Staff Sergeant Richard Garcia, a senior at the University of Oklahoma and a service member in OU’s Naval ROTC, was recently selected as one of only three enlisted NROTC service members in the nation for the U.S. Marine Corps’ highly competitive Cyber Officer Commissioning Program.
Garcia will begin the rigorous training program with the Marine Corps after his graduation from OU in spring 2023, in which he is pursuing a bachelor of arts in geographic information science.
The cyber training will prepare Garcia for a career that involves offensive and defensive cyber space operations for the U.S. military, said Captain Paul Young, commanding officer of OU’s NROTC program, who has known Garcia for more than a year.
Garcia, who is married with two young sons, said his experience as an enlisted Marine for nine years, coupled with his education at OU, gave him the confidence to apply for such a selective and sought-after specialty that will result in his officer commissioning within the Marine Corps once he completes the program.
“I was confidant in my abilities and the skills I’ve learned in my military experience and working with the active staff in the Naval ROTC that I had a good chance,” Garcia said of his decision to apply for the specialty. “It’s just very humbling and I’m very excited that I was selected – it’s a super proud moment.”
Captain Young and the other administration within the NROTC eagerly endorsed his application.
“I can tell you that Staff Sergeant Garcia is among the best and brightest young service members I’ve had the opportunity to serve with,” Young said, who has been involved in Garcia’s training since June 2021. “I think he’s got all the essentials. He’s an excellent student; he’s an established, proven leader in the Marine Corps.”
The specialty will require Garcia to pass a high-level security clearance because of the nature of the job, along with a polygraph screening and other strict requirements to be approved for the field, Young said.
It’s an area of study that Garcia believes will allow him to have a life-long career in the military, while fulfilling a growing need in the workforce.
“I’m most excited about being a part of the one of the most relevant and ever-changing portions in the military,” he said. “There’s always tanks, infantry, communications – but cyber intelligence is a newer thing that seems necessary right now and into the future.”
Garcia will be required to complete a six-month training in Quantico, Virginia, then he will move to Augusta, Georgia, for the cyber training that will last about one year, he said.
In addition to his studies in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, he is also required to serve in the NROTC. He credits that work with helping him hone the skills he needs to become a cyber operations officer.
“We received a lot of instruction and training on military leadership, academics and science,” he said. “Being a part of the unit and learning some of those skills, they translated well and equipped me to have the skills I need to remain competitive.”
Garcia is a student at OU through a military educational program called Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Educational Program (MECEP), which allows enlisted Marines to become full-time students and obtain a bachelor’s degree while they remain on active duty in the military.
Marines in MECEP become attached to NROTC units, where they act as additional staff members and participate in drills and training.
Upon graduation, Marines in this program can be commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, which is the case with Garcia.
Garcia enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating high school in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. After being stationed in Hawaii, and then Arizona, he and his wife decided on the University of Oklahoma for his education after a fellow Marine recommended the school to him.
“My wife and I had never been to Oklahoma,” Garcia said. “It sounded like a great school and a great part of the county to get familiar with.”
Garcia enrolled in his first classes at OU in fall 2020.
“The fruits of my labor with academics, physical fitness and leadership – seeing all that come together, all the positive results of that – is very fulfilling,” Garcia said.
By Jaimy Jones