An Officer and a Gentleman - Rob Carelli ’09
In my Junior year at Webb, I signed up for the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program, or NUPOC, to become a submarine officer. The training pipeline leading to a submarine billet is almost a year and a half. But before that could begin, I had to overcome the first challenge of getting through Officer Candidate School and becoming an officer. As my report day approached, every time I mentioned OCS to a friend, the first thing that came up was Richard Gere and Officer and a Gentleman. Unfortunately, Naval Station Newport was no Hollywood set.
The transformation began the moment I passed through the gates of NAVSTA. After about 30 minutes of paperwork, the arriving candidates are shuttled over to the barracks where we were greeted by the ranking Candidate Officer. As he stood looking over us he began to address us in a low raspy voice.
"At the proper position of attention your feet are at a 45 degree angle, fists rolled back with the thumb along the trouser seam, and looking at nothing with a thousand yard stare. When asked a question you will respond yes sir or no sir. When given a command you will respond aye sir. Your time at Navy OCS begins now."
With this pronouncement, our week as indoctrination candidates began. We were herded upstairs where a flood of Candidate Officers (Candi-Os) began yelling at us for anything and everything. "Hands rolled back, thousand yard stare, pivot around the corners, that's an ‘aye sir!'" Over the next three days the Candi-O's prepared us for our coming encounter with our drill instructor. We quickly learned that there was a specific way to do everything, and fun was officially secured. We were no longer individuals, we were "this officer candidate," and part of class 02-10. Even meals were different at OCS. Before entering the chow hall, the section leader for the day directed the class through a series of motions to prepare us to enter. Once we were seated and finally began eating, food was moved from plate to mouth in ten discrete steps utilizing nothing but a "war spoon", even when steak or apples were on the menu.
The real fun began four days after arriving when our drill instructor called us out on line at 0430; the middle of the night in my previous life. And so we learned what OCS was really about. She demanded perfection in everything we did, whether marching, chow hall procedures, or her true passion, rifle drill. The rest of the first week as "indoctrination candidates" we learned that there would be no tolerance for mistakes, but that when one person is wrong, we're all wrong. This was a lesson that we painfully relearned daily. We also went through our first major evolution known as Outpost. Beginning at 0500, we got a tour of the building where we would do pushups while the drill instructor explained where we were, followed by an introduction to the various sandpits on the base. At the end of the evolution, we were welcomed aboard by the regiment of cadets and we began our time as "officer candidates".
Over the next 8 weeks and countless more "evolutions" we began to function as a team. And we readied ourselves for the most daunting evolution of all: the fourth week room, locker, and personnel inspection. Up to this point, we spent every spare moment ironing clothes, shining shoes, and removing "Irish Pennants" (loose threads on clothing). On the day of the inspection, we were called into our rooms whereupon the grading drill instructor immediately shouted orders for pushups, flutter kicks, and rifle lifts. Between exercising, and ballistically calling out the count, we acknowledged every fault the drill instructor could find. Over seven agonizingly long minutes, the DI tossed the room undoing all of the excruciating preparations. With only a 30% success rate, it's a very stressful experience, especially when a second failure can set you back a couple of weeks in training. Although I made it through on the first try, the DI was not impressed with my flutter kicks and I was invited to join him for a one on one training session.
Days blurred into weeks and the challenges, academics, inspections, and physical tests became manageable. As week nine began, so did our final phase of training, as Candi-Os. This was when we began to think we would actually make it through. Plus as Candi-Os we regained so many things we once took for granted like desert, coffee, a fork at meals, and even permission to refer to yourself in the first person. Along with privileges came the responsibility of running the regiment, and with it countless more reasons for punishment. As Candi-Os we were charged with helping junior classes through their evolutions, and correcting them when necessary. This new role, somewhere between a mentor and a drill instructor, was a difficult task in itself.
Over the next three weeks, having had our first taste of leadership as Candi-Os, we turned our sights towards graduation and joining the fleet. We began as followers and eventually took charge of a regiment consisting of several hundred candidates. Our drill instructor and senior chief had caringly fostered our leadership skills by passing along to us what they could. And as we took our oaths and received our commissions, they were confident in our abilities to lead "their sailors." After a painful and sometimes frustrating thirteen weeks, I was finally on my way to nuclear power school.