‘An Amazing Representative for VMI’
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct. 4, 2018—For the fourth time in the past six years, a Marine Corps ROTC cadet from VMI has been recognized for exceptional performance at summer training for future officers.
Alex Dragan ‘20 was recognized Saturday, Sept. 29, during halftime of the home football game against Mercer University for finishing first in his class of 85 at Platoon Leaders Course (PLC) for the Marines this summer. In recognition of this achievement, he was presented with the highly prestigious Marine Corps Commandant’s Trophy by Maj. Gen. James “Chip” Bierman ’87, commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command at Quantico, Virginia.
“[Dragan] is an impressive young man,” said Col. Craig Streeter ’91, commanding officer of VMI’s Naval ROTC. “He kind of has it all: he’s physically strong, he’s doing really well academically, he’s got leadership potential, and he’s active in the Corps of Cadets. He’s just an amazing representative for VMI.”
Streeter explained that Dragan was one of seven Marine Corps officer candidates nationwide honored with the commandant’s trophy this year—five from classes of the Platoon Leaders Course and two from classes of Officer Candidate School (OCS). Both PLC and OCS prepare future officers in what Streeter called “the ultimate job interview for the Marine Corps”; the only difference is that PLC is for candidates who do not have Marine Corps scholarships and OCS is for those who do.
“To graduate number one is amazing,” Streeter commented. “It’s an extremely competitive field.”
When Dragan left for the six-week long PLC, it wasn’t with the expectation of turning in an amazing performance. He recalled having an attitude of just trying to do his best. “Whenever I go into anything, I tell myself, ‘I’m just going to get through this,’ but once I start, then I start making goals once I’m doing it,” he explained.
In the end, Dragan finished the course with an 88.7 grade point average in academics, an 89.3 in leadership and a 98.9 in physical fitness. He also scored a perfect 300 on the Marine Corps physical fitness test.
Dragan’s accomplishments would be commendable in their own right, but they’re even more so given the harsh reality of PLC. Dragan explained that the day began with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call, immediately followed by one to two hours of physical training. After showers and breakfast, the day was filled with academic classes on Marine Corps culture, traditions, and rank structure, along with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is a federal law setting forth the legal system for all who serve in the military.
At the end of the day, there were drills, weapons cleaning, and squad bay clean-up—plus physical and mental check-ups to ensure no candidate had untreated issues that would hinder performance. Bedtime was supposed to be 9 p.m., but most attendees–Dragan included—wound up staying up another hour or two to prepare for the next day’s classes.
Each week, a list would be posted, giving attendees’ scores so far in the course. When Dragan saw his number near the top, week after week, he recalled thinking, ““Wow, I’m actually doing pretty good.
“I was kind of surprised, honestly,” said Dragan of the moment when he found out he was the top finisher. “I feel like I was just doing a job, and I happened to do it well, so they gave me the award. But it’s not about the award for me.”
Dragan is the first to acknowledge that without VMI, he’d have never done so well. Naval ROTC classes had already exposed him to much of the classroom material he was taught at PLC, and the Naval ROTC’s “bulldog” program had strengthened him mentally and physically.
“They make it a similar environment to OCS,” said Dragan of the bulldog program, which is an intense physical training regimen designed to prepare cadets for the rigors of OCS.
“It’s very physically demanding,” said Dragan. “Everything you do has to be intense, or you kind of get punished for it. Bulldog really helped me as far as my confidence.”
That’s precisely why VMI has run the bulldog program for so many years, said Streeter, who went through it himself as a cadet. “The goal of bulldog is to physically and mentally prepare these young men and women … [so] that they are able to show up at PLC or OCS and be ready to go,” Streeter commented.
The multiple award winners over many years bear testament to the success of the bulldog program—and the commitment that VMI’s Naval ROTC makes to cadets.
“We have a very strong NROTC program,” said Streeter. “We think we prepare our young men and women for OCS and PLC better than anyone in the country. People that show up at OCS from VMI are expected to do very well and always do. They finish near the top of their class.”
As for Dragan, Naval ROTC has been a path to a lifetime dream. The son of a Marine Corps officer and the brother of an enlisted Marine, Dragan had always known the Marine Corps was for him. He began looking at military schools during his junior year in high school, and a couple of visits to post was all it took to convince him that VMI was the school for him.
“VMI was kind of my one and only choice,” said Dragan, a psychology major and assistant prosecutor on the Honor Court.
Now, he can’t imagine what his life would now be like without the Institute. “I’m very happy I made the decision to come here,” Dragan noted. “I don’t know what kind of man I’d be today if I hadn’t.”
- Mary Price