine Corps as an option.


My name is 2nd Lt Colleen Randolph and I graduated on May 23 with the great class of 2014. While at the Academy I was a member of the 20th Company, 4 year member of the Women’s Varsity Swimming Team, 3 year member of the Club Triathlon Team and an English major. Following tossing my cover into the air, I had the opportunity to join the Marine Corps Triathlon team at Naval Base Point Mugu for the Armed Forces Triathlon Championships and then proceeded on Basket Leave. I was stationed at the Academy, TAD with the Physical Education department during the summer and reported to The Basic School on September 2nd as a member of Golf Company. While I am still very much at the dawn of my journey as a Marine Corps officer, I feel as though I already have countless lessons to share.


1. The Naval Academy isn’t just a great place to be from; it’s a great place to be. This is one thing that I wish I learned a lot earlier on in my Academy experience. I’ve heard this phrase multiple times even prior to accepting my appointment. But the fact of the matter is, while the Academy will have days where it is challenging, emotional and frustrating, you will never again be able to walk to 7th wing to visit your best friends, head out to downtown Annapolis for post-practice breakfasts or have your meals prepared and laundry done for you. I spent a lot of time saying, “as soon as I make it to youngster year” or “I can’t wait to get out of this place” before I realized that right where I was was the best place to be. Don’t become cognizant of that fact too late.

2. The Marine Corps shouldn’t be a mystery. For a good amount of my time at the Naval Academy I never considered the Marine Corps as an option because I truly had no idea what selection as a Marine Corps officer entailed. All the professional knowledge in the world can’t teach you more than a Marine Corps officer. Reach out! Make contact with that Marine Corps instructor who teaches Spanish, or Company Officer you’ve seen roaming around on OOW. They would love to talk to you about their Marine Corps experience and what it could mean for you. Luckily for me, a Marine Corps officer happened to be my Officer Rep for the Triathlon team and inspired me to look into it a little more. Reach out to that 1/C squad leader from Plebe summer and ask them what their experience has been. As a midshipman I tended to think that it was the Academy’s job to provide me with that information, but in truth it is your responsibility to look at all of your service selection options, make an informed decision, and talk to officers on both the Navy and Marine Corps side. That being said, if you’re still unsure, go to Leatherneck and learn for yourself! Leatherneck is a fantastic tool for both preparation and introduction to the Basic School. You’ve already been on your fleet cruise and exposed to surface warfare, submarines and aviation on Protramid. If you’re unsure, give Leatherneck a try. However, Leatherneck will not provide an all-encompassing view of being a Marine Corps officer. That’s when a supplementary MAGTF cruise or contacting your Marine Corps mentor will come into play.

3. There is no Marine Corps mold. Sometimes I get funny looks when I tell people I’m a Marine or when I was still at the Academy and told someone I selected Marine Corps. There are stereotypes for every service. Normally this comes from your very first interaction with a Marine or what you’ve seen on those awesome Marine Corps commercials in between touchdowns at Navy games. I fell into this trap all too quickly. At 5’8, 130, with a mess of blonde hair and a permanent smile, I’m far from the rigid jaw line and barrel-chested Chesty Puller.  I didn’t believe I fit the mold. The fact of the matter is, there is no mold. When they say the Marine Corps is a people-based organization, they mean it. While you must have certain characteristics to be a Marine - those being honor, courage and commitment in addition to being physically fit - there are so many different types of people in the Marine Corps, and that is what makes the organization so great. As soon as you begin to realize that you have a slew of personal talents to contribute and make the organization better, you will thrive. Don’t discount the Marine Corps because “you’re not that type of person”. Marines are some of the highest caliber of people I have ever had the opportunity to work with, but no one fits into a mold. Additionally, the Marine Corps will give you a multitude of options.  This is a huge part of what drew me to make my decision. My first choice was not to drive ships or fly planes. I wanted to be a Marine first and then work in a specific field. Look into all of the MOS (military occupational specialty) options, perhaps they will suit your strengths and talents better and in turn you will be able to serve more effectively.

4. Enjoy basket leave, while remembering what lies ahead. Do something incredible with your basket leave, but don’t be the guy that comes back and can’t pass the PFT because you lost sight of what the ultimate goal is. You have a whole new set of physical standards as a Marine Corps Officer, don’t let basket leave or TAD let you get lazy. Take the opportunity to get back in shape after grad week and before TBS. First impressions, especially your physical fitness, are incredibly important in the Marine Corps. On a separate note, make sure you use your savings wisely! Be prepared to spend upward of $1000 on additional uniform items, boots, food and gear within your first month at The Basic School.

5. Don’t just “embrace the suck,” soak everything in. “Embrace the suck” is a widely used motto to describe life at The Basic School. And while I do think it is important to embrace all things that come with training to be a Marine Corps officer, I have also heard a quote that I think is much more prevalent. “Prepare as though you are about to meet your Platoon tomorrow.” The Basic School, much like the Academy, will present challenges for everyone. From confusion, to monotomy, to physical boundaries, to academic endeavors and peer leadership, it is meant to challenge everyone in order to prepare you for the challenge of leading Marines. Every aspect is designed to test you. But the instructors, the Staff Platoon Commanders and Enlisted Staff advisors are not only 100% invested in your development as an officer, they are 110% invested in the young men and women you are about to lead. They will be tough on you because the situations you are about to face will be tough and you will have to rise above those situations. What you invest in TBS has resounding effects on people’s lives. Begin each day with the thought of your Marines in mind and you won’t have to “embrace the suck.” You’ll thrive in it for them.

6. Use the tools you were given. There are many avenues to becoming a Marine Corps officer. The Naval Academy only graduates 273 Marine Corps officers,  about 1/7th of the officers that will go through The Basic School each year. Chances are, you will be one of the few officers that is a Naval Academy graduate in your platoon. I made the mistake early on in thinking I was less prepared than my OCS, PLC and OCC counterparts. The truth was that I had just been prepared differently and for a longer period of time. The Naval Academy gives you an incredible amount of tools to be a successful Marine Corps officer, but you actually have to use them! For example, you know how to work well under pressure, push others to achieve their goals and balance social, physical, academic and military aspects. Don’t be boastful or ashamed of your commissioning source. At first it will be the only thing your platoon has in common and at times it will feel as though you’re the odd one out of those bonding conversations. Much like “during Plebe Summer” stories, you’ll hear a lot of “during OCS” stories because people search for commonalities and shared experiences. Listen in! But in the end, we’re all Marine Corps officers. We are all training to be leaders of Marines. When the day comes for you to meet your Platoon, they couldn’t care less about where you came from, but they will wonder if you are competent, fair and if you are going to take care of them. That is what you will get out of The Basic School, regardless of your commissioning source.

7. What goes around comes around. I once heard a phrase tossed around by my peers that NAVY stands for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself.” This is not true in any aspect of the Marine Corps. Be the one that steps up to take the watch, carry the heavier load or buy the guy next you a coffee. It goes a long way. Just like no one gets through the Academy alone, no one gets through The Basic School alone. Your platoon is a team and you will have at least six months, if not a whole career, working together. The Marine Corps is a very small organization and you’re likely to work with someone from your platoon or someone like them again. You’ll find that “on the strength of one link in the cable” comes into play in all aspects of your experience.

8. Learn the language. Remember when you came for Plebe Summer, and you didn’t know what “hitting a bulkhead” or “rack races” were? Be prepared to feel the same way about all of the acronyms the Marine Corps uses. Adding to your confusion will be all of your new uniforms.  Instead of being “just a plebe," you’ll be “just a boot lieutenant” with a whole slew of responsibilities and new regulations to upkeep. Acquire this knowledge through two pathways. The first is to read. Commandant's reading list, Marine Corps times and all of the publications you were given in practicum classes. I wish that I had payed more attention and started reading earlier on to avoid simple mistakes. The second is to lean on those in your platoon who are prior enlisted. Pick their brains about the fleet and how the Marine Corps really works. In addition, ask them about their families, how balancing life in the Marine Corps works and ask for their critiques. They are quite literally the best of the best and are dedicated to becoming leaders of Marines. The prior’s know what types of officers they would have liked to have had lead them. Become one of those officers.  (Note to self, no one in the Marine Corps likes the term “shipmate” or “hooyah.”)

9. Don’t sweat the small stuff; you normally can’t control it anyway. This is something I find myself and my peers doing a lot at The Basic School. Where will I be stationed? What will I be doing? What will my job be? These are all questions that rise in the back of my mind prior to every evolution. The fact of the matter is, I can’t control where I’m stationed or how many slots are available for each MOS. Thinking about it all the time is stifling. Do your very best, challenge yourself and bring others along with you. The needs of the Marine Corps change with every new conflict, effort and policy. You have no control over external factors, but you do have the ultimate task of controlling how you react to them. You will make mistakes. But, making mistakes at The Basic School and learning from them will be infinitely better than failing when you have Marines under you.

10. Take pride in your appearance. Rolling out to 0515 practice and throwing on your uniform with major bed head won’t work anymore. I am so thankful that I received advice on hair prior to The Basic School because I was definitely a culprit of the “midshipman messy bun” at the Academy. Marines are expected to be squared away 100% of the time and appearance will matter! Make sure you are physically fit and prepared to spend a little more time on your hair and shave in the morning. Look the part and act the part, because you will be expecting your junior Marines to do the same.
Semper Fi, BEAT ARMY!
2nd Lt Colleen E. Randolph, USMC

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