My name is Joe Kemp and I’m from North Richland Hills, Texas. I am a senior and entering my second full year as a wide receiver for the Tulane football team after playing my first three years at the quarterback position. During the months of May, June and part of July of 2011, I underwent training to become a United States Marine Corps Officer in Quantico, Va., at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. This editorial is about my experience during those six weeks and the effect the training I learned at OCS (Officer Candidate School) has played on my role as a leader and an overall player on the football team.

Joe Kemp at Officer Candidate School.
Joe Kemp

From May 27 to July 8 2011, I underwent training to become a United States Marine Corps Officer in Quantico, Va. Those dates are very important to me as a college football player because for the last four years, from those exact dates, May 27 to July 8, I have been training day in and day out with my teammates in the New Orleans heat, building the bonds and relationships that are necessary to win in the fall. This summer though, I endured a different type of training, with a different group of teammates. I went through what I like to call (or what I thought was going to be) my “First of Two Training Camps.” Going into OCS (Officer Candidate School), I really didn’t know too much of what to expect. I knew of the Marine Corps and the high standards that they ran their organization with, but I had no idea of what that actually meant. I had no idea of what it took to not only be a part of the greatest war fighting organization on the planet, but to lead them as well.

At OCS, a normal day began around 4:30 a.m. After spending the first hour or so of our morning cleaning the barracks, we would head out to the PT (Physical Training) field to do some type of exercise. Each day the workout would switch between distance runs, obstacle courses, combat exercises and endurance runs. Each workout would present its own type of challenge that an Officer Candidate must overcome. Whether it is the 60-foot-high log wall at the Confidence Course or the final mile sprint on the Endurance Course, each obstacle or workout would challenge the candidate mentally and physically. As I arrived at OCS, I admittedly came with somewhat of an over-confident attitude. I felt, and still do, that due to my experience as a college football player, I would gain a level up on a lot of the other candidates. In some cases this held true, but in many instances it held no weight. 

For example, during our final week at OCS, we went on our “Medal of Honor” motivational run. This run was a 5.2-mile run in boots and camouflage through the woods of Quantico, Va. By this point of our training, all graded events had ended, meaning the motivational run was for just that, motivation. No fear of falling out and getting sent home. After about five miles of sprinting up and down hills in the 95-degree Virginia summer heat, my body began to give out on me. As I began to fight the urges in my body to give up, many thoughts began to run through my head. I thought about all of the Marines who died for me and this great country. I thought about the Marines who put their own worries and problems aside to save the Marine next to them. I thought, if I can’t push myself through this type of “controlled” pain, then how would I push myself in combat when I have another 45 men relying solely on me? Then I began to think of my teammates back at Tulane. 

Even though I was not back at school with the football team, I knew my teammates were still counting on me. I had to find a way to overcome my exhaustion and continue to push myself; yes, I owed it to myself, but, in my mind, I owed it more to my Tulane teammates more than anything. After another 200 meters or so of sprinting through the woods, my body finally shut down on me. Due to a 104.5 degrees core body temperature, I had temporarily blacked out during the final leg of our Medal of Honor run. Looking back on the experience now, I could not be more grateful for it. To me, playing college football is purely about passion -- which team is more willing to completely sell out, emotionally and physically, every single play, in order to win? I say I am grateful for my “Medal of Honor” experience because I now know that we are playing and its 103 degrees outside that I have plenty left in me. Whatever thoughts I might’ve had of being tired, or wanting to give up or quit, simply will not enter my head. Instead, I’ll be able to confidently turn to my teammates and say, “Follow me. I know we can do this.”  And that’s a direct result of my experiences at OCS.

Though as an Officer Candidate I did a large amount of physical training, along with academics, the majority of my training and evaluation came in the form of leadership exercises and tests. We were not only put through field exercises (combat exercises) and problem-solving exercises to judge our leadership skills, but also were required to hold everyday jobs or “billets” that required each candidate to be in charge of a certain set of responsibilities or tasks. At all times of the day and night at OCS, we were being trained, screened and evaluated. We were held accountable for every decision we made, and were made aware of the consequences our actions could have on our fellow Candidates. 

At OCS, we were taught in everything we did that attention to detail was key, above all else, and that if every situation wasn’t treated like your last one, well… then it will probably be your last one.
-- Tulane wide receiver Jeff Kemp

As an Officer Candidate, if you were to make a mistake, a common way you’d get punished (besides the usual Sergeant Instructor’s verbal words of encouragement) was to write a lengthy essay on what you did wrong. In the essay, you would consider how it could affect those around you if you were in the Fleet (the everyday Marine Corps). Well, when I was served my opportunity for an essay, which we all did many times, I wrote mine on not only how my decision could affect the men around me on the battlefield but on the football field as well. The correlation between the two areas is remarkable. The experience I have gained through 17 years of football will and has directly carried over into my training and experience as a Marine Corps Officer Candidate. 

When I was selected for positions of leadership this summer at OCS, I jumped at the opportunity to lead because I had already been in similar types of positions on the football field. With that being said, my training and the experiences I went through at OCS will also greatly affect and ultimately help me improve as a college football player. As a leader of Marines, you are faced with the pressure of one of your wrong decisions costing the life of one of your men. Having this pressure on myself makes me want to excel and be perfect in times of combat (or games) even more, because I recognize and respect the consequences that will come if I do not. I am eager for the opportunity to carry somewhat similar responsibilities as a leader for our football team this fall. At OCS, we were taught in everything we did that attention to detail was key, above all else, and that if every situation wasn’t treated like your last one, well… then it will probably be your last one. As I am in my final season here at Tulane, I think that it is vital that I carry that attitude over into the football season. As a player who has suffered a season ending injury before, I know how true the statement, “treat every play like it’s your last” can really be. Words can’t explain how important it is that this team treats every practice, every snap with this attitude and disposition.

My decision to join the United States Marine Corps and ultimately become a Marine Corps Officer is one that I will never regret. It was hard initially, and still is sometimes, to get my parents to feel the same way as I do on my decision. My parents, friends, coaches and teammates alike all ask me the same questions. “Why would you want to join the Marines? Aren’t they the first to fight? Aren’t you afraid of dying? Why would you want to miss training time at Tulane heading into your last year, don’t you want to go to the NFL?”  Well, now that I have completed my first summer at OCS, I can confidently answer all of those questions. Yes, the Marines are the first to fight, which is exactly why I chose to lead them. Do I want to die? No, but I have learned that there is no greater honor than to give your own life in order to save another man, to give your life for your country.  And finally, yes, above all else, I still aspire and dream of winning a Conference USA Championship, a bowl game and ultimately a career in the NFL. It is my belief though, that even though I missed my first month of training at Tulane, the training I received at OCS this summer will be immeasurable this fall….Semper Fi and Roll Wave! See ya this fall.