Tuesday, August 9, 2011

From Knights to Bulls

[This was originally written on August 3rd, after I'd arrived at tech school. There are some minor changes, but I'll wait to update those later.]

Day two at tech school - my mission?  To Fly, Fight, and Win the battle against death by PowerPoint.  It's a struggle, let me tell you!  I left Lackland and came to Keesler AFB, which is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Biloxi, MS.  I'll be here for six weeks, through mid-September, training to become a Personnel Apprentice.

We arrived here on a commercial jet, but flew out of/into an airport on base.  Right off the bat, the differences between BMT and tech school were apparent.  We were fed lunch twice and were offered snacks another two times.  I had THREE candy bars in my possession in a few hours, unheard of!  We were grouped in no particular order, talking to our brother flight freely.

Upon arrival, we stood in formation for quite some time, waiting on our luggage.  I missed my canteen web belt at that point (a BMT requirement), because none of us had been hydrating and we were in a new, hot, and even more humid environment.  We finally got our luggage and separated for briefings in our individual squadrons.

I'm in the 335th TRS/MTF, which includes weather, avionics, personnel, and finance primarily.  There are 63 of us that came in at the same time, 14 of whom are from my flight or my brother flight, so I have a good network of friends.  There are also quite a few from flights 495 and 496, with whom we worked during BEAST.  We are spread out across two dorms.  The dorms are coed, each with three floors, separated into three bays.  The floor bays are segregated by gender, and members of the opposite sex can't go down past a certain point.

We were put in rooms with a student who is further along in their training.  My roommate just graduated and is awaiting orders to her next duty station.  Our room has two separate sinks, a small shower and toilet, two "wall lockers" (walk-in closets with a dresser inside), two dressers, two desks, a micro fridge, a bunk bed, and a single bed.  It's very much a college dorm, and that's the feel of this experience so far.  As some one referred to it, it's the "University of Keesler," except that we're all in uniform.

We're currently IP students (in-processing), so we're in blues this entire week.  After this week, we only wear blues on Monday and wear ABUs with our sleeves cuffed.  We are required to carry a jacket at all times (yes, the trench coat with our blues!), but at least we can stuff them in our backpacks.  The appearance standards are slightly more relaxed, so I don't have to use AS much gel in my hair.

There are two phases of training: ITP (in transition phase) and ATP (advanced training phase).  You have to pass two open ranks inspections (appearance) and two room inspections in order to get to ATP.  ATP students get to wear civilian clothes outside of the dorm after working hours (I can ONLY wear them in my dorm), have no curfew on the weekend (mine is 2400), and can go off base (I can't).

The chose hall definitely reminds me of college.  We can stay there as long as we want, we sit in booths, we can talk/eat in groups of mixed gender, we can eat as much as we want, even taking food to go! I now understand why they say tech schoolers put on weight, between the chow hall (unlimited dessert and an ice cream bar!) and the mini-fridge in the rooms.  They actually encourage us to bring snacks to class, to keep us awake.  I intend to start going to the gym, but I want to get settled first and learn the routines.

Other freedoms include the downtime that we have.  Our duty day ends at 1630 and our curfew is 2200, so there's time to access base facilities, eat dinner, and participate in other activities (and study, of course).  The curfew ensures that you're in the room, but you can be up as long as you want.  I've been trying to catch up on sleep, but I've been up late setting up my dorm.

I ventured out to the main BX yesterday, and was reminded of how quickly cleaning supplies and basic needs add up.  My room is in need of a good deep cleaning, and I'm already missing Dust Down and Deep Details!  You can imagine what my plans are for the weekend.  My roommate is nice, but she's not as meticulous as I am.

Speaking of the weekend, Keesler has "Down Fridays."  Every other Friday we're released early, so it essentially becomes a three day weekend.  This Friday is one of them, and I'm eager to rest up and set myself up for the coming week.  

Internet can be pricey around here, so I'm probably going to limit my usage to the free wifi areas, especially since I'm only here for six weeks.  Hopefully I can use my free time for hitting the gym or volunteering (which they promote).  The local USO is an option for me that I plan to investigate.

DH was shocked/appalled to hear that one of the community centers here hosts a [dancing] club here on the weekends, complete with two full service bars.  I remember him telling me about a bar for the Airmen on base in Korea, so I don't know why he's so surprised.  :)

Lest you think it's a non-stop party around here, classes and PT start next week.  I hear PT is somewhat of a joke, but they will put you in remedial PT if you don't maintain standards.  You also need to maintain your GPA (calculated through test average) in order to remain in certain student leader positions.

Speaking of student leaders, there are a few positions (bay chief, floor chief, etc) available and they wear differently colored ropes on their arm/shoulder.  We don't have MTIs anymore, just MTLs (Military Training Leaders) that we see on a limited basis throughout the day.  I came back from a bathroom break to find that due to my age and rank, I was made a class leader yesterday.  Doh!  I'm in charge of taking accountability, along with a member of my brother flight [only for the week].  I don't think I'm going to shoot for a student leader position, after hearing that personnelists are here for two short of a time period to advance much.  I did talk to a representative of the Drum and Bugle Corps today, so we'll see where that goes.

Overall, I'm optimistic about this new phase of training.  It IS a culture shock, and I'm leery of spending too much money (a common issue), but I'm hoping to find other ways to pass the time.  I have a good group of friends here, and I'm thankful for that.  My game plan is to clean and do laundry tonight, after a commissary run with my wingmen who couldn't go yesterday.  

One interesting thing to note is the significance of rank at tech school.  At BMT we were being paid at the grade we'd come out as, but we were all regarded as AB/E-1 while we were there.  Here they require that you're an A1C in order to be an Airman Leader, as well as to march SMUs (small groups of 10 airmen).  It's largely the Guardsmen and Reservists that have rank out here, although some of the active duty Airmen do as well.

Happy trails, friends, and I'll be sure to tell you about school in my next post!

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