December 21, 2015In Royal MarinesBy Sean Lerwill7 Minutes

I was asked recently to make a few videos a little more specific to the POC (Potential Officers’ Course) rather than the PRMC. Over the course of the next few months I’ll make an effort to make a few posts and videos on elements of the best POC and AIB (Admiralty Interview Board) that I believe are worth thinking about.

The first is an element of the POC that can throw some people. The group discussion. In general, the group discussion is not a part in the POC to be afraid of; it’s not physically demanding and to be honest, unlike the interview and essay is not really that mentally taxing either. So why am I bothering to write about it, you may ask? Well, because it can have some bearing on you as an individual simply because of where it lies.

The group discussion takes place AFTER the endurance course. The last physical element of the day, on a day in which you’ve endured the bottom field and assault course and the endurance course, hare and hounds and run back to camp. There is (rightly) some sense of relief and relaxation at now being sat in the Officers’ Mess; tea and stickies in front of you, in nice warm clothes with the PT staff nowhere to be seen. You can almost smell the ink on your POC report “Pass” (as long as you made it through the endurance course runback without stopping. It’s nice, comfy and the training team are relaxed.

But you’re not there yet.

During this discussion you will be watched and listened to. This is, in one sense, your last chance to impress or equally unimpress the training team. If you are on the brink of a pass. i.e. they aren’t quite convinced; your grasp of current affairs, coupled with your ability to respectfully construct an argument while being courteous to your fellow course members; could tip things in your direction.

Equally, if you don’t know the difference between Jeremy Corbyn and Jeremy Kyle, you could find yourself on a sticky wicket. My advice here is two fold:

  1. Try to be abreast of current affairs but with an open mind (within reason). Your overarching aim is to add intelligent comments and formulate interesting points of view. To do this you need to understand the conversation and know a little about the subject matter, but there is no need to 
  2. Be honest. If you don’t know what people are talking about, don’t lie. There’s not necessarily anything to be gained by throwing your arm up and saying “I don’t know anything about Syria or the Calipahte”, but if you are asked your opinion and your really don’t know, it may be best to admit that. Say you aren’t up on this subject, but from what you’ve heard in the conversation so far, you think…

An officer in the Royal Marines may well find himself talking and discussing a subject he knows little about. In fact, he may well be asked to give his opinion on something he has never come across before. Your ability to do this is being judged, as well as your general understanding of current affairs in the UK and abroad.

The last thing I will say on this subject is act like a Gentleman. Yes, you must put your point across. If someone disagrees you must argue your case, sensibly and without raising out voice. If someone antagonizes you or makes you feel stupid, take it. Don’t fish out individual vendettas on the course. This is not the forum. If someone is specifically rude to you (which won’t happen) this is a different matter of course and a Royal Marines Officer would of course stand up for himself; sensibly, calmly and cooly.

Overall that is just it, you are being judged on your ability to be an Officer. Your ability to represent the Royal Marines as an intelligent, well-rounded and courteous individual who when asked to work with other members of the British Forces or indeed members of foreign forces, you represent the British Forces and above all the Royal Marines in a positive light. Remember, a Royal Marine officer will be given a Commission from the Queen. You will be representing the UK at some point in your career. This discussion is looking at whether you possess the potential qualities to do that.

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In conclusion then, don’t relax too much in the final discussion phase. Yes you need to appear relaxed and comfortable, and there is nothing to be afraid, so you should be. But don’t put so much on the physical that you forget that this side of the course is also important. Get yourself a rounded knowledge of current affairs and British history that is relevant to your chosen career. Read the papers, read well-balanced arguments on trusted websites, read books. Ask your parents’ opinions, ask school teachers or University professors. Don’t be afraid to learn and ask questions. You never know what might come up in the discussion. Think of the qualities that you would expect a Royal Marines Commando Officer to possess and ensure you uphold those while discussing things with the other course members and your training team.