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Marine Corps program trains future officers

Nicole Zook | Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Marines truly are the few and the proud on Notre Dame’s campus. However, Captain John H. Williams III doesn’t seem to mind.”I’ve always felt welcome at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s,” he said. “I think Notre Dame has been very supportive of my mission to find qualified candidates for the Marine Corps, and I think Notre Dame has a lot of qualified students. And whether they are pursuing or not pursuing the program, they have been professional.”Williams visits the two campuses on a regular basis. As the Officer Selection Officer for the West Lafayette area, his job is to contact and contract students who are interested in pursuing a career as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.Officer candidates can contract at any grade level to join the program. Training takes place during either two six-week or one ten-week period during the summer at Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va. Williams says that summer training is key to the program.”This program is focused for a student to remain in school without interruption. You can pursue the program to see if you really have what it takes, if you’ve got what we’re looking for, and if that’s a good fit for you,” he said.Applicants must have good academic standing, pass medical requirements, be physically prepared and have leadership potential.Six Notre Dame students and two Saint Mary’s students are currently enrolled in the program through Williams’ office, along with students from IUSB, Bethel, Taylor, IU, Wesleyan, Saint Joseph’s, IPFW and Purdue said Gunnery Sgt. David Templeton. Templeton serves as the Officer Selection Assistant in the West Lafayette station.”Our candidates range anywhere from freshmen to graduating seniors, with various degrees from criminal justice to history to psychology to pre-med to education with a minor in special education,” Templeton said. “They have the opportunity to be a full-time student without a complete obligation to the Marine Corps.”During the school year, the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s candidates organize their own optional physical training and preparation classes. They may also attend training functions at Purdue, field training exercises and an OCS prep weekend to get a taste of what their experience will be like. Senior T.J. Laubacher appreciates the opportunities that the program provides.”It has shown me that there’s more to life than just being a student, and it’s given me a purpose,” he said.Laubacher joined the program four years ago as a Platoon Leaders Class candidate. These candidates go to OCS for two six-week periods and can choose to accept a commission as a Second Lieutenant after graduation. He says that he enjoyed his time in the Officer Candidates School.”It is the worst time that you will ever look back on and laugh at. For multiple reasons it is the closest you will get to hell,” Laubacher said. “But it’s worth it. It’s a challenge, an adventure, like none you will ever face. You’re pushed to your ultimate limit – and then you exceed it.”Candidates are trained rigorously in leadership, academics and physical acumen while at OCS. Saint Mary’s senior Jessica Millanes says that Williams and Templeton were crucial to her preparation process.”Captain Williams and Gunny work at Purdue – they live down there – but they drive up here all the time to train with us. They’re very dedicated to what they do,” she said. “Last summer when I went I was definitely in shape to perform, and it took a lot of mental work to prepare for that second summer. But you know what to expect, and I was ready.”Williams admits that preparation for the challenge is key.”This program and the Marine Corps itself is not for everyone, but it definitely will allow you to assess your own abilities, your own mental and physical capabilities,” he said. “This program is a good program for that, because the Marine Corps will push you past your known limits. You’ll go farther than you ever could imagine in as little as six weeks.”While challenging, the program offers candidates many benefits. Candidates have the opportunity to pursue careers in law and aviation, and chances for travel. Financial benefits are also available, as students can receive a stipend to help pay for school. Many candidates also jump at the chance for a commission, opting to serve as officers in the Marines.”It’s the path to a commission,” Williams said. “Starting off early gives you the chance to really think about it. What do you want to do with your life after graduation? Commissionings are great. You have the chance for a commissioning once, and it’s the chance for a bright future.”Williams, who has been in the West Lafayette station for just three years, has commissioned sixteen officers. Twenty-three officers from his office have been commissioned after OCS graduation, and eight more – including Laubacher and Millanes – will become lieutenants this summer. After three years as a candidate, Millanes says she looks back and realizes how ready she is for that day.”The day I met Captain Williams changed my life. He’s had an influential role in all of our lives,” she said. “He and Gunny are outstanding – they lead by example and we’ve all learned so many lessons from them. They proved to us what we could do and show us what Marines should be.”Millanes said she looks to Williams for guidance in how to be a good officer once she is commissioned.”One day, he told me that he doesn’t just wear his rank on his collar, but in his heart, and that’s the kind of officer I want to be.”