SEPTEMBER 4, 2023 ― U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Christian Carrasco, an environmental compliance officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 25 and native of Poteet, Texas has always dreamed of becoming a Marine Corps officer. “I feel like I have something to offer to the Marine Corps, seeing the officers in their uniforms at the ball and seeing the way they carry themselves… I would like to be that figure for my Marines one day.” Little did he know, a trip to the National Capital Region would allow him to see just how capable he is of embodying the very figure he hopes to be for his Marines. The goal of the three-day excursion – give Marines a glimpse behind the curtain of what it takes to be a Marine officer and show a pathway to that career, if desired. “It was such a good program I don’t want them to change a thing, I hope other Marines get the same opportunity as me.”
The Diversity AIMED (attract, identify, mentor, educate, develop) Officer Program, known as DAOP, strives to attract high-performing Marines from historically underrepresented populations and provide them with the opportunity to visualize and gain insight on the commissioning process in order to continue filling the officer corps with different life perspectives. A Marine Forces Reserve original initiative, this year’s DAOP took place August 15-18, 2023, in various locations near Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and Washington D.C.
During DAOP, enlisted Marine participants were placed into small groups and paired with officer mentors. Together, they visited Officer Candidates School, The Basic School, Marine Corps University, the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Marine Barracks Washington. The Marines also spoke with senior leaders and sat down with Marine Corps officer recruiters to discuss their individual situations and find out which commissioning program would suit them best.
Lt. Gen. David Bellon, commander, Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces South said talent management programs like this are all about creating the most lethal team of Marines from all different walks of life. “Pulling top-tier talent from our enlisted ranks and getting them to consider a career as officers is all about increasing our warfighting effectiveness.” Furthermore, examining problems through multiple lenses, gives the ability to approach them from different angles and increase the speed and chances of identifying solutions. Bellon continued, “The problem sets Marines face around the globe are very complex and ever changing. And if we’re in the business of going into crises, and accurately framing problems, and then seeing possible solutions, we will certainly benefit by continuing to grow a diversified bench of senior leaders who can see the problem as broadly as possible.” Bellon is a a native of Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The potential of these exceptional Marines was not only obvious to their immediate leadership, but external leadership as well. After being nominated by their leadership, a board of four commissioned officers and two senior staff noncommissioned officers form Marine Forces Reserve selected the top 40 Marines out of 85 applicants.
The program’s senior leaders are highly enthusiastic about the benefits of bringing such talented and diverse Marines together.
“As an American military branch, we should look like the country that we serve,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Billy Richardson, senior enlisted advisor of Marine Forces Reserve G-1 and DAOP selection board member, mentor and native of Las Vegas, Nevada. He went on to explain how the Marine Corps’ primary doctrine on warfighting applies to programs like this. “It says ‘In order to maximize combat power, we must use all the available resources to our best advantage.’ In the same way that we understand and prize diversity of combat arms, we should seek out and prize the diversification of our teams. Similar problem-framing can be catastrophic, while diverse perspective is essential to win the fight. We must capitalize on all our talent within the Corps. This program helps to hone-in on those historically underrepresented talents.”
Richardson went on to explain how Marines were selected and what it is like to be a part of the decision-making process.
“Unlike promotion or Marine of the Quarter boards that select Marines solely based on their past performance, we looked at a combination of the Marines’ performance as well as their potentiality of becoming a Marine Corps officer. We also took into consideration their professed attributes both strengths and challenges or opportunities of improvement, their interests, as well as their reasoning for wanting to attend this year’s program.”
The Marines selected got a glimpse into the training aspiring officers go through at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. They completed physical training, classes, the Leadership Reaction Course and the Tarzan Course.
“My favorite experience was the Tarzan course. I was a bit nervous but once I got there that boot camp mentality snapped in and I was ready, just being myself,” said Sgt. Yanick Yorot, S-1 non-commissioned officer in charge, Marine Air Control Group 48, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Marines also received a tour of Marine Corps University and received a class detailing higher education opportunities and career options for the officer community.
“The most memorable experience so far has been the chance to go to the Marine Corps University” said Sgt. Sarah Sloan, a platoon sergeant with Combat Logistics Regiment 4. “The [commanding officer] talked to us about all the different opportunities there are when you’re an officer for further education. Whether that’s learning a new language or going overseas, you get to continue to be a lifelong learner, not just for the Marine Corps, but for yourself and for your Marines.” Sloan is originally from Kansas City, Missouri.
The participants then went on a tour of TBS where they got hands on experience with some of the equipment newly commissioned officers work with including weapons and a flight in an MV-22 Osprey piloted by Marine Helicopter Squadron 1, the unit responsible for flying the President of the United States and other high-ranking officials.
“[My favorite part was] definitely being with HMX-1 flying in the Osprey,” said Cpl. Dante Watts, an embarkation specialist with Marine Air Control Group 48 and Battle Creek Michigan Native. “Before the Marine Corps, I was going to school for aviation science and I would love to continue that with MECEP (Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program), go aviation and become a pilot.
A tactical decision game and case study, led by TBS staff, challenged the Marines’ critical thinking skills. Their definitions of leadership expanded as they discussed, with senior staff noncommissioned officers, the relationship between new officers and senior enlisted.
“Before coming to this program when I thought about becoming an officer it was just a giant question mark, there were a lot of unknowns,” said Watts. “The program helped me see the process and all the different pathways I can take to get to my goal of becoming a United States Marine Corps officer.”
Marines then sat down at the Hawk, an officer’s club at TBS, for a senior leader panel hosted by Bellon alongside three other general officers and three colonels. During this discussion Marines asked these senior leaders about their experiences as an officer.
The panel was memorable, to say the least. “It was an amazing opportunity to hear the wisdom and the genuine answers they gave all of us and really the insight. There was a lot of history in that room,” said Staff Sgt. Kayla Lee, administrative chief, Defense Cyber Operations Security Company A, Force Headquarters Group.
The four-day trip ended with a day to explore the National Museum of the Marine Corps and attend the Friday Evening Parade at Marine Barracks Washington.
“Honestly, if you are trying to become an officer my personal belief is you have to be selfless and care about the Marines under you and you have to care about the institution,” said Sgt. Walter CrucesCochachis, battalion training chief, 1st Battalion 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division and native of Lima, Peru. “A lot of times Marines talk about that 20-year mark and it’s wonderful if you hit it, but it has to be a life goal. My mindset is stuck on I never want to leave the Marine Corps. I know it’s going to happen one day but as much as I can control, I will choose to stay as long as I can. I care about Marines; I care about their futures. You need to care about them more than you care about yourself. After being a part of DAOP my commitment is unbelievable, I am unbelievably motivated, I am super eager to get this started.”
Story by Lance Cpl. Ashley Corbo
Marine Forces Reserve (MARFORRES)