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Citadel News Service
27 Dec 2006

A day in the life of a MECEP student

At 0445, the sun has not yet peeked over the blue tides of the Ashley River and most cadets are still asleep in their racks. That matters little to Jason Ciarcia, who, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, is awake and about to begin yet another long day. Ciarcia is one of the 25 enlisted Marines in The Citadel’s Navy ROTC contingent Marine Enlisted Commissioning Educational Program (MECEP).

The 28 men and women enrolled in the MECEP program are the occasional khaki uniforms along the Avenue of Remembrance or clusters in front of Jenkins Hall. Unlike their 1,900 cadet counterparts, MECEP students are not members of the Corps— they are active duty Marines.

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RIGOROUS ROUTINE - Jason Ciarcia, right, is one of 28 men and women enrolled in the MECEP program at The Citadel. The active duty Marines attend classes with the South Carolina Corps of Cadets.
Serving their country, MECEP students are enlisted Marines who apply to pursue a college degree from any of the 153 campuses across the nation with a Navy/Marine ROTC contingent and a commission as an officer. For them, the competition is tough and the standards high, but the reward is well worth it.

Kissing his wife and three children goodbye, Ciarcia is on the road and working out at a local gym by 0530. By 0700—about the time the Corps is marching to morning mess—he arrives at Deas Hall to shower, change into his Marine C uniform and gulp down a quick breakfast before he grabs his books and heads to class from 0800 to 1630.

Maintaining the rigorous routine of classes is only one facet of MECEP life. In addition, MECEPS are required to attend field training exercise, Marine physical training and other special events. A drive through the campus on a Monday or Thursday afternoon or an early Wednesday morning finds them lugging sandbags, running the obstacle course or performing calisthenics on Summerall Field.

A MECEP’s day is far from over when the last book closes or the final draft of an essay is turned in. Ciarcia, a business administration major with dual minors in management information systems and law and legal studies, says when he is not in class, he is in the Daniel Library studying. Even if he has just one class in a day, he still comes to study at the library. “I treat it as a normal work day. That way, all of my work can stay at school.”

That does not mean he goes home at night to relax. At home, he’s a husband and a father. After classes, he will help his wife Gina with chores around the house and play with his three children, Eden, who is 4½ years old, and 2½-year-old twins Luke and Cora.

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LONG DAY - Ciarcia is on the road and working out at a local gym by 0530. By 0700—about the time the Corps is marching to morning mess—he arrives at Deas Hall to shower, change into his Marine C uniform and gulp down a quick breakfast before he grabs his books and heads to class from 0800 to 1630. After class he heads to a part-time job before heading home to his family.

On the weekends when he’s not mowing the lawn or doing minor repairs around the house, Ciarcia can be seen with his children munching on Dunkin’ Donuts, flying kites at Folly Beach or having picnics at Brittlebank Park.

In addition to school and family life, Ciarcia also holds a job on the side, working 1930-0330 Thursday, Friday and Saturday, making for very short nights and minimal sleep.

And Ciarcia is not the exception among MECEP students. In fact, he is the norm. Many MECEP students are married, have children and work a second job while
pursuing an education and an officer commission. Despite these additional pressures and obligations, the seven members of the MECEP class of 2006 had an outstanding cumulative grade point average of 3.88. Their majors included civil engineering, business administration and Spanish.

With such demanding personal and professional obligations and an already stable position in the U.S. Marine Corps, why would a MECEP pile on the additional pressures of becoming a student? Even with the extra financial expense of funding one’s own tuition, and extending one’s contract at least four years, the final result is well worth it with a commission as a Marine Corps second lieutenant.

Like so many other facets of The Citadel, the MECEP program has become a tradition worthy of praise and respect. In 1973 the MECEP program was created and in that same year, the first program at The Citadel was established. Only 34 Marines from the entire U.S. Marine Corps were accepted. At a time when the number of ROTC programs on U.S. campuses seemed to be dwindling more and more, there could have hardly been a better place than the Military College of South Carolina to initiate the MECEP program.

With approximately 153 college ROTC units across the country, the MECEP program has become a success. Not all campuses, though, are alike. One feature that distinguishes the college’s unit from that of civilian colleges is that at any other institution, a MECEP would only be required to wear the C uniform one day out of the
week. All other days could be spent in civilian clothes.

At The Citadel, however, every day warrants an occasion to proudly don the traditional uniform. As for Ciarcia, reputation said it all in his decision to come to The Citadel.

“My former platoon commander highly recommended it because of the great reputation of the alumni,” he said. Indeed, The Citadel is a very special place to be, even more so because of the men and women of the MECEP program. Not only do they proudly represent The Citadel and the U.S. Marine Corps, but also the American
ideals of self-improvement through their commitment to continuing education and freedom and loyalty by their exemplary service to their country.

Copyright The Citadel magazine 2006

Achieving excellence in the education and development of principled leaders
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