Congratulations to OCS Staff and Candidate Honorees

The Marine Corps Association & Foundation presented two awards to candidates and five awards to staff during the OCS graduation at Marine Corps Base Quantico Friday, 14 December.

The Marine Corps Association & Foundation presented two awards to candidates and five awards to staff members during the Officer Candidates School graduation at Marine Corps Base Quantico Friday, 14 December.

Congratulations to Candidate Michael Choate for the Honor Graduate and Phil Yeckel Awards, Candidate Michael Conlon for the Gung Ho Award, Sgt Paul Bribiesca for Drill Instructor of the Cycle, Cpl Michael Hodges for Instructor of the Cycle, Sgt Justin Kelley for Physical Trainer of the Cycle, LCpl Jachadrian Hargrove for the Eagle Award and HM3 Alexander Reynoso for Corpsman of the Cycle.

The OCS honor graduate awards are presented through the MCA&F Marine Excellence Awards program. Each year MCA&F gives awards to recognize more than 8,500 deserving Marines with nearly 11,000 awards and provides about 97 percent of all awards distributed in the Corps outside the USMC awards system. The program offers tangible recognition of professional accomplishments and recognizes the honor graduates throughout the Marine Corps officer and enlisted formal schools.

Pictured from left is Candidates Michael Conlon and Michael Choate.
Photo Credit: Roxanne Baker

Honor Graduate and Phil Yeckel Award- Candidate Michael Choate

As a former enlisted Staff Sergeant, Candidate Michael Choate started off OCS knowing the basics, but still had to ease the transition over to the officer side.

“The biggest challenge is that I’m no longer a Staff Sergeant or Drill Instructor anymore and I had to humble myself to be at the level of my peers and help teach them and catch them up,” Choate said.

Choate enlisted at 18 years old and has since served more than eight years in the Corps. Choate hails from Wichita Falls, Texas, and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix. He said he is “humbled” to be recognized as the honor grad.

“It’s a great honor but I couldn’t have done it without my fellow candidates who pushed me,” Choate said.

Choate said he “wouldn’t be here” at OCS graduation without his wife, Sara, and their three children Michael Jr., 7, Zachary, 5, and Alexander, 3. Choate commissioned immediately after OCS graduation and started The Basic School on Jan. 15.

“Mustangs are needed in the fleet force to understand what the enlisted side went through so you have a little bit more compassion and ability to understand where the enlisted Marines are coming from,” Choate said. “As long as you stay humble and be able to execute yourself as an officer, I think it will work out quite well.”

Gung Ho Award – Candidate Michael Conlon

Candidate Michael Conlon believes motivation is essential to success in the fleet.

“In combat situations you need that one person to be confident and rallying everyone no matter how difficult the situation,” Conlon said.

Conlon was that motivating voice during the rigorous OCS training. His fellow Candidates voted him as the recipient of the Gungho Award.

“Everyone else is going through these challenges as well so you might as well do it together and enjoy yourself,” Conlon said. “I was always trying to be motivating and encourage everyone and I would always tell people ‘Make sure you’re having a good time because why are you here?’”

Conlon is a native of Omaha, Nebraska and attended the city’s Creighton University for his undergraduate degree. He later attended the London School of Economics for his master’s degree.

Conlon commissioned immediately after OCS graduation and started The Basic School on Jan. 15.

“A former prior said when you join the Marine Corps you’ll have 99 bad days but one great day that will make up for it but I personally felt I was having 99 good days and one bad day,” Conlon said. “I loved every moment here and I always enjoyed myself.”

Pictured from left is Cpl Hodges, HM3 Reynoso and Sgt Kelley.
Photo Credit: Roxanne Baker 

Instructor of the Cycle – Cpl Michael Hodges

Cpl Michael Hodges, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has been stationed at OCS for 18 months. This is his second cycle and he instructs land navigation.

Hodges said he would teach navigation with funny videos and jokes because his job is not to be a drill instructor.

“I felt I worked hard for it,” Hodges said. “I tried to be lively with (the Candidates) and put smiles on their faces and have them relaxed because I think they retain the knowledge a little bit easier and better when they’re relaxed in my class.”

Physical Instructor of the Cycle - Sgt Justin Kelley

Sgt Justin Kelley said although he is the recipient of the award, it really represents the entire physical training instruction unit at OCS.

“It’s a good award coming from the Marine Corps Association; it’s for everyone else who helped,” Kelley said.

As a physical training instructor, Kelley works with Candidates every day with stretching, hiking or physical events. He takes guidance from the Colonel and Color Sergeant and then makes sure those directions are implemented.

“I make sure everything is going smooth and everyone is getting proper technique and form and putting effort in their run and make sure they’re getting better and better while they’re here,” Kelley said.

Kelley said his role in physical fitness is very rewarding because he sees the Candidates tremendously improve in capability and confidence throughout the course.

“It’s humbling to see their progression in physical fitness,” Kelley said. “It’s good to know the program we have at OCS is working. You’re the coach and everything is working.”

Eagle Award – LCpl Jachadrian Hargrove

LCpl Jachadrian Hargrove isn’t the kind of person who craves the limelight, but his peers still recognized his hard work at OCS by voting him the recipient of the MCA&F-sponsored Eagle Award.

“I’m a junior Marine but I feel really appreciated by the sergeants and staff NCOs because they take notice of what I do,” Hargrove said.

The Eagle Award recognizes the Marine who is behind the scenes and does his part without looking for a thank you.

“This is one of those underdog awards,”Hargrove said.

Hargrove is from Sylvester, Georgia and this is his first cycle at OCS. He said the biggest lesson he learned during the course was a new appreciation for all ranks.

“Enlisted and officer is two different worlds,” Hargrove said. “Being here really showed me what the officers did to earn their rank and it goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Corpsman of the Cycle - HM3 Alexander Reynoso

HM3 Alexander Reynoso said longs days and tough decisions are simply part of the job of being a Corpsman at OCS. But being recognized for those efforts do make the end rewarding.

“It’s a very thankless job especially when you work 60 to 70 hours a week,” Reynoso said. “So it’s nice to be recognized for not only doing your job but doing it well and if it gives you a little bit of motivation to do well the next cycle then by all means it’s a positive thing. We don’t ask for very much but to be recognized is a very good thing.”

Reynoso has been stationed at OCS for more than a year and has served in the Navy for two years. This course is his sixth cycle and he should be rotated to another to a new role in six months.

Reynoso said being a Corpsman at OCS is a different role than a Corpsman in the fleet or overseas.

“It’s a little different here because you deal with the civilian to military transition of the Candidates,” said Reynoso, a native of Jersey City, New Jersey.

The training is supposed to be rigorous on the Candidates, he said, so the Corpsman must constantly decide if the Candidates are pushing themselves to a healthy point or a dangerous point.

“It’s a training command and it’s going to hurt for them,” Reynoso said. “As a corpsman, you have to figure out when someone is actually pushing the limits or when it’s going a little too far and you’re taking them to the point of no return on recovery on the body. For us it’s a judgment call every time every day. Out here you want to make sure safety is the number one concern but also that they can push their limits so they can be the best Marine Corps officer they can be.”

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