Sergeant instructor trains her former recruit to become a Marine Corps Officer
Christina Valentine raised her right hand, and along with a few hundred other officer candidates, recited the oath of office under the scorching summer sun at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia, August 10, 2019. She and her fellow candidates had just finished 10 weeks of Officer Candidates Course, one of the most intense and scrutinizing basic training programs for making a commissioned officer in the U.S. military. The ceremony, which was attended by the candidates’ friends and family, signified their transition to becoming second lieutenants in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following the ceremony, the new lieutenants conducted their own individual ceremonies where people of their choosing pinned gold bars, the insignia of a second lieutenant, on the collar of their uniform. At that time, they also received their first salute, which is traditionally from an enlisted service member who has had a significant impact on them.
The newly appointed 2nd Lt. Christina Valentine chose one of her sergeant instructors, Staff Sgt. Ebony Tatum, for her first salute. For the past ten weeks, Tatum had been evaluating Valentine and her fellow candidates on a daily basis on their performance and how well they were developing an understanding and personal ownership of the Marine Corps’ core values, ethics, and leadership traits. It is very common for new lieutenants to ask one of their sergeant instructors to render them their first salute, usually due to the impression they had on them during their training. However, Tatum’s influence on Valentine didn’t begin during the 10 weeks of OCS it began nearly three years when she initially enlisted in the Marine Corps. Tatum was one Valentine’s drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.
“She really scared the crap out of me most of the time,” Valentine recalled of first meeting Tatum nearly three years ago. “She has such a strong personality.”
Valentine, a native of Dallas, Texas, began recruit training in October of 2016 and graduated in January 2017. She would later train to become a tactical data systems technician and serve at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, where she rose to the rank of corporal. Valentine had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in biology from the University of Texas Arlington prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps and decided to take advantage of the Enlisted Commissioning Program, which allows enlisted Marines who have already completed their degree to become Marine Corps Officers.
As Valentine was preparing for OCS, Tatum, a native of Fort Washington, Maryland, was finishing her three year tour as a drill instructor at Parris Island when she volunteered to become a sergeant instructor at OCS. When the two Marines saw each other for the first time in a few years, they both had flashbacks to their time together at recruit training.
“I remember holding her accountable a lot,” Tatum said with a grin on her face. “I definitely remembered her as soon as I saw her.”
Now Tatum had to train Valentine much differently than the way she trained recruits in enlisted recruit training. Drill instructors train recruits to follow orders with maximum effort and enthusiasm while sergeant instructors provide officer candidates with greater decision making opportunities, the responsibility of leading their peers, and leeway to successfully complete tasks with minimal direction. Sergeant instructors also vigorously screen and evaluate candidates primarily on their leadership as well as academics and physical fitness. Evaluations are based on command presence, communication skills, decision making, and leading subordinates.
“You’re forcing (the candidates) to lead andyou’re giving them that constructive criticism right away,” said Tatum. “We want to make them better and give those evaluations more frequently.”
Valentine says that Tatum’s own unique training style during recruit training actually prepared her to make the transition to become an officer.
“Something that is very important about Staff Sgt. Tatum is her ability to force you to figure things out,” Valentine said. “That’s something that really stuck with me through my career.
“She was the one who helped. I had someone who I knew and trusted and who I knew would teach me the things I needed to be taught. I knew I would make it.”
Even though Tatum’s presence gave her a sense of assurance, Valentine says the 10 weeks of officer training was more demanding than anything she had endured in her lifetime.
“You have to choose every single day when you wake up to perform, to be there, to be present,” said Valentine
If you or someone you know want more information on how to become a Marine Corps officer, please call 1-800-MARINES or visit Marines.com/Becoming-A-Marine/Officer.