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    What Marine Officers and Good Leaders Have in Common (No, It’s Not Control)

    August 23, 2018


    My daughter, Anna, recently graduated from one of the most difficult military training programs in the world—Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. Sixty percent of women are sent home before the grueling six weeks are over. The rest, including the male candidates, endure heat exhaustion, injuries, sleep deprivation, and the verbal abuse of sergeant instructors who find anything and everything to scream at them about.

    Or, was it verbal abuse? That’s what I thought until graduation. That was the part of the Marine Corps I’d had trouble wrapping my mind around. How can you “build someone up” by “breaking them down” with verbal abuse?

    It all came together for me when Anna told me about the Medal of Honor Run that took place during the final week of OCS. All the obstacle and endurance courses were behind them. So was all the yelling and barking of absurd and unreasonable punishments and criticisms. The final grades were in, and so was the verdict: they knew in a few days they would graduate. And this morning, at the end of this beautiful run, they would officially become Marines. For Anna it was an emotional moment, sprinting toward the finish line, realizing she’d made it.

    As they gathered, breathless, under the rising run, one of the sergeant instructors gave a speech before handing each of them the coveted Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin, signifying their transformation from civilian to Marine. This is, in effect, what she said, the same woman who had treated them so harshly for five weeks, the woman they’d all grown to love and respect:

    “Becoming a Marine Corps officer means being a servant. You will lead enlisted Marines by serving them. It means living for others and not for yourselves. No one is going to come to you and ask, ‘Are you doing okay?’ That is your job as an officer—to make sure others are okay.”

    This same sentiment was echoed in the OCS graduation speeches, and I finally “got it.” What I had taken to be “verbal abuse” was the Corps’ way of humbling candidates to prepare them to serve. Think about it: you cannot serve if you’re not humble. You can try to serve others, you may think you are serving others, but sooner or later pride will hinder your service. It will manifest in self-centered attitudes…

    I’m tired of being the only one who ever does anything around here.

    No one ever asks how I am doing and really wants to know.

    No one appreciates or recognizes all I do.

    When is anyone going to care about me and my needs?

    When is anyone going to notice everything I do to make this organization/home/church successful?

     

    For the first time on this journey with our daughter, I fully understand why she chose the Marine Corps. It’s not just about the high standards and brotherhood. It’s about serving. And there’s something else I understand all over again: like the words of an old song say, echoing Jesus’ words, “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom (if you want to be a spiritual ‘officer’), learn to be a servant of all.”

    (To read about Anna’s beginnings as an enlisted Marine, click here.)

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