Saturday, November 8, 2014

OTS: Dynamic Disclaimer

Much like BMT, OTS is an ever-changing entity.  It is a dynamic program that is constantly being reevaluated, reassessed, and reconfigured.  If you are one that prefers rigid structure and organization, you're going to be challenged while at OTS.  Semper Gumby, or whatever mantra you prefer to use, OTS is going to require that you go with the flow and be flexible.

My class, 15-01, was the first in a move away from the previous structure of upper and lower classes. Previously, there would be overlap in the classes at OTS, and the upper class would be actively involved in the indoctrination phase of the lower class (including assuming MTI-like "motivational training") and continued support of them throughout the mentoring phase.  There were upperclassmen assigned to lower class flights as Junior Flight Commanders and Assistant Junior Flight Commanders.  This system is no longer in place.  When other OTS grads I've talked to hear about this change, they are usually blown away.  I've heard this was half the battle, and that the upperclassmen used to "time jack" their lower class and have them sounding off in the hallways for hours.  I can only imagine that they phased out this program partially because it's too hard to monitor and standardize the treatment of Airmen when these OTs haven't been properly trained in a formal program to do so, and you run the risk of maltreatment.  Later in my OTS experience, I couldn't help but think that I was missing out by not being able to participate in this aspect of OTS.  I love mentoring others, and in the end I really enjoyed the interactions I had with members of 15-02.  

The rumblings we heard were that OTS was moving towards no overlap of classes whatsoever, so there would never be an upper or lower class at all.  With force shaping, I can see this being reality, with fewer and fewer people being sent to OTS.  I can only imagine that this is going to make OTS selections even more difficult.  

OTS is also moving towards a Total Force Integration (TFI) concept, and attempting to consolidate the Academy of Military Science (AMS), the OTS program for Guardsmen, and Basic Officer Training (BOT), the OTS program for active duty and Reservists.  AMS recently extended their program to (nearly) match the length of BOT.  We do a number of combined auditorium classes and combined activities, including the Blue Line ceremony, the Prop and Wings run, and Parade (on graduation day).  I really don't see a reason why the program are separate, given the extent of joint operations and TFI in the force, and I think that sentiment is shared by those behind this push.  Logistically there are some hurdles, but I think merging the two programs is feasible in the future and the components will benefit from the experiences of others.

The other challenge that Class 15-01 faced was the revision of the OTSMAN, which was being finalized during what felt like the first half of our program.  This is the guiding document behind all policies and procedures at OTS.  This made for inconsistencies in the expectations for us by commissioned staff members.  Some staff members would have the outdated procedures cemented in their heads, and that would conflict with the current procedures.  So, you'd be penalized by one staff member and not by another.  It led to a lot of confusion amongst OTs, even when we had the new OTSMAN in hand.  Near the end of my training, a group of students who performed well on the second OTSMAN test were asked to participate in a lengthy feedback session with OTS leaders to point out errors in the document and contribute to the revision process.  As for the syllabus?  Ha!  We didn't get it until the 6th week of training or so.  Examination of the BOT website as I write this reveals an absence of a syllabus link, so it's possible that it's being revised again.

Long story short, OTS is a dynamic program.  Expect change.  Prepare to be flexible.  Hang in there and know that the ends justify the means.  The staff is equally as confused as the trainees as times.  Don't be afraid to challenge those inconsistencies if you know you're in the right, "per the OTSMAN."  Like the chaplain loves to say, "It Gets Better!"

Friday, November 7, 2014

OTS: Background Info

Photo by Paul Stocklin

Kicking off the first in a series of posts about Air Force Officer Training School (OTS), I wanted to give you some basic, background information, as well as some background information on my class. 

OTS is located down at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama, and is nine weeks in length.  Individuals at OTS are referred to as Officer Trainees (OTs), versus Guardsmen who are called Officer Candidates (OCs) - more on them later.  A group of OTs is called a Class, and they're organized by the fiscal year and their order of graduation in the fiscal year.  My Class was 15-01, the first class of fiscal year 2015 (we began during FY14 but graduated in FY15).  From there the Class is broken down into three squadrons.  Squadron 1 is the Goldhawks, Squadron 2 is the Hoyas, and Squadron 3 is the Tigers.  Amusingly enough, the Squadron 1 is on the 3rd floor of the dorms and Squadron 3 is on the 1st, but maybe it's a slight bit of OCD that made me meditate on that.

Our class originally began with eighty-nine people.  Not too far into the program, one female OT became an SIE - a self-identified elimination.  Near the end, we lost three additional OTs.  One was recycled (held back and made to repeat training) due to concerns about "adaptability" and the other two had three failed graded measures.  Eighty-nine in, eighty-five out.  My squadron, the Hoyas, was the biggest with 38 people, and the other two had twenty-five each.

Squadrons are comprised of both male and female trainees.  The separation amongst the sexes one experiences at BMT is out the door at OTS.  Men and women live in rooms right next to and across from each other, dine together, do laundry together, and attend class together.  You are housed in dorms similar to tech school dorms, with three beds (one bunk, one single), three desks, three dressers, two closets, two vanities, one shower, and one toilet.  Typically there are only two OTs in a room, but depending on the numbers (especially with females), there may be three.

Squadrons are broken down into flights, with approximately twelve members.  That flight is your core group of people while at OTS.  You do all of your training with them, including field leadership and academic instruction.  Your flight is lead by a Flight Commander (FLT/CC), a commissioned staff member whose rank is either a First Lieutenant or a Captain.  The FLT/CC serves as both an instructor, providing small group instruction in a flight room, and a mentor in the later weeks of training.

Training consists of field leadership exercises (most of the "cool," hands-on stuff you see pictured or in videos), military training (bearing, the military lifestyle, marching), and academic instruction (either in the flight room or an auditorium) covering warfare studies, communication, leadership, and the profession of arms.  Physical Training (PT) is a daily part of life while at OTS as well, with the exception of Sundays, where OTs are permitted to attend worship services.  

OTS is broke up into four phases, each of which have privileges associated with them.  Privileges largely dictate where you're allowed to go on base and off, and what you must wear while exercising privileges.  The first phase is indoctrination (referred to as "Indoc"), when your primary instructor is your Military Training Instructor (MTI) - yes, them again!  There is one MTI assigned to each squadron.  This MTI duty is a special assignment within the MTI corps, and they must apply for this duty at OTS.  That being said, two out of three of our MTIs were Blue Ropes (Master Military Training Instructors), and the third was an exemplary MTI as well.  After this phase is over, your FLT/CC takes over as your primary instructor.

In addition to the training program, OTs manage themselves through an OT Wing, which is designed to simulate the Wing organization and structure that categorizes the operational Air Force.  There is an OT Wing staff, a Missing Support Group (MSG), a Operations Group (OG), and staff in each individual squadron.  Your flight has positions as well, so you may find yourself wearing multiple hats and performing many functions while at OTS, in addition to doing your academics.

More to come later, with lots of specific descriptions, tips, and photos to share!  Stick around, and enjoy the read!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Goodbyes and Friendly Skies

The day finally came.  I've been simultaneously waiting for this and dreading this for what seems like forever.  I started the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program (DACP) in the fall of 2012 and met the board in December.  Enter the littlest Airman.  When she came into my life, things changed.  My motivation to be a better woman and a good mother lies in her little eyes and every wobbly step.  I knew that while it would be heart wrenching to leave her behind while I went to OTS, I had to go.  I had to do it for her, for our family, not that she would think any less of me if I didn't, but I want her to know the lengths to which I'm willing to sacrifice for our family - to make her proud and to give her the best life and opportunities within my power.  Will she remember this absence?  Hopefully and probably not in the long run.  I will bear that burden, as I shoulder many - it's a mother's curse and blessing.  She is my motivation, my driving force.  As I told Aunie, "I am not leaving my daughter to fail."  Period.  End of story.  Failure is not an option.  This sacrifice will reap rewards.  Every day will bring me one day closer to holding her again.  I must move forward to return home.

I finished packing last night, and I'm pretty proud of the job I did.  Hopefully I won't regret that statement tomorrow when I'm schlepping things from point A to point B during in-processing, and wishing I hadn't made any pre-purchases.  The airport farewell went smoothly, and probably better than I'd expected.  Between last night and today, we had many bittersweet "last" moments - last bath time, last bedtime routine, last walk around the block with mommy, last time nursing, and tons of last hugs and kisses.  They left me at the airport and I went through security on my own.  I managed to hold it together all the way to Dallas, where I took advantage of the USO's "United Through Reading" program.  If you are ever separated from your child/children, I highly recommend it.  I didn't know what to expect, but I was taken to a small room with walls of books.  I got to select a book to read to her, filmed reading it, and then the book and the DVD are sent to her - totally free of charge!  There are tons of books too.  I hemmed and hawed for a while, but had to hurry so I picked "On The Night You Were Born," knowing that it'd be a struggle to get through it.  Sure enough, tears and tissues came flying, but I made it through.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in this program, given how much time we spend reading at home.

And then from Dallas...wait, I haven't left Dallas yet.  You know, because my plane was cancelled.  Sigh.  Cue the panic, but fortunately, I was already rebooked on a later flight tonight.  So much for joining the other Officer Trainees (OTs) for dinner.  Looks like I'll be booking it right to lodging so I can get what remains of my good night's sleep.

Other than that, I'm doing well and holding it together.  I am so thankful for the USO and the services they offer to military service members.  If I'm going to spend three hours killing time in an airport, I'm glad to do it in a cushy chair with internet access and free snacks, serviced by smiling volunteers.

Tune into the AHE Facebook page from now until early October.  I have a feeling I won't be able to blog during this period, but I should be able to post the occasional update on FB, hopefully!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Finding OTS PEP

If you're not following CMSgt Juan "The Fired Up Chief" Lewis on Facebook, you need to be.  I wasn't blessed to have been at BMT when he was part of the leadership team, but his legacy lives on in his retirement years as he visits trainees and inspires others with his infectious PEP.  Pride, Enthusiasm, and Passion (PEP) are what drive this leader, who is known to treat everyone with the respect they deserve as heroes.  My MTI mentor speaks of Chief Lewis fondly, and that is a nod of approval that I can back without questioning.  This Airman was Aiming High before the Air Force conceived that phrase for a future motto.  Enlisted or officer, everyone can learn from this leader and the impact that he has on others.

I happened to catch this graphic on his page today.  It's a Hero Card that he sends to Airmen in need of encouragement.  I love the accountability of being held to achieve my goals, not only by another person but by self-identifying a deadline.


[Source]

He also had this message today: "Quit worrying about failing and start believing in achieving.  If you change the way you think, you increase the goals you accomplish."


Today I thought about my own five goals, and I am sharing them with you as I build myself up in preparation for the task at hand.

I certify I will accomplish all five goals listed below before 10 October 2014:
  1. Make a difference in a wingman's journey.  Whether it be a non-prior in need of some guidance and motivation as they adapt to the military lifestyle or a prior needing a reminder of our goal, I hope to make a difference, even if just a small one, in the journey of a wingman on their way to commissioning.
  2. Commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.  This goes without saying.  As I told Aunie, I am not leaving my daughter to fail.
  3. Score a 90 or higher on my PT test.  Other than my postpartum PT test, I have a track record of scoring in the 90s that I intend to keep.
  4. Assume a leadership role in my flight.  In the second half of OTS, flight leaders are chosen that mimic the chain of command in the "real" Air Force (e.g. OT Colonel).  I would like to be placed in a leadership role where I can utilize my talents and skills.
  5. Achieve distinction of some sort while at OTS.  There are a number of awards at the end of OTS.  While it would be amazing to have one similar to mine from BMT, I will not set that as my goal without knowing what I'm getting myself into yet.  ;)
I might even throw out a bonus #6 - I would love to earn my marksmanship ribbon, and redeem myself from my BMT experience.  During OTS we shoot the M9 pistol, so we'll see if I fare better on that weapon.

What about you?  What goals are you setting for yourself?  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Family Separation Prep

As I've mentioned before in the past, OTS is going to be the first time I've ever been away from my daughter.  The longest I've been away from her is the length of a work day - never overnight, never for a "getaway weekend," never ever.  As a nursing mom, you realize that it's easier just to be with your child, versus being away and pumping/storing/transporting milk, at least that's what I've realized.  My DH feels likewise, and isn't in a rush to run off with me and leave her behind (at least, if Uncle Sam isn't requiring him to do so).

Twenty-eight days notice for OTS meant that we were going to have to transition her to her own bed at night (originally we thought my husband was going to be TDY during this time period as well), and wean her from nursing so that I wouldn't undergo any of the numerous physical ailments that go along with weaning cold turkey.  I plan to write more on this subject later, most likely after my return so I can document how it went when I was there and how we acclimated to our new normal upon my return.

Let's put the cliched statement out there first - "This will be harder on me than it is on her."  That's what they keep telling me, and I hope that it's true, for her sake.  In the meantime, we've tried to do some fun things to prepare ourselves for this absence.  Keep in mind that my daughter is only 15 months old, so she doesn't understand too much about what's going on and we have limitations to what we can do.

We've ordered her a Daddy Doll, with stripes photoshopped out so that we don't have to change it too soon.  If you're going to be separated from your child for whatever reason, they're pretty amazing.  You take a high quality [read: not cell phone pic] of yourself and send it to them and they make a doll out of it.  They've branched out and do more than just military members these days, so there's something for everyone.  No, I wasn't paid to rave about them, I paid for this awesome likeness of myself out of my hard earned money.  :)

I also ordered the Sesame Street "Talk, Listen, Connect" DVDs.  She doesn't watch TV, but I made an exception for this series, which is designed to introduce family separation and feelings to young children.  We attempted to watch it and it went as expected - she lost interest after a couple minutes and wandered away to play.  I am totally fine with that.  It's a very cute series, available in English and Spanish, and available for free from Military One Source.  Both websites have a ton of (free!) resources to assist military families and military kids.  

Military One Source has even more great freebies, including a number of board books for ages one through three that have been developed by licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) through the organization Zero To Three.  All of their books are winners in our household, and include information in the back for parents on how to broach topics like separation and reunification with children, as well as typical reactions of children to these sorts of emotions.  Most of their books include slots for photos, which DD really loves.  Just try not to choke up while you read "Over There" to your child, especially the line, "My Mommy/Daddy is away and I miss her/him, but she's/he's always here in my heart."  Seriously.  DD devours books and loves being read to, so we have gone through these books time and time again.

Ultimately, I am thankful that unlike at BMT, I will have access to a personal computer and significantly fewer restrictions on use of my personal cell phone so that I can call home and FaceTime whenever possible.  I don't know the exact policies just yet, so I don't want to speak before I have firsthand experience, but I am relived to know that this is an option for me.  I tip my hat to those parents that go through BMT, separated by their children with minimal opportunities to communicate with them.  In the meantime, we are trying to make the most of our summer and our remaining days together.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

OTS Packing Prep

Packing for OTS makes me long for the carefree days of BMT preparation.  No, seriously, take me back to the days of a small backpack/duffle bag with as little as possible.  Get your pocketbook out if you're heading to OTS - you're going to be dropping a lot of cash.  That's the bottom line.  Hopefully you've got some money squirreled away.


There is a main webpage for OTS with all of the "information" you need.  It has its pitfalls though, and there is not a single, consolidated list of items you need to bring, paperwork or otherwise.  There are several subpages that have their own items mentioned in one-liners here and there, so you have to comb through everything to get the full picture, as well as talk to other former Officer Trainees (OTs) to get the rest of the story.

I am amused by the fact that the official website straight up says, in a nutshell, "Bring $2000 with you.  If you don't have it, prepare to apply for a Military Star [Credit] Card on the first day."  Ouch!  I guess you really do have to spend money to make money...

There is a main AAFES shopping list, and a pre-positioned list of items in your room upon arrival.  I imagine those items to be similar to my BMT experience, in which you're charged for them when you checkout at the mini-mall at OTS [read: not free].

My first recommendation is to keep and/or make copies of the receipts from all of your purchases.  Unlike BMT, nothing is going to be issued to you as an officer, and everything comes out of your own pocket.  Sure, you get a clothing allowance, but when is that going to come through?  Not in time for this, let me tell you.  I maintain an envelope with all of my receipts for tax purposes later, since these are all work-related expenses.

Things I've Purchased So Far:

  • Service Coat - Officer coats have epaulets.  Snagged the US emblems too.
  • Flight Cap - Ooh, fancy braiding!  Already took a picture of my kid wearing it.  ;)  
  • Blues shirts - Two princess cut short sleeve and one princess cut long sleeve.
  • Blue Poly Pants - The BMT blues pants are the wool blend (bringing them), but I am also required to have two pairs of polyester pants, which aren't issued to you.
  • Bras, sports and otherwise - The woes of a mom with a new, post-baby body.
  • IPTUs - Four sets of shirts, shorts, and a new suit.  I upgraded from the "loud" original PTUs I got at BMT.  Don't forget crew socks!
  • Compression shorts - One of mine got lost/stolen at BMT, so I made sure I had a pair for each set of PT gear.
  • Shower shoes - I chucked mine after BMT. 
  • Running shoes - I prefer to be properly fitted at a running store.  My existing ones aren't horrible, but probably not fit for inspection.  I was able to get a pair that will meet my needs given the terrain I'll be running on.
  • RABUs - The lightweight ABUs seemed like a must for Alabama heat.  I got two pairs, and had name tapes and functional badges sewn on.  Thrown in a new RABU hat, a new belt (mine had paint wear on the buckle), and six new sand t-shirts (cotton/poly blend).  Oh, and don't forget three more pairs of my preferred sage green sock.
  • Low Quarters (Corframs) - I upgraded after hearing that everyone has the "shiny ones" down there, and for the fact that it saves me the trouble of shining them.  We wear blues a significant amount of time down there.  I snagged new black socks as well.
  • Ribbon Racks - I am bringing two regular ribbon racks, a functional badge, and a rack of mini medals and the smaller functional badge.  We are in mess dress during graduation week for Dining Out, and have to have our racks prepared in advance.
  • Toiletries, Cleaning Products, Hair Care Items - Tons upon tons.  All new products for styling my hair, travel and full sized toiletry items, cleaning products to maintain my dorm room, energy chews and B12 supplements [I still can't believe you can self-medicate], the list goes on...
Things To Purchase:
  • Printer - Not super excited about this one, but Amazon has some cheaper printers that do only that.  Must grab ink to go with it.
  • Lightweight Blues Jacket - Planning to pick this up down there.  Seems like the OTs wear the ones without the embroidery and mine has that and the stripes showing.


So, how do you do this on the cheap?  If you have a sufficient amount of time prior to leaving, you can scour local resale pages on Facebook or Craigslist in search of officers unloading their old uniforms.  You can make due with your current uniforms if the markings left by your stripes aren't readily apparent.  You can rummage through your house in search of toiletries and sundries you already own.  

Does this seem overwhelming?  Well, you could always just show up with the bare minimum and purchase everything there.  I chose not to do that, because I don't want my choices to be limited down there [e.g. only one brand of shoe] and I wanted to have as much time as possible to try items on and make decisions for myself, versus being pushed through a line.  I also wanted the option to spread out my purchases over the course of a few weeks, versus getting that sticker shock all at once.

I plan to update with another post after OTS of what was truly needed and what wasn't, as well as my recommendations for future OTs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Say what?! An OTS school date!

Prior to our normal July UTA, I had a few AT days scheduled, so I could get them done for the fiscal year.  It made for a long week, Monday through Sunday, that I was working, or the longest week I've had in a while.  When Wednesday rolled around, I attended a meeting at the wing level that involved representatives from each squadron, including some supervisors from the Military Personnel Section (MPS; the folks who process the DACP program).

I was sitting there with a wingman, taking everything in and waiting for the meeting to start, when someone asked me, "so, did you get the letter?"

Um, come again?

Seems my selection letter had just come in the day or so before and they had it in their email.  At first I wasn't sure if this was some sort of horrible joke, as I was told my school date was next month.  I was familiar enough with the 2015 school dates and I knew that the next date was August 6th.  A mere twenty-eight days away.

The deliverer of this news wasn't expecting the reaction they got.  "Flabbergasted" is a good way to describe my initial feelings towards this news.  Am I excited?  Yes.  But it is a bittersweet, loaded bunch of emotions that come with it.  Remember that I've been going through this process since the fall of 2012.  To say it's been dragging is an understatement.  So, to sign the final papers on the 23rd of June and see a selection letter dated the 1st of July was beyond anything I ever expected.  That meant I had twenty-eight days.  Twenty-eight days to prepare my family for my departure, to get my daughter to sleep in the big girl bed, and to wean her.  DH is only home temporarily, before some additional duty out of state.  That means our family care plan is in full effect and DD is being watched by FIL.  I have no doubt that she'll be way taken care of, but I also want to get a support network together for him, as that's a big nine week undertaking for anyone.  Never mind the fact that I'm sure my school administrators are thrilled to hear that I won't be starting the school year with them.  The thought of writing lesson plans right now prior to leaving seems daunting, and low on my priority list in comparison to my family, military, and personal obligations.

That's where I'm at, readers.  I have twenty-two days remaining.  So many things to share with you already, but I definitely feel like I hit the rewind button back to 2011 and I'm preparing to go to BMT all over again, except with a lot more luggage and money out of pocket prior to leaving.  Forgive me if I can't share right away, but you can expect lots of stories when I return!  Eyes on the prize, the 10th of October and those gold bars.