WASHINGTON – While many student-athletes head home for the summer months with family and friends, spending time working on their tans at the beach and recharging before the seasons ahead; two student-athletes from The Catholic University of America headed to Quantico, Va., to spend 10 weeks of training in the United States Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School (OCS).
Seniors Matt McMahon (football) and Emily Merkel (women's lacrosse) dedicated nearly their entire summers to better themselves as part of an exclusive service program that prepares college students for potential entry into the Marines through OCS.
The program's mission is intended to educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills within a controlled, challenging and chaotic environment. They are then evaluated and screened for the leadership, moral, mental and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.
Both McMahon and Merkel have long had desires to join the military and OCS sets them up for potential success upon graduation from Catholic University.
"Ever since I was young I knew I would eventually join the military, and it was sometime during high school that I set my sights on hopefully one day becoming a Marine Corps Officer," said McMahon.
"I've thought about a career in the military since high school but was not committed to that path until later in college. I have two uncles who were Marine Officers. They were a major influence on my decision to pursue this path," remarked Merkel.
The process just to be selected for inclusion in the training is a six-month application process before being accepted into OCS.
"I met with my OSO (Officer Selection Officer) in December 2015 and began the extensive application process for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School," said Merkel.
Thanks to many of the coaches, professors and administrators at Catholic, McMahon and Merkel were selected for OCS training, and just so happened to be in the same training session at Quantico, despite originally hailing from Green Bay, Wisc., and Dallas, Texas, respectively.
"I was very fortunate to have some great professors, coaches and former teachers write me some excellent recommendations to help make this process successful."
During the 10-week training, each day began at 3:30 a.m., for the candidates and spanned to 8 p.m., every night, and those times were the only consistent events. Early morning physical training would be followed by two or three classes on subjects such as warfighting tactics, Marine Corps history and land navigation.
"They pushed every candidate beyond what they believed they could mentally or physical accomplish," said McMahon.
Additionally, there were numerous field exercises as well as the Leadership Reaction Course, assault courses and drills that would fill the rest of the day.
"There was never a time where candidates were standing still," stated Merkel.
Though they were constantly on the go, experiencing, learning and absorbing, with a constant emphasis on mission accomplishment; both McMahon and Merkel were able to realize the importance and impetus for why candidates were pushed so hard. Why accountability, attention to detail and regard for the welfare of your fellow Marine are the hallmarks of their training.
"It is made abundantly clear to all candidates that there is no detail too small that an effective leader can afford to overlook," said McMahon. "In many ways, the overpowering lesson learned at OCS is that Marine Corps Officers must place the well-being of the Marines under their charge well ahead of themselves."
"They stressed the importance of the duty of a Marine Officer and how hesitation is detrimental to a team's success. I also now understand that everything we did this summer was for a purpose," said Merkel.
Both McMahon and Merkel hope to continue their trajectories in the US Military and plan to attend the Basic School after graduation as they begin their service careers. But before they get there, they realize that this incredible experience will help both their respective teams this coming season, as well as their performances in the classroom.
"The discipline and time management skills I learned this summer will be a great asset to accomplishing school work while also managing the demanding football season," said McMahon. "Additionally, I hope some of the leadership traits I studied this summer such as initiative and enthusiasm can translate onto the football field and help to lead our team to a highly successful season."
And while all candidates are mentally challenged at OCS, the physical rigors that they go through can be just as demanding and force their bodies to the height of its performance.
"The physical fitness the OCS PTI's (physical training instructors) put us through was the best in the world and the most challenging I have ever endured," said Merkel. "Without a doubt, I am physically prepared for on-the-field challenges. This entire summer I was forced to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, to move and think quickly, and to pay attention to details."
While this experience will definitely help both players and their teams on the field this season, both McMahon and Merkel are shining examples of what student-athletes and all people at Catholic University strive to be.