On May 26, 2018, when most of the Bowdoin community was celebrating the College’s 213th Commencement, rising senior Jake Stenquist was on his way to Marine Officer Candidates School (OCS) at Marine Base Quantico, Virginia, for six weeks of “organized chaos.”
He attended the senior’s increment of the Platoon Leaders Class (PLC) program for college seniors, having completed the junior’s increment during the summer of 2016. On July 7, he graduated at the top of his company for the PLC program, as the Marine Corps Association’s Honor Graduate. This means he got to march at the head of more than 200 officer candidates as adjutant of the graduation parade.
Stenquist is a government and legal studies major with a concentration on international relations. He’s minoring in physics, and he is about to start a fifth semester of Arabic classes. As he prepared for his senior year, Stenquist shared some thoughts on his career choice, his education, his interests outside the classroom, and why he likes to play the drums in a rock and pop cover band!
Why the Marines?
My parents raised me with the value of serving others. My siblings and I were at times admittedly forced to volunteer growing up, but every time we did, we walked away from it with new perspective on the people we helped and learned lessons about ourselves. Just as I served through Special Olympics volunteering and at community soup kitchens, I want to give back to my country.
Although America is not perfect, it is the greatest country in the world. Ronald Reagan once paraphrased John Winthrop saying that, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” I believe that as long as there are men and women who volunteer to serve that shining city, then its beacon of light will continue to shine.
What would you say to any young person considering a military career?
Be prepared to fail. The most successful guys in my platoon were the ones who failed early, but were able to adapt quickly and adjust to the chaos of OCS. Students at Bowdoin and other elite colleges, myself included, tend to always have control. At OCS, sometimes you just have to let go and realize that you have no control over the outcome of a situation.
So much of the evaluation at OCS is watching to see how candidates react when things don’t go their way—when you do everything correctly but still face a sergeant instructor screaming in your face. My biggest piece of advice would be to adjust to the chaos and find the smallest details that you can control, and master those.
How does a liberal arts education prepare you for a military career?
The Marine Corps is often compared to the warriors of Spartan culture. I think Thucydides captured the connection in History of the Peloponnesian War, where he stated, “We must remember that one man is much the same as another, and that he is best who is trained in the severest of school.” OCS is an extremely challenging school which tests your ability to keep calm in the midst of chaos and tests your athletic capabilities with grueling physical training. Most importantly, OCS tests your ability to problem-solve and to find a solution no matter how wet, hot, tired, or hungry you are.
At Bowdoin, my problem-solving development came in the classroom of Professor Gibbons’ International Security course, where through simulation I suddenly became the Secretary of Defense and had to react to aggressive Chinese military movements in the South China Sea. At OCS, the problem solving came from leading a squad level (thirteen-man team) assault simulation and deciding how to react when one of my men is critically wounded but the mission priority was securing the bunker. These are the types of situations where critical thinking that I’ve learned through rigorous courses at Bowdoin allowed me to succeed at OCS.
I also had to deal with resolving interpersonal disputes between members of the platoon, and preparing for a test late at night, after an eighteen-hour day. Here, I built on skills already learned at Bowdoin through Residential Life and being a member of the soccer team—skills that helped provide me with the right mindset for OCS.
What do you like to do outside the classroom?
Last fall I had the opportunity to start all eighteen games at midfield and will be captain of the men’s soccer team this season. I’ve played the drums since I was three and at Bowdoin I’m in a band called Pulse, which competes in the Battle of the Bands each year and opened for Waka Flocka at Ivies in 2016. Playing drums allows me to continue developing another aspect of my personality. I was also a member of Residential Life staff for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years.
What are your immediate plans after graduation?
I will commission as a second lieutenant on May 24, 2019, before graduating the following day. From there, it’s back to Quantico, where I will attend The Basic School (TBS). I hope to earn an aviation contract to continue my journey after TBS at flight school in Pensacola, Florida. I am very early in the process, however, and am open to any occupation in the USMC, specifically the infantry.
What are your longer-term plans?
My contract at the time of commissioning and my ranking in my company at TBS will determine my job in the Marine Corps. That will determine the trajectory of my career in the Marine Corps. As of right now, my future is very open and I’m extremely excited about it. I love what I do and could see myself staying in the Marine Corps, but I also aspire to attend law school or business school later in my life. The journey has just begun, and I’m very excited to see where it takes me.