The words mean ‘leadership by example’. It is the motto of the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va., for the Marine Corps.
They are words that struck a chord with Duke graduate Kevin Mayer, who during the 2008 summer attended the 10–week Officer Candidate School.
Head coach John Danowski and the rest of his teammates were on hand to witness Mayer receive his oath.
“It was incredible having [Danowski] and the whole team there because they are so much of what I have been the past five years,” Mayer said. “I know I would not be as prepared to go and be an officer in the Marine Corps had I not been a member of the Duke men’s lacrosse team. That helped me in so many ways.”
Last week, on June 2nd, he reported back to Quantico to begin Basics school, which will last for five to six months.
The urge to do something important and something that would help bring meaning to his life has always been important for the Duke defensemen.
Words from his father, Dr. Tom Mayer, a 1977 Duke graduate, played an invaluable role as Mayer looked to find what he was passionate about.
“My dad has always told me, ‘The best thing you can do is find where your deep joy intersects the world’s deep need’,” Mayer said.
But when Mayer attended Officer Candidate School last summer, he did it without knowing if he would accept his commissioning into the Marine Corps.
“I said I’ll go, and then I’ll think about it for a few months before I make a decision and the longer I was back at school from having gone to OCS the more I realized how much it meant to me,” Mayer said. “It was so important, and I had such a great opportunity in front of me to keep going with this and to hold myself to a high standard of a four–year commitment and maybe beyond that.”
For Mayer the 10 weeks were as much of a mental test as they were a physical challenge, but with the support of his teammates on the men’s lacrosse team and his family the Great Falls, Va. native completed his 10 weeks graduating first out of his company.
He described Candidate School as a screening process where the officers place physical and mental stress on the candidates to see how they respond, adapt and think during demanding situations.
Fifty percent of the training dealt with building leadership skills, while another 25 percent involved academics and the final 25 percent was physical training.
“I think the most stress I almost put on myself,” Mayer said. “For the first three weeks I wanted to succeed so badly, and it was something that I wasn’t really familiar with. I didn’t really have any military background. It was everything from knowing when to salute and making sure your uniform is ready every day, and then the sleep deprivation was hard. You are so worried when you get there that it is hard to sleep because you’re worried about what you have to make sure you accomplish the next day.”
When Mayer looks back over the time spent at OCS, he remembers an exercise that was, while he was doing it, one of the most exhausting and mentally tiring he had ever completed in his life, but now understands the importance it served.
“We spent one day running in and out of our squad base for about an hour and a half and every time we would get in take off all our gear,” he said. “They would say, ‘Too slow, put it back on. Go back out’. That is something that I remember as one of those moments where you’re doing it, it’s the worst thing you have ever done, but now I look back and sort of remember it fondly. It is one of those things that I am glad that I pushed through when I was there and kept the larger picture in mind.”
Throughout the 10 weeks, Mayer and the other candidates were expected to be prepared for everything that was thrown at them. From getting into formations to preparing for ambushes, each test is evaluated to see who can truly lead by example.
“You can either do it or you don’t,” Mayer said.
Back when Mayer was deciding on whether to attend OCS, he turned to his uncle, Captain Bill Henry, who was in Desert Storm as a signals intelligence officer, for advice.
“He told me about OCS specifically,” Mayer said. “He said they are just going to push you and it is just a grind to get through. It’s not so much if you question yourself when you are there it’s just a matter of when that time happens. He said everyone at some point there is going to say is this really for me.”
His Uncle also told him that it was the best decision he ever made. He met people and got to travel and knew he was doing something important.
And that is what appeals to Mayer about the Marines.
He loves holding himself to a high standard. He loves the idea of leading your Marines and doing so without recognition and keeping the key values of the Marine Corps, honor, courage and commitment, close to his heart.
“Accepting a commission into the Marine Corps to me means accepting a higher calling to serve our country at a time of war,” Mayer said. “But also to do it with the key value of the Marine Corps, honor, courage and commitment in mind, and doing so with always keeping yourself with the highest standard and knowing you are going to be leading some of the greatest 18 to 20 year olds that our country has.”