Marine officers exemplify the phrase Ductus Exemplo, Latin for “Leadership by Example.” Some find the task of becoming an officer impossible and are dropped from the course. While others like Staff Sgt. James J.W. Geiger, embrace the challenge.
Geiger, a recruiter with Recruiting Station Pittsburgh, was selected for the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program and graduated Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, Nov. 25 as the honor graduate for Officer Candidate Class 217.
“OCC was a great experience for me,” said Geiger, a Coral Springs, Fla. native. “You are constantly being evaluated with emphasis on your leadership abilities I feel the people that graduated deserved it and have the potential to become great leaders.
MECEP offers qualified Marines the chance to go to a four-year college full time, while maintaining active duty status, to earn a degree and commission as Marine Corps officers. Selection is based on an individual's potential for commissioned service as demonstrated by their service record, previous academic record, and evidence of career and academic self-improvement.
OCC is a 10-week course designed to screen, train, and evaluate officer candidates to ensure they possess the moral, intellectual, and physical qualities for commissioning; and the leadership potential to serve successfully as company grade officers in the operating forces.
According to Geiger, being a Marine with prior service made it an easier transition to becoming an officer candidate because he already knew, from his recruit training experience, some of what to expect at OCC and is familiar with the basics of being a Marine.
“A lot of the tests were definitely easier for the prior enlisted guys because we didn’t have to study as hard,” said Geiger. “We helped a lot of the candidates that didn’t have any prior experience because they had to learn 100 percent of the material.”
The next task at hand for Geiger is to attend the University of Pittsburgh to study political science in May 2015 and graduate in May 2017. Upon graduation, he will accept his commission to become a second lieutenant.
“Having the opportunity to lead Marines is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time,” said Geiger. “By becoming an officer, I get to do it on a bigger scale.”
Geiger has been in the Marine Corps since 2006. After he completed his initial training as a rifleman, he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. While at 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, he deployed to Iraq from March to September 2007 and from July 2008 to February 2009. He also deployed to Afghanistan from March to October 2010. It was during those combat deployments that Geiger began to further develop interest in leading Marines.
“I was a squad leader in Iraq and Afghanistan and having that opportunity to lead Marines in combat, and seeing what they are willing to do and the trust and faith they put into me without a second thought, that was a very humbling experience,” said Geiger. “It always made me want to be better, get better and become the best leader for them.
According to Geiger, Marines become like family because they deploy, train and, during deployments, see each other every day. It is that intimate experience, that has lead him to the officer corps. He wants to lead by example.
“Being a leader down at the squad level is the biggest honor I’ve had in my short career,” said Geiger. “Once I commission, I will be able to apply my experience to a larger scale and it will continue to push me to get better.”
Geiger has excelled throughout his Marine Corps career and during his tour as a recruiter.
“Geiger is the type of Marine who will not ask you to do anything he has not done before,” said Capt. James P. Psyhogis, executive officer, RS Pittsburgh. “When he called other recruiters for something, he made a connection because he asked for something he had done a few months prior; they trusted him.”
According to Psyhogis, starting off as enlisted and transitioning into the officer side is beneficial because “mustang” officers learn how to lead from their growth, experience and knowledge as enlisted.
“You have a unique perspective because you have seen it on squad level with small unit leadership,” said Psyhogis, who also was enlisted prior to commissioning. “Your perspective is different because you can experience both intimate leadership (enlisted) and leadership at a grander scale (officer).
“He would really like to become an infantry officer, but I think regardless of what job he gets he will be successful in any field,” said Psyhogis, a Watertown, Massachusetts, native. “I expect him to graduate The Basic School (next training school after commissioning and where job selection occurs) highly and that his success will continue on throughout the rest of his career.”
Geiger knows he must now, shift his focus to becoming a full-time student and complete his degree, so, he can continue to do what he loves…lead Marines.
“I’m excited to start a new chapter in my career and continuing it as an officer. I’ve been exposed to different leadership styles and that will help me develop my own,” said Geiger. “Now, I get to take all the great tools I’ve learned and apply them to leading my Marines.”