My initial thoughts on this question were if someone conducted themselves as a dirtbag while enlisted then they will be a dirtbag while commissioned too. Character matters. While any military experience will give someone an advantage early on in their officer training it will not enhance their credibility forever. Eventually the Marines under their command will figure out who’s who and rate an officer’s ability against his peers.
One common mistake prior enlisted officers make is forgetting they are no longer enlisted. They sometimes fail to realize they are now commanders and not one of the boys. Being too chummy with your Marines will only lead to disaster. Officers should cultivate a relationship with their platoon sergeants not their troops. Former Staff Non Commissioned Officers may go so far as to try to take their platoon sergeant’s work over. A good platoon sergeant will not let them but it happens.
The flip side of that coin are former enlisted officers who look down their nose at enlisted Marines. We refer to them as Marines who forgot where they came from. At a battalion function once the staff and officers were putting money together to buy the Marines some beer. One of the captains, a former NCO, remarked: “I’m not pitching in to buy those animals more alcohol.” Our battalion commander, a former sergeant, gently but firmly suggested to the good captain if he really had such a low opinion of the men he might seek employment elsewhere.
|Iraq 2007: Kilo Company CO and America’s 1stSgt properly cultivating their relationship.|
From my experience military academy ninjas come in two flavors; totally awesome superstar or complete bag of dung. There doesn’t seem to be an in between. The advantage academy graduates have is four years of experience which resembles being in the military. They are held somewhat more accountable than their civilian counterparts and this tends to work in their favor. On the down side they do not attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) like other Marine officers and in my opinion are not always properly indoctrinated in an orthodox Marine Corps manner (every Annapolis officer I know is going to flay me for saying that). I had a lieutenant in 3rd Recon who was an Air Force Academy graduate. A great officer actually (superstar) but I always thought he was a little different. One day he admitted to me he had never been to OCS since he went right to The Basic School (TBS) out of the Academy. He had taken a Marine option since he was not able to become a pilot. Upon arriving at TBS the other officers had to show him how to wear a Marine uniform since it was his first time. I spent the rest of the day lecturing him about proper indoctrination into the tribe and questioning his loyalty.
Although not technically military academies, private military collages like Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel produce a similar product but they still attend OCS. VMI graduates are personally forged the largest class rings in the galaxy. I had a company commander who only wore his VMI ring at the Marine Corps Ball. I thought he was sporting a set of brass knuckles the first time I saw it. It was so massive, every time he saluted the tide would come in.
The biggest drawback of being from a private military collage or academy is the danger of developing a sense of superiority and privilege. Occasionally academy types may think themselves better than their peers and subordinates. A sense of entitlement is a dangerous trait to develop in oneself. I recommend against it.
Public and private university graduates are the classic example of the wide eyed lieutenant. Not a one of them has any idea what in the world is going on (except for prior service types). Almost every one of these officers seems to have majored in Criminal Justice. Not sure why except perhaps as preparation for dealing with felonious 1stSgts. The danger for private university graduates is not setting aside the frat-boy mentality after leaving campus. I had a platoon commander who went on a bender with his platoon one night on liberty. They ended up in a fight and busting up the club they were in. This kind of thing does not generate joy and good will. Remember the disaster I warned you about above? If you show your ass to your buddies you only lose cool points. Show your ass to your subordinates and you lose their respect. Something to think about.
As to which starting point is better? From what I can tell their success and failure rate are about the same. Sometimes our perception is what seems different. Again, character matters. Someone of low character will make a lousy ditch digger let alone an officer. Self interest and fundamental character flaws are not curable conditions in any university I ever heard of.
In the end the best officers are those who show a genuine enthusiasm for the mission and concern for their Marines. Those you command will always see through a fraud. Be yourself and stick to the leadership fundamentals. You can’t go wrong there.