BLACKSBURG, Va., May 23, 2017 — From becoming president of the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University here, popularly known as Virginia Tech, to becoming the university’s recreational sports facilities supervisor, 22-year-old Elaine Lewis has always had a passion for leadership.In May 2014, that passion led Lewis into her local Marine Corps Officer Selection Office, and on May 13, 2017, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
Inspired by the Marine Corps
“I think the idea was always slightly in my head with being part of a Marine family,” Lewis said. “In the fourth grade I dressed up as a Marine for career day. I was always inspired and moved by the Marine Corps.”
In November of her freshman year of college, Lewis attended a Marine Corps Birthday Ball where they played a motivational birthday message from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. At the time she said she remembered not enjoying college much and struggling with being away from home.
“They played the motivational video, and I remember turning to my dad and saying I think this is what I want to do: I think I want to drop out of school and enlist,” Lewis said. “Both my dad and a retired female officer at our table told me, ‘No, you’re going to take your time; you’re going to get your degree. And if you still want to be a Marine after you graduate, you can go the officer route. You can commission.’”
For the next few months Lewis pondered her father’s advice. In July 2014, the beginning of her sophomore year, Lewis still felt called to earn the title Marine and reached out to her neighbor who had just graduated Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
“He told me everything that he had done so far; what he accomplished and the pride he felt knowing he’d be commissioning in the next year,” said Lewis, a native of Stafford, Virginia. “I knew that that was what I wanted to do. That night I sat down, and I remember telling my parents about my decision.”
Her father, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Martin Lewis, was reserved at first. He told his daughter to make sure it was what she wanted to do, and he would help her if she asked, but otherwise he let her make all her own decisions.
“I didn’t expect him to be so cavalier about it, but he supported me through the whole thing,” Lewis said. “I hit a couple bumps in the road with medical disqualifications, and he helped me stay calm and stay focused on becoming an officer and not giving up that path.” When Lewis finally walked into the recruiting office she said she was nervous, but ready. She said she knew exactly what she wanted, and she was about to meet the person who could help her reach her goals.
“I was extremely intimidated but also not,” Lewis said. “It was more like this is the guy who could make or break my Marine Corps career.” Lucky for her, Capt. David Grant, the officer in charge of Marine Corps Officer Selection Team in Roanoke, Virginia, saw her potential and helped her get her journey started.
‘Elaine is a Natural Leader’
“Elaine is a natural leader, she’s a true leader,” Grant said. “She’s one of the ones I can really rely on and can go to if I need something done.” Lewis said she began her leadership journey as the president of Gamma Phi Beta sorority. She said she knew if she could lead them, she could do anything.
“To be president of 200-plus women — if I can do that, I can honestly do anything in the Marine Corps,” Lewis said. “Dealing with so many girls who want everything and realizing you can’t always give them what they want and that your decisions affect more than just you, it was definitely good training for quick decision making in the Marine Corps. I remember being at [Officer Candidates School] and thinking that I have been in front of 200-plus women and had to make decisions, and they were hard decisions to make at times because I knew there would be repercussions either way and if I could do that I could lead 13 Marines through this exercise.”
Lewis said that even with all the physical preparation she did prior to shipping to OCS, the first day of training was a complete culture shock. She said she had not realized the mental and emotional challenge the training would demand. Regardless of the initial struggle to adapt to the rigorous schedule, Lewis knew it was all worth it.
“I just saw that the Marine Corps takes so much pride in itself and in the fact that you as a Marine are part of that brotherhood and that elite group of people,” Lewis said. “I knew that the pride of becoming a Marine was going to be worth it. I didn’t even consider education or personal opportunities or career opportunities the Marine Corps could provide me until I got really involved with the Platoon Leaders Class and now I see these opportunities. At first it was I want to be a Marine, I want that title.”
There are two routes to completing OCS. The first is completing the 10-week course, straight-through. The other, known as Platoon Leaders Class, can be done through the same 10-week course or a candidate may attend two, six-week training sessions taken between consecutive school years, which occur in the summers with no commitment during the school year. Young men and women at any accredited four-year college or university are eligible for this class.