Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One down, nineteen to go!

Source: google.com via Erin on Pinterest

Happy 1st Air Force Anniversary to Me!
The big day is finally here! The day that inspired my recent series of BMT postings, which lead to many of the recent changes in my blog.  This day wouldn't be complete without a blog recap of how it all came to be. 
One year ago today.

In 2010, I had been joking with Trinnie that if I hit thirty and wasn't with child that I would finally join the military, as I'd been talking/dreaming about for some time.  With no small children to care for, I had no excuses and nothing holding me back.  After that day came and went, I started researching my options.  The officer recruiter for the Navy Reserve shut me down quickly, for being too old with a non-technical degree.  They discussed no other options, just a "thanks but no thanks."  Well fine, I'll let my brother be the token sailor in our family.  Then I called an officer recruiter for the Air Force Reserve, who told me that due to our area being saturated with prior service officers joining the reserve, it would be difficult for a non-prior service Airman like myself to find an available slot.  Some reserve officers were traveling out of state for drill, just to pick up a slot.  That wasn't something I wanted to do.  The suggestion was made that I enlist, put in a year of good time, then apply for the Deserving Airmn Program, which allows enlisted Airmen to make the switch [you still have to do OTS, though].  That seemed reasonable to me, and I didn't mind working a little harder to achieve my end goal, especially if it bought me some street cred.
28 Jul 2011 - Top Honor Graduate

I linked up with a recruiter at my local base and began making arrangements to meet with her.  In the meantime, I started a running program to prepare myself for what was to come.  I was surprised at how how quickly things things moved.  I was signed up for my ASVAB, getting nervous about MEPS, managing to get through MEPS without issue, selecting my AFSC, and enlisting in a period of a few weeks. 

It was a snow day on the day of my enlistment, and I found out the base would be closing early.  I had mentally prepared myself (and friends/family) for a late afternoon ceremony.  As soon as I could break away from school (during my prep period/lunch), I jumped in the car and told DH to grab FIL and meet me there.  Sign here, sign there, grab an officer, and away I went, raising my right hand and repeating those words that so many others have recited before me.
13 Sep 2011 - Distinguished Grad 
It doesn't feel like it's been a year already, mainly because I've only been in training and permanent party status for the last eight months.  There's still a few trainees from my flight and my brother flight that are still in tech school.  These last eight months have challenged me beyong what I could've imagined.  When they told us at BMT that this would be one of the most difficult things we've ever done in our lives, I thought they were exaggerating.  I figured I had age, education, and life experience on my side.  I was wrong, and I underestimated the undertaking.  The blood, sweat, and tears I poured into becoming an Airman made the accomplishment that much sweeter.

If this first year is any indicator of the rest of my career, then bring it on!  The sense of pride and accomplishment that I've felt has been worth any temporary feelings of pain or frustration.
Since entering the Air Force, my dreams have changed.  While I once thought the officer side was my end-all, be-all, a change of heart has lead me to realign my goals with sights set on MTI school.  It seems cliche, as a lot of Airman claim to have the same dream when they're still early in their careers, but I see it as a natural extension of my teaching career and a blending of my two passions.  We'll see where this journey takes me though!

I'm looking forward to growing in my career field over the course of my second year in the Air Force.  I hope to make significant progress toward my CCAF degree, complete seasoning training, and complete a number of my on the job training requirements, if not all of them.  My goal for the year is to achieve deployment readiness, in terms of my knowledge and skill level.  My dream for the year would be to receive a quarterly award as an Airman.

Here's to the next nineteen years!  May they bring me as much success and fulfillment as the first has!

Monday, January 30, 2012

BMT: MTI Secrets

One of my regular BMT readers asked me the other day, "In between all of the yelling and demanding, do they actually teach/show you how to do all this stuff in BMT?"

Fear not, readers!  I may paint a dismal picture some days, but as I told this reader, they actually do want you to succeed!  With everything that I've been writing lately, apparently I'm due for a more positive post.  It's time to let you all in on some secrets that won't become clear to you until the end of BMT, if at all.  You know, the stuff the MTIs don't want you to know...

Now, if you're a permanent party Airman already, you may be wondering why I'm letting all of these outsiders in on the goods.  Ultimately, everyone is going to learn the hard way.  Everyone will tell you that BMT is a "mind game," that they're trying to "break you down to build you back up," blah, blah, blah.  I'm not knocking it, it's true.  You may know that going into BMT, but it's a whole 'nother thing to experience it and live under that stress.  I can tell you everything there is to know about BMT, but taking and applying that knowledge is up to you and a host of other factors that'll affect you (stress, fatigue, hunger, hydration, etc).

Let's get to the secrets already, so you can feel better about this adventure you're undertaking...

1.  Your MTI likes you.  Mhmm.  They know who you are, too.  It may take them a week to get your name straightened out, but they know who you are and they like you.  When your MTI is meeting with your student leaders, they'll discuss trainees and while your MTI may not praise you to your face, he/she is praising you when your name comes up.  If you're trying your hardest, volunteering, and always working with a sense of urgency, your MTI knows it.  They just won't let you know that you're doing well, because they want you to constantly be questioning your performance and striving to do better.  The only exception to this rule is if you're constantly being written up, receiving 341s, question their authority, etc.  Then your MTI probably doesn't like you, because you're a dirt bag.

2.  Your MTI cares about your emotional well-being.  They may ride you, blast you, and constantly make an example of you, but if you're having a genuine emotional issue, they want to hear about it and consult with you.  If it's something that's very personal in nature, they can do a closed-door meeting in the flight office, as long as your DC or another trainee is present.  As intimidating as it is to report to an office and ask to speak with your MTI when you're already an emotional wreck, please do it.  If you're struggling with something that your MTI needs to be aware of - reach out to him/her.  If you or another trainee you know of is contemplating suicide, tell your MTI (or any MTI) immediately.  I say this because it happens; stress affects people differently.  Your MTI will lose the "attitude" if you need to have a heart-to-heart, because your emotional well-being matters.

3.  Don't sweat the 341s.  The MTIs will try to intimidate you with threats of pulling your 341, and some may actually do it.  Signing it may feel official too, and you might think you're in for it at that point.  Ultimately, until your MTI inputs the comment into the computer, reads it back to you, has you key in a pin number, has a witness key in a pin number, it's not official.  It's not being counted against you until it's in the computer.  If you get a 341 pulled by another MTI, notify yours as soon as you can. Your MTI will appreciate if you're straightforward with him/her, and can admit your own fault.  You may find that because of this honesty and integrity, they don't process that 341 in the computer, especially if it was a minor infraction.

4.  Recycling is a Last Resort.  They're going to threatened it up and down.  They're going to talk about the "time machine" and you going back to an earlier WOT, for failing to progress in your training or for disciplinary reasons.  You'll live in fear of being recycled, up until the very end.  News flash - they don't want to recycle you any more than you want to be recycled.  We had one trainee that was recycled, and our MTI agonized over it.  I got the impression that he had never recycled anyone before.  Think from a business standpoint for a minute - if you have a trainee that's being held back, it represents a greater financial burden on the Air Force, since they're having to feed and lodge you for that added time.  You're potentially taking up the space of another trainee, and emptying a slot at tech school.  When it finally came down to it, the section supervisor called me and my entire student leader team into his office.  Suddenly, the tune changed from this trainee failing to demonstrate progress in her training to us failing her as a leadership team.  We were made to feel guilty for not being better wingmen.  They want you to succeed, they don't want you to fail.  While some recycled trainees deserve it, some MTIs see recycling as a reflection of their own failure.  They've failed to educate the trainees entrusted to them.  A healthy fear of recycling is good, but don't let it rule your BMT experience.

If I leave you with one message from this post it's that you can do this.  If you're motivated, if you're driven, and if you're committed to the process, you will become an Airman.  You never forget your MTI for a reason.  Being an MTI is like being a teacher - the paychecks don't justify the long hours.  That's not why they do it.  MTIs assume that role because they want to make a difference.  They want to improve the quality of Airmen coming into the Air Force.  Your MTI wants you to succeed.  It's not always going to seem like they're on your team, but they are.  Put your faith in the process, give it your all, and you'll come out on top.

Miscellany Monday

I love a Miscellany Monday, since I'm such a rambler when I speak.  After a weekend, there's always some goodies to share with you!

Miscellany Monday @
lowercase letters1.  FIL (father-in-law) is home!  I haven't seen him yet, but he's back!  My DH went to Phoenix this weekend to pick him (and his things) up and bring him home, after being gone since October visiting family and doing some odd jobs.  I'm blessed to have a great relationship with my FIL, and he's very conscientious about giving us our space, not telling us how to run our home, helping out with cleaning, etc.  He's a model live-in parent, and we have a lot in common.  Did I mention that he's retired Air Force?  He out ranks everyone in our home by leaps and bounds, but you'd never imagine it by the way he acts.  One of the most humble, down-to-earth people you'll ever meet.  Love me some FIL!

2.  Growing up in California, we had access to a plethora of grocery shopping options.  When my mom was battling her cancer, she strived to decrease toxins in her food, so she shopped (and ate) a lot of organics.  Enter a life-long love affair with Trader Joe's.  Back in CA, you could throw a stone and hit a TJ's.  In North Carolina, you had to drive an hour and a half to get to the one in Raleigh.  In Colorado?  Not even an option.  Go ahead and drive four hours across the New Mexican border, and you'll find one in Santa Fe.  With as crunchy as Colorado is, it's a shame that we don't have a Trader Joe's, or even a Fresh and Easy market.  Nope, just Whole Foods, which is a drive up town and too pricey for a full weekly grocery run.  Long story short, DH made a run to the Phoenix TJs when he was coming home.  He brought back goodies for me, gluten-free granola for one BFF and Maple Cookies for the other BFF.  He called me from the store to read off the names of all of the beauty items, so I could place my "order" over the phone.  He even brought back some surprises, including two new reusable bags, freeze-dried blueberries, and some organic banana chips, in addition to my other requests.  I am such a lucky girl, and a happy camper at that!

3.  It seemed fitting to do something special for my Air Force anniversary tomorrow night for dinner.  What would be more appropriate than The Airplane Restaurant?!  We've eaten there before, and it's pretty awesome.  You get to eat inside of a KC-97 tanker that has booths on either side of the center aisle.  The cockpit is open for pictures, which we took when we went with Trinnie + family last time.  Good times!

4.  When you join the AF, you don't automatically become versed in plane identification.  They don't teach you that at BMT.  I can't look at a plane and tell you what it is, aside from the one flown in my squadron.  Just sayin.'

5.  This weekend felt long on one hand, but very unproductive on the other.  Haley and I did Mandt training on Saturday morning, which is restraint training in a school setting.  We got out early, but the majority of my afternoon was spent napping and moping.  Sunday I woke up early, but then went back to bed and had a late start, so I really only got my Sunday chores done.  DH was convinced I'd cleaned though, when he came back late last night.  :)  Sure darling, of course I cleaned!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Welcome to Aim High Erin!

Whew, what a day!  When I woke up this morning, I had not planned on making such major changes to the blog, but with everything that's been happening lately, it seemed appropriate.  Two days away from my 1st anniversary as an American Airman, and I'm feeling even more committed to sharing my experience with others.

"Aim High Erin" serves as a better descriptor of me as a person and what this blog is all about.  "Aim High" is part of the Air Force battle cry, linking me with my branch of service.  "Aim High Erin" speaks to the pursuit of my goals and the Air Force Core Value of Excellence in All We Do.

The most noticeable change (if you're looking at the website directly) is the new banner, reflecting the new name and url.  The button has been updated as well, but if you've copied and pasted the code you won't need to update anything.  The image of your button will update automatically.  I've also added a new button that promotes my page specifically for those heading to BMT or readers of that series.

New social networking buttons have been added to the side, including an email button, a button for my new FB page, and button for the YouTube channel in the works.  Many of these social networking pages are still in the works, so give me a chance to get things up and running.  It's my hope to begin adding vlogs when I introduce rolling and folding at BMT, and YT is the best way to do that.  If you were previously following me on Twitter under the name @USNsis, you may have noticed that I updated that name to match the blog (@AimHighErinAF). 

I don't plan to give up doing personal, "fluffy" posts all together, so I hope that you'll stick around, even if the BMT series isn't your thing.  I'm still a milspouse blogger, and a proud one at that!

Thank you again for visiting - there is so much more to come!    

BMT: Flag Conditions and Hydration

In my last post on the BEAST, I mentioned "Black Flag."  No, I wasn't referring to the punk band associated with Henry Rollins.  I'm talking about the lovely weather you're about to experience when you truck off to Lackland AFB.

Flag Conditions
While it may seem otherwise some days, your safety and well-being is one of the top concerns of your MTI.  Throughout the squadron and the base, you'll notice solid colored flags flying from flagpoles.  You'll also hear MTIs make announcements like:
Attention in the squadron, attention in the dormitory!
Attention in the squadron, attention in the dormitory!
WBGT 91.3°.
Black Flag!

The weather dictates the activities around the base.  MTIs are required to be mindful of the current flag conditions, and you'll want to do likewise.  Of course, if you're doing BMT during winter and spring, this may not apply to you.  If you're fortunate to be in Lackland during the summer months, as I was, this will rule your experience.

Pretty self-explanatory.  At your squadron there will be a flag hanging outside each entrance of the tunnel, on the east and west sides, one from the main flag pole, and one out near the PT and drill pads.  CQ will have a runner change them when the conditions dictate.

When Black Flag hits, you won't march when outside of the squadron's overhang.  So, if you're on the way to the mini-mall or any of the other buildings outside of the squadron, you'll get to march at ease.  If you're at BEAST, you'll get to remove your Kevlar vest and helmet.  Needless to say, we used to pray for Black Flag some days.

Hydration Schedule
One of the first things the MTI who picks you up will have you do when you get into the dorm is to fill your canteen in the latrine sink.  Did you just double take and re-read that?  Yes, you'll be drinking bathroom sink water for the next 8.5 weeks.  Forget about your Smart Water and your Brita pitcher back home.  Heck, forget about kitchen tap water - bathroom water it is!  Not only will you drink it, but you'll drink a lot of it.  The web canteen belt I've mentioned is something you'll be wearing at all times. It holds your canteen and your satchel (an ABU-print pouch which carries your BMTSG and your study materials).

Every morning at PT, you'll be reminded of the hydration schedule:
All trainees are reminded to drink
1/2 to 3/4 a canteen per hour,
not to exceed 12 canteens per day.
This will seem nearly impossible at first.  It's significantly more water than most of us are used to drinking on a regular basis.  You're pounding all of this water, then going into the dining facility and being required to drink two additional beverages at every meal.  You'll be reminded to take sips of water, versus chugging, which can contribute to nausea.  Like I've mentioned before, it's not uncommon to see trainees throw up after every meal during 0 week.  If one person in your flight yells "hydrate," every is supposed to follow that directive.

If you become ill, one of the first questions the MTIs will ask you is how many canteens you've had that day.  They expect you to follow the hydration schedule, and you should.  Be careful about the next words out of your mouth when they ask you that question.  It can be difficult to keep track of how many canteens you've had, so make sure you're sipping regularly.  Your body will need it in the hot Texas heat.  You're working harder than most have ever worked, under stressful conditions and minimal sleep.  Plus, regardless of the heat, you'll be in full uniform (ABUs) with the sleeves down.  You won't be rolling those sleeves up until you hit tech school.

The hydration schedule is absolutely essential when you're at BEAST, as I mentioned in my last post.  You'll be tallying the number of canteens you finish, which makes it a lot easier to maintain.

Hydration is everyone's responsibility, and the MTIs will be none too pleased if you put yourself out of commission by failing to maintain the hydration schedule.  You're property of Uncle Sam, and you need to be taking care of yourself so that you can continue to train on schedule.  Dehydration can get you sent to the 319th (the squadron where injured trainees are sent), and you'll have to recover before you can be sent back to another flight to resume training.  You don't want this.  You're only dragging out your training longer than 8.5 weeks, and you'll return to a flight that's not "yours," possibly not even in your same squadron.  If you made any friends in your original flight, kiss them goodbye.  A girl in our flight was sent to the 319th for a month for dehydration.  A month.  Trust me, you don't want to be at BMT longer than you have to.

One important thing to remember is that your hydration today affects your body tomorrow.  You can't gulp water right before a run day and expect to be "good."  You should've been drinking enough water the day before.  It's especially important to be maintaining the hydration schedule the day before any big, physically demanding event, such as PT tests.

Cheers, future trainees!  Drink up!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Thank You and Commenting

First off, thank you to all of my new readers who've found me through @AirForceReserve on Twitter, or through referrals.  I'm more than happy, willing, and excited to help others who've made the decision to enlist in The World's Greatest Air Force!  Motivation is contagious - the more you connect with others who are in the process of enlisting or permanent party folks like myself, the more encouraged you'll be to pursue your own dreams.  Stay focused, ignore the nay-sayers and negative thoughts, and keep your eyes on the prize.  Enlistment has been one of the best decisions that I could've ever made.
After reading it on another blog and from my own personal experience, I've switched to pop-up commenting, versus the embedded commenting I have now.

While I'd rather it work properly when it's embedded, I understand that some people are still having issues with Blogger not allowing them to comment on the embedded system, yet they're successful with pop-up commenting.  I want you to be able to comment.  Please, ask questions, ask for clarification, make recommendations for my next post, etc.  I want to serve your need to know.  I'm a teacher, it's an innate desire.  :)  If I'm not making sense, tell me.  If I didn't cover a topic as well as you would've liked, tell me so.  Don't get an acronym?  I've been thinking about a reference page for that.  I'll do my best to meet your needs, as long as OPSEC and PERSEC allows me to do so.
Thinking about commenting?  I answer every single comment I get, and try to do so directly!  Are you a "no-reply blogger?"  The fastest way to get back to you is for me to reply directly to your comment, but I can't do that if you're a no-reply blogger.  Check out that link and correct your settings.  It'll also save you the hassle of having to check back to see if/when I've replied to your question.   Thanks again, it's been an amazing few weeks leading up to my first anniversary!

Friday, January 27, 2012

BMT: The Beast

The BEAST challenge coin, available for purchase.

By request, today I bring you BEAST!  And I'm not just talking about myself!  ;)  BEAST stands for Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, which is the field exercise you'll do in week 6 of BMT.  BEAST serves as a culmination of all of your practical, hands-on education at BMT.

Prior to leaving for BEAST, you'll receive training in SABC ("Self-Aide Buddy Care" - first aide), CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear warfare), defensive fighting positions, and non-lethal rifle fighting techniques.  Around week five, this training will ramp up, and your classroom lessons will discuss "predeployment" procedures and information.

Your MTI and student leaders will select several trainees to take on leadership roles at the BEAST.  These roles include:
  • BEAST Monitor - This individual functions as the Dorm Chief of BEAST and will work with other BEAST Monitors to organize and strategize.
  • Tactical Deployment Leader - Four trainees are selected to be TDLs, which are the Element Leaders of BEAST.  They assist the BEAST Monitors.
  • Weapons Monitor - This trainee is responsible if anyone mishandles their weapon.  They should have weapons handling down pat.
  • SABC Monitor - These two to three trainees are responsible for ensuring that all trainees understand SABC procedures and can execute them properly.

The weekend before you leave for BEAST, you'll go to the mini-mall for a predeployment shopping trip.  There's a checklist of items in your BMTSG.  Things I bought but didn't use include bug spray and flexible bandage tape (for protecting my arms and elbows on the chalk walk).  You're going to want to bring hand sanitizer and probably sunscreen, since this is one of the most exposed areas of the base and you're outside all day.  You'll also prepare a second canteen, so that you have two on your web belt at all times.  All of these items will be packed in Ziploc bags in your duffle bag.  You'll carry your duffle bag and your rifle (without the case) onto the bus on Monday morning and be transported to the BEAST, which is located on a remote side of the base.

For whatever reason, this particular area of the base seems hotter than back at the squadron.  Throw in some sand, MOPP gear, sweat, and it can seem unbearable at times.  By the time the week is over, you'll be thankful for the "luxurious" squadron living.  I remember saying that I would gladly roll and fold in my air conditioned personal area for hours after that experience!  Our flight joked that there would be no more fussing when our MTI asked us to do something, regardless of how ridiculous it seemed.  Bleach the latrine floor with a toothbrush?  Not a problem, on it Sir!  We were thankful just to be back.  Keep in mind though that we were at BEAST in the middle of July in Texas - you can imagine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BMT: Chow Runnin' and Grubbin'

Get comfy folks, this is going to be a biggie...but who doesn't love food?!

I've had to psych myself up for this one, knowing that there's going to be a lot to say.

Chow Runner
This is a duty that your MTI will assign to one lucky trainee.  This trainee needs to have some serious cojones and will need to demonstrate some great military bearing from the get-go.  If you're transparent with your emotions, you don't need to be chow running.  Why?  Because the Chow Runner is the trainee who approaches the Snake Pit - alone - addresses the MTIs and announces the flight as being ready to eat.  The schpiel goes something like this:

Sir/Ma'am, trainee Carpenter reports as ordered.  [wait to be addressed]
Sir, flight 494 is prepared to enter the dining facility from the east side [or west side].

At that point, the MTI at the snake pit will tell you something, usually "Sit, Eat, and Get Out," although if they're feeling fiesty, they may tell you something completely off the wall, like "Sit 'em on down!" in a weird country accent.  You'll repeat back what they said  - verbatim - and then "Yes sir, thank you sir."  At that point, you'll go outside to get your flight.

If there is a line in the chow hall, and not enough space, you'll be directed to wait against the wall.  You'll study your BMTSG while you wait for them to call you forward again, and then they'll give you the "Sit, Eat, and Get Out" directive and you'll go through the process described above.

When you come out of the chow hall, you'll stand on the wall if there are other Chow Runners waiting to call in their flight.  When it's your turn, you'll stand directly in front of the dining facility at attention and in your loudest voice say:

Flight 494,
prepare to enter the dining facility from the east side.
All key personnel fall out, fall in,
followed by the first element. 

As a flight, you will all come to attention and respond (loudly), "AIM HIGH!  FLY!  FIGHT!  WIN!"  Eventually as you progress in your weeks of training, you may opt (as a flight) to create your own chant to distinguish yourselves as a flight.  Ours went something like:

[Chow Runner] Flight 494, we are:
[Flight] Motivated!  Dedicated!
You check us out, you, you check us out!
We get the job done,
make the other flights pout!  HUA!

At this point the DC, the water monitors, and any other trainees designated as needing to fall out early (sometimes the laundry crew) will walk to the front of first element and fall into a straight line.  The Chow Runner will be the first to enter the dining facility, as they have to report for the next part of their duty.  The first element leader will call the element to attention and march them into the dining facility.  The last person in that element will stand outside of the door and peek inside to determine when there's room for the next element to enter.  They will then call out, "Followed by the second element" and the process continues until everyone enters.

Once inside, the Chow Runner will position themselves in line with the row of tables, stand with their left arm behind their back, and the right arm bent in front of their waist.  They will then direct trainees, saying, "front ma'am/sir," "back ma'am/sir," and alternating between the two.  If the MTI has given them anything special in terms of instructions, they'll say that as well, such as "Front ma'am/sir.  Sit, eat, and get out."  The chow runner's job is done when the next chow runner steps in to direct their flight.  Like the water monitors (described below), the chow runner is one of the last people to eat.

BMT: Laundry

Hey, this may seem like a random BMT post, but wouldn't you rather know the nitty gritty random details?  I like to think they're interesting, at least!  :)

Laundry is an important matter at BMT.

Laundry > Clean Clothes > Rolling and Folding > Personal Area Inspection > Graduating

As a wife of a man who typically leaves me to do all of the laundry, I was excited about going away for the summer, thinking that I'd get a break.  Not so.  I soon found myself in my own personal laundry hell...

Machine Laundering
At BMT, you have a laundry crew of approximately two to four trainees in your flight.  They'll do everyone's laundry for the next eight and a half weeks.  Everyone's.  They'll pretty much be doing laundry all day long, and competing with a number of other flights for the machines in the laundry room.
If you're considering volunteering to be on the laundry crew, keep in mind these facts, both positive and negative:
  • You'll spend most of your time in the laundry room.  Depending on the season, this could be a good or bad thing.
  • You'll get a ton of time to study your BMTSG.  This will come in handy as it gets closer to your EOC (End of Course exam).
  • You'll spend time with laundry crews from other flights.  This gives you an opportunity to take some advice from those just returning from BEAST.  It also gives you a chance to socialize with the opposite sex.  Be careful - you will get blasted by MTIs if they come in and find you chatting and not studying.
  • You're most likely going to be right next to the squadron patio.  Don't be stupid and think you can sneak out there to the vending machines and get away with it.  Not going to happen.
  • You're going to have a hard time managing the laundry load and schedule in the beginning.  Trainees will be frustrated and angry with you.  You'll hate your job, at least initially.
  • You'll have to collect laundry right after PT.  That being said, your shower time will be limited, if you even get to dash in and out.
  • You'll also be responsible for taking all of the linens down for linen exchange day.
  • You'll be washing the cleaning rags.  You'll hear it from your MTI if they're not clean when it's time to be cleaning the dorm.
  • You'll do laundry at BEAST.  Mhmm.  Don't even get a break there.
  • You'll be doing all of the sandy, sweaty laundry upon return from BEAST.
  • You may miss non-mandatory classes or exercises, if you have laundry to do.
  • You'll have a 341 pulled if there's a wet spot on the laundry bags, so you'll have to ensure that you've always got a trashbag liner in there.

All of the negative aside, you will get an opportunity to bond with your brother/sister flight's laundry crew, since you'll be spending a lot of time together.  Our laundry crew members became very close in the end.  Initially, it's not an easy job.  My laundry crew was pissy and frustrated by how difficult the task was, and my MTI had a short fuse while they straightened themselves out.  Eventually, you'll wisen up on how to make it work for your flight, after you've set up a standardized system of how laundry is collected, stored, and passed out.

Laundry pass-out is another monumental task, given 50ish people in your flight.  All clothing items have a laundry mark, which is your last initial and the last four of your social security number.  Smaller items are placed in mesh bags, which have your laundry mark on them.  We passed out laundry two different ways, with the second one being more successful for us.
  1. Laundry Train - This method was encouraged by our MTI team, but we were ended up straying away from it.  Flight members place a piece of notebook paper with their laundry mark at the end of their bed.  Laundry is dumped at the end of one of the bays.  The entire flight walks in a single file, grabs a few items, and starts making a big loop through the dorm, dropping items on the appropriate bed as they walk by.
  2. Day Room/SSN Piles - A small group of trainees dump the laundry out in the day room, and organize it into ten piles, based on the first number of your laundry mark.  After everything was sorted, we would call elements in, one at a time, to retrive their laundry.  In a pinch, we could also pile the laundry up in the hallway, if it was after lights out and the day room was closed.  We ended up transitioning to this method, simply because a few trainees could organize the laundry and then individuals were responsible for picking it up.  We could see right off the bat who wasn't picking up their laundry.  Also, you learned to recognize the laundry marks of your wingmen, so you could help them out if they were occupied.  I passed out a lot of laundry as my trainees worked, especially near the end.  This allowed them to immediately start working in their areas, and usually my wingman started on my rolling and folding.
Laundry gets lost at BMT, just like at home.  Between all of those people and mesh bags that burst open, it happens.  I lost a pair of my good spandex/compression shorts along the way.  Make sure you'll always checking your laundry marks and darkening them as needed.
"Living Out of the Laundry Bags" is a phrase I guarantee that you'll hear at BMT.  It's a strategy for playing the game smarter, in order to minimize inspection errors.  Your wall locker has to be organized in a very particular way, with clothing folded and rolled perfectly.  In their (rightful) minds, if they can't trust you to put attention to detail into rolling a shirt, how can they trust you to work on a multi-million dollar aircraft?  Any errors will contribute to demerits.  If you get enough demerits, you'll fail your inspection.  Fail the second inspection and you'll have to prepare for an inspection by your section supervisor.  Fail that inspection and you'll likely to get recycled.  It's that big of a deal.  Living out of the laundry bags refers to a delicate balance of having items rolled and folded in your drawer that you never touch/use/wear, and alternating between two items.  One item is being worn, and the other is being washed.  You'll cycle back and forth between those two items.  This is a very difficult synergy to achieve, and it hinges on having a strong laundry crew, as well as an effective method for passing out laundry.  The perk of achieving this synergy is that you don't have to roll and fold all of the time, and you don't have to mess up any "inspection perfection" items in your drawer.

BMT provides you with six large jugs of laundry detergent when you arrive. For us, it was the All Free + Clear.  Once it's gone, it's gone, and trainees will need to start purchasing their own laundry detergent to contribute to the laundry crew.  Purex is the cheapest one available at the mini-mall.  You'll also need to save a jug of that detergent to take to BEAST with you.  Your clothes will not smell of fresh laundry softener, like at home.  You may not notice a change in scent at all, even after clothes are washed.  Your whites will get dingy looking.  My white sports bras have still not recovered, even after being home and using bleach.  When you arrive at tech school, older Airmen will tease you about smelling "like Lackland."  You'll promptly wash all of your clothes to nix that.

Dry Cleaning
There is a dry cleaner in every squadron, believe it or not, and you'll use it.  The charges are reasonable, although they do add up quickly.  These folks take all methods of payment, including EZ Pay cards and your normal debit cards.

Despite the fact that your BMTSG will say not to dry clean your ABUs, you'll take them there.  You'll do this up until the point that someone runs out of their EZ Pay cash, then you may have people put them in the regular laundry.  In the same vein as living out of your laundry bag, we often had one pair of ABUs on our person, maybe one in the wall locker, and two at the dry cleaner (unless the MTI on CQ yelled for everyone to pick up their dry cleaning).  Once you bring dry cleaning back into the dorm, you'll have to make sure it's on the correct hanger (in order to be consistent with the rest of your flight), and you'll have to clip loose threads.  That's the biggest PITA - you literally have to go over every exterior seam and clip every thread so it's not protruding.  It's time consuming, to say the least.  We'd sit down with tweezers, scissors from the sewing kit, and a lint roller, and go to town.  There were many late night parties in the drying room off the shower, where we would sit on the bench and clip threads after lights out.  If you have a uniform in your locker, it needs to be clipped.  Every time a uniform comes back from the dry cleaner (or out of the washer), chance are you have a loose thread.

They'll give you specific instructions as to how to prepare clothes to turn to the dry cleaner at a briefing on your first trip there.  Clothing will come back with orange tags affixed to every piece you dry clean.  Do yourself a favor and remove them either at the dry cleaner or immediately upon return to the dorm.  Our MTI used to tell us that they contributed to radiation poisoning, and therefore you needed to keep them out of the dorm.  Bottom line, if you don't remove them right away you may forget, and they will count as a demerit during inspections.

The Dry Cleaners will clean your ABUs, which can be machine laundered in the end, they can do your hats, and they must do all of your blues.  You will not be machine laundering blues - trust me, you wouldn't want to at BMT.  Eventually, the Dry Cleaner will sew on your stripes and send your lightweight blue jackets out for embroidery (if your flight decides on this option).

You'll have a love/hate relationship with the dry cleaners.  They do lose items and items get ruined.  I had Sharpie marks show up on my ABUs that weren't there when I turned them in.  They also lost one of my short sleeved blue shirts.  The do have a rack of unclaimed clothes that are available for purchase for a cheap price, if you should need to replace one of your items.  You'll just have to line out the laundry mark and replace it with your own.  If you receive an item that is unserviceable, advocate for yourself and bring it to the attention of the staff as soon as possible.  They'll attempt to have it cleaned again, but if is again returned in unacceptable condition, make another complaint and ask for a replacement.  If the Dry Cleaners continue to hassle you, let your MTI know.

Huge post on laundry, am I right?!  And you thought this wouldn't be interesting!  =P

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tagged by Lou!

Tagged again!  It's going around!  I'm going to jump straight to the questions that Lou wrote for me.

1.  Favorite moment in life.  Oof, that's a tough one right off the bat.  I really couldn't pick between my wedding, my BMT graduation, etc.  I've been blessed!
2.  What is your favorite form of exercise?  Running is my exercise of choice, although I love going dancing!
3.  What is your favorite sound?  The sound of near silence, aside from some birds chirping outside of a sunny window on a day when you're napping.
4.  What's your favorite cleaning product?  Mrs. Meyer's Geranium!
5.  What do you miss most about being a kid?  Have my mom around.
6.  Do you like milk?  I don't typically drink it as a beverage, unless I've just had a lot of chocolate.  I love chocolate milk though!
7.  Do you play an instrument?  Tuba, trumpet, and clarinet.
8.  Do you have a zombie plan?  Nope, but I'm sure my husband does.  I'm running to his side if that sort of thing happens.
9.  Who is your favorite super hero?  60's Bat Girl.
10.  Do you like doing surveys?  If I'm bored, typically.  I like fun, interesting questions!

BMT: Money Matters

While service to country and a sense of duty is huge, most of us would like to be compensated for our military service.

Before Leaving for BMT
There's a couple things beyond the normal establishment of direct deposit that you'll want to look into prior to leaving.  The more prepared you are, the less you and your family will worry while you're away.  When you're at BMT, there's really no chance to deal with financial emergencies.  You're not going to be able to handle any billpay, online or off, nor will you be able to check your accounts.  You may have a chance to check the balance on your debit card, but that's only when you're on a mini-mall run, which is once every other week, at best.  If a dire emergency comes up, your MTI may allow you to make some additional calls, but don't depend on it. 

Find someone to manage your financial and personal affairs.  Select a spouse, parent, or another very trustworthy individual.  Get this person a Power of Attorney (POA), which can be done for free through JAG on base.  This is especially important if you have children or if you're married and some of your accounts are only in your name and not the both of yours.  They have separate POAs if you need someone to take care of your children's medical and educational needs.  Take note that a POA will allow that person to be you, legally, so you don't want to give that power to just anyone.  If anything comes up, they'll be able to handle anything in your name.  Make sure this person you've designated has access to any accounts that may need to be paid during your absence (if you haven't set up automatic billpay), as well as your bank account.  I manage the finances in my household, so I made a 45+ page PowerPoint presentation for my husband with all of the necessary information.  Yeah, a little over the top, but better safe than sorry!  The less you have to worry while you're away, the better.  BMT is stressful enough without having to worry if your home/financial life is in shambles. 

After Arriving at BMT
When you go to BMT, you will be paid during that time period according to the regular active duty schedule and chart, which you can access at Military.com.  Depending on what rank you're entering service as (typically E-1 through E-3), as written in your enlistment contract, you'll get the appropriate pay.  You may also receive BAH if you have dependents, and you may have money being taken out if you opted for SGLI or FSGLI.  Military pay days are the 1st and the 15th, however, your first pay date will depend on how soon they get you through in-processing.  Hopefully the ones you've left behind aren't desperately waiting for that first paycheck so they can eat.

The first paycheck you receive will also be $400 less than expected, as you will already have been "given" this money in the form of a pre-loaded debit card (EZ Pay card).  Trust me on this one, you'll use it all.  Don't bother inquiring about whether or not you'll be able to withdraw the money.  By the time 6th or 7th week rolls around, your cash will be gone. 

You'll use this card for all of your purchases, in and out of the squadron.  During your first mini-mall run, you'll use it to pick up the supplies you need to have your security drawer equipped and looking uniform with the other trainees.  Depending on how much you brought down with you to BMT, you can easily spend $150 on that first mini-mall run.  I managed to save a little bit of money because I brought my own spandex/compression shorts with me.  When you hit the register, you'll be rung up not only for the goods you've aquired on that trip, but also for all of the items they've stocked your personal area with at the dorm, including your flashlight, laundry bag, mesh bags, ruler, pens, pencils, highlighters, Sharpie, etc.  It adds up quickly, to say the least.  We bought the following items on our first trip to the mini-mall.  The MTI can't force you to buy these items, but some are essential to making your personal area pass inspection - damned if you do, damned if you don't.  You'll also have an option to pick up other miscellaneous stuff.  Keep in mind that the selection of hair supplies is limited and all of the squadrons shop at this mini-mall. 
  • toothbrush holder
  • extra mesh bags
  • extra brown towel
  • extra white towel - this will be the "liner" on the bottom of your security drawer.  This is white, so buy liquid products that are clear or white and save yourself the hassle, trust me.  If the towel can conceal spills, you'll be in better shape.
  • tupperware containers - for keeping things organized in the back of your security drawer.  Get at least two.
  • Bath and Body Works body spray - you'll use this both a body spray and an air freshener.  You'll use this for the impression of a clean environment in your wall locker.  If you get the "Fresh Linen" scent, it's clear - again, for spills.
  • spandex/compression shorts
  • full-sized bottle of body wash - get the Suave Coconut, which is white.
  • toothpaste - get a white paste in the small plastic container with the flip top, not the standard tube.  It's easier to keep clean.
  • full-sized bottle of shampoo - the Suave 2-in-1 is a good, cheap option.
  • hair products - grab some extra-hold gel, if you didn't bring any with you.
  • stationery - if you want some AF or Lackland-branded stationery to send home.
  • stamps - ask for them at the register.
  • steno notepad - this is great for notes in class and it slips into your BMTSG folder and satchel.  Don't bother getting the writing tablet (sized similarly), it falls apart.
  • pens, highlighters, post-its, etc - grab any study materials you might want for use in class and with your BMTSG.
Ok, enough of the shopping tangent.  Point is, you're going to be working that EZ Pay card.  During first clothing issue, you'll use it to buy your running shoes, which will run you about $70.  You'll use it to pay for your dry cleaning expenses, which add up quickly.  You'll be amazed at how quickly you go through full-sized toiletries in BMT.

Your MTI will be emailed a payroll list, organized by social security number, where you can see the amount of your paycheck.  They'll tell you to be prepared for the first check to see "off," due to the EZ Pay card amount being taken out, but if it seems grossly off by the 2nd check, you'll want to bring it to your MTI's attention.  Don't depend on the payroll list always being there - sometimes your MTI won't receive the email in a timely fashion, and by timely, I mean a week off.

In summary, settle your affairs before leaving for BMT.  Make sure everything is ironed out and that there are clear expectations about who will be managing your finances and the procedures for doing so.  Like most everything else in life, the better prepared you are, the better you'll fare in the end.

Monday, January 23, 2012

BMT: Mail Call!

Source: vector.tutsplus.com via Erin on Pinterest

In addition to Sundays, you're going to be living for mail call, let me tell you!  There's tons of information about mail out there, but let me add a few key pieces of information.  Pass this along to your family members too, and cover your ass in advance.

When you first arrive, you'll fill out an address card to mail home to your family.  If you're savvy enough to read this blog, you've probably already told your family to blast that address all over Facebook when they get it, which is totally fine.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind, however.

MTIs are required to give you your mail promptly.  Once they pick it up, they need to distribute it.  They can't hoard it in their flight office.  That's as far as the rule goes, or so they'll tell you.  They have to pass it out, but they don't have to let you open it or let you read it.  Integrity plays a big part here.  Don't do anything stupid to jeopardize the chance to read your mail.  We typically got fifteen minutes of "personal time" at the end of the night, during which we could open, read, and reply to mail.  It's not a lot of time, as you can imagine, and I was lucky to write one letter during that time period.  Many trainees stayed up past lights out and wrote letters, but keep in mind that if you get a non-duty inspection and an MTI comes back, you're supposed to be asleep.  Still, it didn't happen to us, so take it for what it's worth.

When MTIs pass out mail, they're not supposed to throw it at you.  Your mileage may vary.  It depends on your MTI's attitude and interpretation of that rule and what "throwing" means in their world.  My MTI thought throwing was disrespectful, so he didn't do it.  Typically, he would leave mail pass-out to me and my ELs.  You know how OCD I am, I used to have it all alphabetized before distribution.  :) 

You'll be able to buy stamps at the mini-mall.  Do yourself a favor and at least bring a sheet down with you to start.  You'll end up needing those stamps to mail those address cards I mentioned earlier, so the sooner you bust out your stamps and start sharing, the sooner those cards go out.  Your flight members will pay you back a stamp later.

You'll store your stamps in your security drawer tray, as they're considered a valuable at BMT.  

Tell people to keep it simple.  This is not the time to send those jumbo cards, regardless of the holiday or if it's your anniversary.  Everything you receive must fit in the back half of your security drawer.  I said everything.  If you're fortunate, your MTI will let you into the civilian luggage closet so you can stash some letters in your luggage.  Think small sized envelopes and cards.

If you receive pictures, you are required to show them to your MTI, in case anything is deemed inappropriate.  I shouldn't have to explain too much about that - steer clear of nudity, shots of people (especially underagers) who are intoxicated, etc.  Hopefully your family has some common sense.  One good strategy is to have your family member draft a letter on the computer, where they can insert pictures into the letter.  It's a great way to save space, versus having tons of loose photos.

If you receive a package or a thick envelope of any kind, you are required to open it in the presence of the MTI and show them the contents.  That being said, unless it's a toiletry item you can't find at the mini-mall or a better fitting sports bra (the mini-mall offers little for women needing more support), I would really suggest that you tell family and friends not to send anything.  This is not the time for care packages - that can wait for tech school, where there are no restrictions.  Again, anything you receive has to be shoved into the back of your security drawer, which fills up quickly.  The only thing I ever requested to be sent to me was spray hair gel and hair pins, for obvious reasons.

Advise your friends and family against sending food.  MTIs take your new diet very seriously.  Food is not allowed in the dorms, period.  Trainees will try to sneak peanut butter packets back into the doors, or Nutri Grain bars.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  That's a jumpstart to the time machine that'll take your ass right back to an earlier week of training.  Yes, you can get recycled for something like that.  The one time a trainee of mine received a nutritional bar, the MTI with us at the time made everyone do pushups while she shoved that thing down her throat as fast as she possibly could.  It wasn't enjoyable for her or the rest of us on our faces.  No food!

When you're ready to mail letters out, you'll be able to walk to the mailbox during "free time," such as when you're picking up dry cleaning.  [Yes, I said "dry cleaning," more on that later.]  We would typically load our satchels with our wingman's mail, to minimize trips.  Trips to the mailbox are not done during the morning or the middle of the day, which is a quick way to get yelled at.

Don't read mail outside of personal time.  Don't carry it in your satchel with your BMTSG, unless you are en route to the mailbox.  Don't get caught writing letters in class.  All of these things will get you in trouble.

Encourage your family and friends to send mail often, and down the line you may want to suggest that they write to some of the trainees who don't ever receive mail.  An encouraging note from home goes a long way at BMT!

BMT: Grilled Cheese and Jesus!

Someone cue the Craig Morgan, we're about ready to talk about Sundays at BMT...

Sunday is a magical day at BMT that you will come to love.  A Friday night or a Saturday morning doesn't mean squat at BMT, but a Sunday...

There's a motto for survival that goes around BMT, "Live day to day, Sunday to Sunday."  It's easy to get overwhelmed by how much there is to learn and how difficult it is, but you have to live day to day, with your days peaking on Sunday.

What I Love About Sunday - BMT Remix
  • You get to wake up an hour later.  Damn skippy!
  • No PT.  Let me type that again for you - NO PT!
  • Sunday is the day the "weeks" change.  You officially progress to the next week of training (WOT) when you hit Sunday.  It's a great feeling waking up and know that you're that much closer to being done and seeing your family.
  • Related to my last point, when going to church you get to see all of the newer trainees filter in, as older trainees march the Sneaker Weekers to church.  It's a great visual reminder that you're making progress.
  • Sundays are typically minimal supervision days, at least after the first few weeks are done.  Aside from the MTIs working CQ and chow time, the majority of them won't come in until later in the afternoon.  For us it was no later than 1400, when it was time for squadron clean-up.  This means you can eat breakfast in relative peace and accomplish what needs to be taken care of in the dorm.
  • Church is a big reason why trainees look forward to Sundays.  Even if you're not really religious, it represents a chance to get out of the squadron and unwind.  I attended the Contemporary Christian church for most of the Sundays that I was there.  It's a very popular service, so two squadrons are assigned to the church at a time, with differing slots throughout the morning to fit all of the squadrons.  It will fill up, so the earlier you get there, the better.  Before entering the chapel, you are able to socialize with other trainees (male and female) in a relaxed atmosphere, which is not the case in the squadron.  Once inside, they play music videos on the big screen prior to the service (John Michael Montgomery's "Letters From Home," MercyMe's "I Can Only Imagine," Mark Schultz's "Letters from War").  In church you can sing, dance ever so slightly, and praise.  It's not uncommon to see trainees cry.  It's a very cathartic experience, after the stress that the week puts on you.  The Contemporary service also has milestones to look forward to.  They recognize the weeks of training and everyone stands up and says "PRAISE THE LORD!" during their respective weeks.  Eventually, you can opt to bring your family to church on Sunday after graduation.  The chaplain makes a point to have everyone applaud the new Airmen, as well as the family members and family members who may be veterans.
  • When you return from church, it's just about lunch time.  BMT has certain standard meals that fall on specific days, and Sunday lunch is one you look forward to - grilled cheese!  Everyone looks forward to "Grilled Cheese and Jesus" day.  Grab two sandwiches and be sure to get some ranch dressing to dip them into.  This is probably the best comfort dish that you're going to get.  I loved when we had fresh strawberries on the side as well.
  • Sundays are deep detail days.  No one loves cleaning, but you have to take some pleasure in being able to clean at your own pace, without being yelled at.  We would typically have a list of things that needed to be accomplished by the time our MTI returned for squadron clean-up, and we'd delegate tasks.  Cleaning weapons cases, dusting the exterior of the flight office, dusting the fire escape door, cleaning empty wall lockers, checking laundry marks in shoes, etc.  I'm a list checker-offer.  These sorts of things worked for me.  This is also a great time to get laundry done if you're behind.
  • After finishing deep details, we had time to "work in our areas," which is a phrase you'll hear often.  Working in your area consists of rolling and folding clothes, clipping loose threads, remarking faded laundry marks, and so forth.  It's a very time consuming process that takes up much of your time at BMT.  When you hit second clothing issue (blues), you're going to need the time, since your wardrobe just doubled.
  • Squadron clean-up happens at 1400 hours, or at least it did in our squadron.  At that point, certain flights are required to send down ten trainees to assist with cleaning the outside of the squadron.  It's not a huge ordeal, and they were typically back in less than an hour.  The trainees remaining in the dorm open all of the windows and fire exit, and proceed to apply Wex-Cide (a multi-purpose cleaner) to damn near everything.  Floors typically get bleached at this point as well.
  • The rest of the evening is straightforward, and scheduled like most other days.  Class is not held on Sundays, so MTIs will use the time for in-dorm instruction or drill practice.
You'll never look at Sunday or grilled cheese sandwiches the same again!  At BMT, it's the little things!