MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. - On Nov. 10, 1945, Frederick C. Branch earned his commission as a Marine Corps officer, becoming the first African-American to do so. Nearly 70 years later, his legacy lives on through the Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship program.

The Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship is a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship available to highly qualified men and women who attend or plan on attending any one of 17 participating Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The scholarship is available in two, three and four year installments and pays for a student's tuition and academic fees, provides a book allowance and a monthly subsistence allowance of $250 for freshmen, $300 for sophomores, $350 for juniors and $400 for seniors. Some schools participating in the Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship program are Howard, Hampton, Texas Southern, Clark Atlanta and Xavier Universities, to name a few.

Savannah State University (SSU) in Savannah, Ga., is another participating school in the program. After researching different avenues to become a Marine Corps officer, Christopher Ontivero, a 20-year-old SSU junior from Miami, discovered the Branch Scholarship on the internet and applied for the two year version.

"When I received the scholarship it was very exciting," said Ontivero, a criminal justice major. "I was glad to find out I was one step closer to achieving my goal of becoming a Marine officer."

Ontivero won't be the first or last Marine from his family. His father served four years as an enlisted Marine. His younger brother, Alexander, earned a four-year Branch Scholarship and also attends SSU.

While the Branch Scholarship provides students the peace of mind of a college education and a job after graduation, they also have great responsibility during their time on campus. Branch Scholarship awardees join their university's NROTC unit and must successfully complete the rigors of Officer Candidates School (OCS) at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

"In the NROTC unit we learn drill, military subjects like history and prepare for OCS through classes on land navigation and weapons systems," said Ontivero.

In addition to preparing for OCS, Midshipmen also give back to their community. Ontivero has been a volunteer this year for the Humane Society.

"We teach Midshipmen the importance of being involved in their communities through volunteer work," said Capt. Arthur Graham, Marine Officer Instructor (MOI), SSU.

The MOI is the Marine officer responsible for Marine-option Midshipmen within each school's NROTC unit.

"My overall responsibility is to prepare Midshipmen to be future leaders of Marines," said Graham. "I prepare them mentally and physically for OCS, monitor their academics and mentor and train them to be Marine officers."

For Ontivero, the biggest test of everything he has learned from Graham and other instructors at SSU will be at OCS.

"I'm going to OCS this summer," said Ontivero. "I've been taking in everything the instructors here have been teaching, (physically training), and keeping focused on my goals to prepare."

Ontivero's dedication has made an impression on his MOI.

"Ever since I've known Midshipman Ontivero, he has worked hard," said Graham. "I want Midshipmen who work hard and have discipline and attention to detail like him."

While Ontivero awaits training at OCS, Midshipman Meatrice Starr is just weeks away from earning her commission as a Marine officer.

"I'm scheduled to commission on May 4," said Starr, 22, a Decatur, Ga. native and homeland security and emergency management major. "I'm thrilled. I feel proud of myself for being so close to achieving my goal."

Starr, who successfully completed OCS in the summer of 2012, originally joined the SSU NROTC unit with plans to become a Navy officer.

"I joined the unit as a Navy-option Midshipman," said Starr. "After learning about the Marines and seeing the brotherhood among them, I applied for the Frederick C. Branch Scholarship and received it."

Now, as a Midshipman with OCS under her belt, Starr has assumed new responsibilities as she prepares junior Midshipmen for the challenges ahead.

"I've been given the billet of supply officer within the NROTC unit," said Starr. "I've also been helping to train the Marine-options who haven't gone through OCS yet."

Additionally, Starr was responsible for organizing community service activities for the unit.

According to Graham, Starr's accomplishments have prepared her for the responsibility of being a Marine officer.

"She has all the intangible things we look for in officers," said Graham. "She's competent in everything she does. She is a leader within the unit."

1st Lt. Phillip Tate, of Huntsville, Ala., graduated in 2009 from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., using the Branch Scholarship.

"I see the Frederick C. Branch Scholarship as a tool for lower income college students -- I was in that situation," he said. "If you receive the scholarship, keep in mind that there is a certain lineage and standard that you must uphold."

Tate currently serves as the adjutant for 1st Tank Battalion, based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Marine Corps Recruiting Command is always looking for quality individuals like Ontivero, Starr and Tate to become the next generation of Marine officers.

Recently, officers from MCRC completed the bi-annual selection board for the four-year Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship, resulting in 17 more high-quality men and women earning the chance to become Marine officers. The results of the highly competitive board will be officially released this week through official correspondence to the selectees.

Captain Frederick D. Monday, head of regular officer programs, MCRC, was one of the officers on the selection board.

"We looked for individuals who were mentally and physically fit, showed leadership through involvement in organizations like scouting or JROTC and who showed qualities consistent with the Five Horizontal Themes," said Monday.

The Five Horizontal Themes - a man or woman of exemplary character; devoted to leading Marines 24/7; able to decide, communicate and act in the fog of war; a warfighter who embraces the Corps' warrior ethos; mentally strong and physically tough - are the expectations set for every Marine officer at The Basic School.

"The themes make for well-rounded officers, so we look for well-rounded individuals prepared to meet them," said Monday. "As the program gets more awareness and as MOIs at each participating school understand their ability to impact the diversity of the officer corps, the Frederick C. Branch program will continue to be successful."

Marine officer instructors like Graham play a key role in finding quality applicants for the scholarship.

"I screen, evaluate and conduct interviews with individuals to make sure they have what it takes before we submit a package," said Graham. "I've also reached out to all of our Marine JROTC units and given them information about the scholarship. It's amazing what happens when people know about the opportunities offered by the Branch Scholarship."

Whether a candidate pursues a commission through the Branch Scholarship or other sources, the most important thing is to remain focused on their desired end state.

"If you want to be a Marine officer, pursue all the different avenues available and don't let anything stop you from achieving your goal," said Starr.

If you are interested in the Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship and a career as a Marine officer, speak to your local officer selection officer, Marine officer instructor, visit or call 1-800-MARINES.

Page last updated Tue March 26th, 2013 at 13:36