Thursday, July 2, 2015

OTS: Preparation Recommendations

Has it really been five plus months since I've blogged?  Yikes!  I've received a number of requests to keep up the OTS posts, and that is definitely my intent.  In the time that I've been offline, I've attended and graduated from the Logistics Readiness Officer Course, my technical training school after OTS.  I thought I would have time down there to blog, but the nightly readings were pretty extensive, especially when the reading was dry.

One of the biggest questions I get about OTS is what people should do to prepare.  I'm not going to harp on physical fitness here, because hopefully you already knew that would be important.  This is the military and all.  ;)  Much like BMT, your best bet is to go to OTS already in decent shape, and not expecting OTS to get you to that point.  You will do three PT tests while at OTS, although we would quickly come to learn that unlike BMT, none of them count.  Mind-blowing, let me tell you.  That is fodder for another post, and may or may not have changed since I left.  You do need to pass one of them while you're there, though, so you can't avoid them completely.

My best preparation tip for you is one I heard and ignored myself, over and over.  To give myself some credit, I had less than a month's notice.  These words of wisdom are,


"Study your OTSMAN and HAWK before you go to OTS."

Please note that these documents are revised frequently.  Double check the Holm Center website before you start committing anything to memory, to ensure that you have the most recent copies.

Sporting my OTSMAN and HAWK on the arm.
OTSMAN (Pronounced like "ah-tz-man") - The Officer Training School Manual is the bible for all of the procedures and policies at OTS.  This applies to all components, including those in the Air National Guard, whereas there used to be supplements that were specific to the Guard.  This new revision integrates all of the supplements and reflects the Total Force Integration of OTS.  You will take two OTSMAN tests while at OTS, in addition to following all of the rules that are outlined within it.  It covers everything.  Procedures for marching, for classroom or auditorium instruction, for the dining facility, etc.  It has all of the privilege information as well, as you progress through the phases.  You will be expected to know and live by this document while you're at OTS.  It may not make a lot of sense when you read it now, but you will soon know it forwards and backwards.  Unlike at BMT, if you have questions about what you can and cannot do, your commissioned staff will frequently ask you to refer to the OTSMAN and figure it out for yourself.  As a result, you can use this manual as justification for why you are doing or not doing something, including something not addressed within.  For example, the placement/wearing of the HAWK/OTSMAN on your person does not appear to be addressed in the OTSMAN, therefore you can standardize and come to that decision as a student leadership team and make an executive decision as a cadet wing.

HAWK - The Handbook of Warrior Knowledge includes memorization work for each day of training at OTS.  In the back of the HAWK are quotes for each day.  When prompted (either individually or as a flight/squadron), you will sound off with, "Sir/Ma'am, the quote of the day for TD-__ is as follows: [insert quote here, including the author/citation]."  "TD" refers to the training day that you are on.  Double check as to whether the day you arrive is TD-1 or if it is TD-0, and number your quotes accordingly.  The rest of the HAWK includes knowledge, such as the Air Force Creed, Mission, Oath of Office, etc.  Your staff will give you a deadline and a page number, and you will be required to know all of the information.  Studying through page fifteen is a great start, although keep in mind that the AF Creed, the AF song, the rank structure, and the phonetic alphabet are also popular amongst staff members.  You will sound off (cadet-initiated) during formation while you're waiting, or if prompted by a staff member ("Let's hear some knowledge, Cadet So-and-So").  The proper way to initiate is, "Hoyas/Flight 2-10/Group Name, the Air Force Mission on three.  One, two, three!"  The response would be the same as the quote of the day response above.  As you're looking at the HAWK, keep in mind that if you're not Guard, you don't need to memorize the stuff applicable to ANG.  If you see an asterisk at the end of the title and the item is a list, you only need to memorize the bold words, not the descriptions that follow.  The memory work can be daunting, to say the least.  One great strategy used by a fellow cadet was to input all of the memory work into Quizlet, which has an audio component for those that are auditory learners.  Another friend recorded himself reading the memory work, and then uploaded them as MP3 files for listening in the car while driving to OTS.  Mnemonics are also a great strategy, as are pictures or making connections amongst the concepts.

Why should you do better than me by studying these before you go?  Because daily living and training at OTS is stressful and hectic enough on its own, as you acclimate to the training environment.  If you already have this stuff memorized, or at least a strong foundation, you'll be in a lot better shape than those walking in cold.  Plus, you're going to be logging some late nights trying to memorize this stuff.  You need your rest.

Friday, January 23, 2015

OTS: Arriving at the Dorms

So, what finally happens when you drag your stuff across the grass?  Fortunately, the good folks behind OTS have shared with you a number of videos on their Facebook page! 


Once you get over to the dorms, you place your belongings outside and then proceed inside the main foyer of the dorms where there is a line of folding tables and several individuals processing your entry.  As you can imagine, there are numerous "greeters" there to welcome you, namely your commissioned staff members.  I'll let the videos speak for themselves.

This was the point where I was sent back outside because I didn't have two forms of payment to show them.  Regardless of how much money is in the bank, bring in another card.  The name tag and the reflective belt they'll hand you are indicative of what squadron you're assigned to.  Squadron 1 is the Goldhawks, gold/yellow colored items, inhabiting the third floor.  Squadron 2 is the Hoyas, green colored items, living on the second floor.  Squadron 3 is the Tigers, orange colored items, on the first floor.




Once you arrive on your floor, you'll probably notice your new MTI.  There are far fewer MTIs at OTS (one per squadron), but they are the best of the best.  Two of ours were "Blue Rope" Master MTIs, and another should've been.  We would find out later that our Student Squadron Commander was also there to welcome us, and help us get settled.  Ha!  Unlike BMT (or even my tech school experience), both women and men are down the same hallway and in dorm rooms right next to each other.  There are two to three people in everyone room, and typically just two.  When they have an odd number of women in a squadron, they will group them into one room of three.  We were directed down the hallway by the MTI, we dropped our stuff, then we came back out into our day room to retrieve those pre-positioned items.  After that, we were largely on our own for a bit, to set up the room according to a binder located in each room that has your rolling, folding, and positioning instructions.  We had also been given a packet of paperwork to fill out for more in-processing later.  Everyone kept talking to the bare minimum, although we were able to make quick introductions with our roommates.
Clad in PT gear, prepping my blues.
Each room has one set of bunk beds, one double bed, three tall skinny dressers pressed together, three desks with hutches, two small walk-in closets, two vanities, and one toilet/shower room.  At this point, it didn't matter who slept in what bed, but there are position numbers to all of the furniture, so if you're in a certain bed you'll use a specific dresser, a specific closet, a specific towel bar, and so forth.  Pay attention to that dorm bible and set everything up as best as you can.

The day is not over yet, and the fun is just beginning!


Friday, January 16, 2015

OTS: What To Pack

Packing for OTS is even more of a crap shoot than BMT, as there's really no list of what to bring.  The OTS website has two lists, including this one about pre-positioned items in your dorm room and this AAFES list of things to buy, which is aimed at non-prior service applicants.


My bags, ready to go!
Unlike with BMT, you have the option to drive to OTS (versus flying).  As a flyer, I was limited in what I could bring.  I opted to put everything in a backpack, a garment back, and my green BMT-issued duffle bag.  While it wasn't as convenient as having my car available for storage, it worked out fine.  Driving to OTS gives you the ability to stash items in your car until you need them, such as civilian clothing items, additional uniform items you don't want to have to roll and fold, as well as items that don't fit in your security drawer or under your sink.

With BMT there's a lot of talk about what kind of bag you should bring.  At OTS, that is out the window.  Feel free to bring a large rolling seatcase, or a bag in any color of your choosing.  It really doesn't matter at OTS.  You might choose to bring a bag of essential items and put the "nice to have" items in another bag to leave in the car.  There is no maximum number of bags you can, but be smart about it - you're going to have to lug them across the field.

Regardless of if you're a prior or a non-prior, upon arrival you'll be required to show two forms of payment for the items you're about to buy (whether you buy them or not).  I had one on me and then was told I had to go back and grab another.  They will also grill you as to whether you've called and told your bank that you are located in Alabama and about to spend $2000.  Whether you're buying everything or not, it's always a smart idea to call in this "vacation" notice with the bank so they don't put a hold on your card.  Side note, I love how the website tells you that if you can't afford to pay, get an AAFES Military Star Card.  It costs money to make money, right?  Just keep telling yourself that.

You will be charged for the pre-positioned items upon checking out at the mini-mall, whether you want them or think you need them.  This might be different down the road though, as our Student Squadron Commander was trying to see if we could reuse the hand-me-downs of previous OTs, versus requiring everyone to buy them.

The beauty of OTS is that you can have friends and family send you anything you need or you can hit up Amazon and have it shipped to you.  Unlike BMT, no one is checking your boxes or criticizing their contents. 

Read on for the laundry list!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Aim High and Spartan Up in 2015!

The 31st of this month marks my 4th Air Force Anniversary!  What better way to celebrate than by giving YOU something!  I've partnered with Reebok Spartan Race again to offer you a free entry to any race in the continental United States in their 2015 series!  If you've ever done a race, you know how these things add up.  Let AHE help you achieve your personal fitness goals (or give you one!) and keep you motivated to push forward with those new years resolutions.



The Spartan empire has expanded in a big way this year.  Stay motivated in between training sessions with the Spartan Up! Podcast.  Want to book the ultimate destination race?  How about The Spartan Cruise to the Bahamas where you'll run the Spartan Race on a private island?  Seriously, sign me up!  Or, keep it local and road trip closer to home with your Spartan Annual Pass - entry to every race for a year!

Great things from our friends at Spartan Race this year, and we're glad to work together again.  Even if you don't win my anniversary present, you can still get 10% off your race with code SPARTANBLOGGER.  Aim High and Spartan Up!



  

OTS: Arriving at OTS

When I last left you, I was posting from the Houston USO.  The rest of the journey was a lengthy one, let me tell you.  I ended up having my connecting flight to Montgomery cancelled.  Fortunately, they booked me on the next flight out that evening, but it meant a late arrival.  I had planned to attend  social gathering with some other Officer Trainees (OTs), but I was going to miss it as a result.

When I arrived in Montgomery, I was tired and I was ready to get what sleep I could before the big day.  I spotted another service member in the airport, but he went off before I could talk to him.  Come to find out, we ended up at base lodging together and he wound up being in my squadron.  I hit the curb and found the first cab driver that I could, although it was quite the adventure as I second guessed the legitimacy of his enterprise when I jumped in the car.  Luckily, I made it to base lodging and got into my room as soon as I could.  It was tough calming down that night, but I knew sleep was going to be precious.

The OTS Complex as seen from base lodging.
The next morning I went to breakfast with the other OTs that had been connecting via Facebook [Tip: Find out if Facebook has a group for your class date, for sure!].  It was a nice way to socialize and relax with people who I'd be getting to know really well over the next nine weeks.  Unlike at BMT, where you're immediately thrown into the deep end upon arrival at the airport, OTS gives you a window for reporting (approximately 12 to 4 PM) and you're on your own until then.  So, we had time to kill.  Lots of last minute Walmart and Target runs, sitting around chit chatting, and "last suppers."  I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but we made the most of it and enjoyed our last moments of freedom.  

The calm before the storm!
As a group, we tried to agree on a general arrival time.  We didn't want to get there too early, but we had also been warned not to show up close to the end of the arrival window.  I think we aimed for 2 PM or so.  The area is well marked on these arrival dates, and there are white signs pointing to the OTS parking area.  There are two long rows of parking for all of the trainees on the complex - Basic Officer Training (BOT), Academy of Military Science (AMS), and Commissioned Officer Training (COT).  There was a tent set up, and two columns of trainees had formed.  After parking your car, you'd walk up and stand in line.  At the front of the line was the commander of our training squadron, greeting us and asking us if we were ready and if we could recite the Core Values (and if we were prepared to live and breathe them).  The OTS Chaplain was also there on site, giving us tips as to what needed to have prepared before arriving at the front door of the dorms, turning males away to go get a hair cut, telling us to tuck in our shirts and put our hair up [Tip: Unlike at BMT, arrive with your hair already compliant with AFI 36-2903].

Two by two, we walked across the grass fields, dragging our bags and heading to the dorms.  For those that couldn't carry all of their luggage at once, there was a truck for transporting it over.  Frankly, I wasn't going to be that girl and schlepped all of my stuff.

What happened when we hit the door?  Well, that's going to have to wait for the next post...


    

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!