Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BMT: Duties and Details, Part 2

Happy Leap Day!  Today I bring you part two of Duties and Details.  If you're just joining me now, check out the introduction and Part 1 (bed alignment, shoe alignment, End of Bed Display) here.

Fire Monitor
The Fire Monitor is a fancy phrase for trash man at BMT, or at least, that's all our Fire Monitor did.  Your primary concern as the Fire Monitor is to take the trash out as soon as it's full, and dispose of it in the dumpsters.  This is a pretty straight-forward duty, although you're dependent upon everyone else doing their details in a timely manner so that you can get the trash out before lights out.  More than one, our trainees were making a late night power march out to the dumpster and back with their flashlights, trying to beat the clock.  You can fail an inspection if your trash can is too full in the middle of the night and you get hit with a non-duty, so it wasn't uncommon for our crews to encourage everyone to wipe their hands on their clothes after washing, to avoid using paper towels.  The Fire Monitor is also responsible for cleaning and dusting the fire escape.  Your MTI will run his/her finger along every surface in your dorm, to ensure that there's no dust anywhere.  The Fire Monitor(s) may be one or two trainees.

Utility Crew
This job is arguably one of the more demanding ones, aside from Latrine Crew and Laundry Crew.  We had three trainees on utility crew, including one designated as the chief.  Your dorm will have a closet in it where all of the cleaning items and laundry bags are stored.  No one is allowed in the utility closet except a student leader or a member of the utility crew, and even we always tried to respect their space as well.  If someone needs something from the utility closet, the utility crew must hand it to them - they cannot help themselves. 

For a room stocked with cleaning supplies, this place has to be impecably organized and clean at all times.  This is a difficult task, to say the least.  There can't be any dust or hairs left in any cleaning brushes, and everything has a specific storage location.  You also can't have any unauthorized items in your utility closet, so nothing can be stashed in there.  There is a max number of items you can have, so no more than a certain number of paper towel rolls or toilet paper rolls can be stocked.

Utility crew members must keep their closet stocked.  They're responsible for going down to the main supply rooms in the squadron to get more of what they need.  In some instances, the supply room may be out of stock, so our utility crew would have to bed the baby flights or our brother flight to borrow items.  If they don't have the required number of items, we could get dinged, hence the urgency.  The utility closet also includes spare hangers, which have to be bundled in groups of twenty, with no more than one hundred hangers in the closet.  If there were more, the utility crew had to run them down to the hanger closet in the squadron.  Do you get the impression yet that the utility crew is always busy?  They were!

Laundry bags are stored in the utility closet as well, and they tend to pose the greatest problem for both the laundry crew and the utility crew.  Both teams have to set up a system to distinguish between dirty and clean laundry.  We chose to have the open ends of clean laundry bags facing one way, and the dirty facing the opposite way.  If there was a wet spot on the laundry bag, the utility closet can fail an inspection.  A successful utility crew must work hand in hand with the latrine crew and the laundry crew.

Day Room Crew
Each dorm has a "day room."  It sounds like it may be a comfortable place to entertain visitors (ha!) but it's not.  The day room is primarily used for instructional purposes, when your MTI needs to address the flight.  The day room has a number of cushioned chairs, a few couches, and some end tables.  You are never to sit on these couches or chairs, and will be told that you are not allowed to do so until you earn the right as a graduated Airman.  There is also a bookcase, a desk with chair for your MTI, a podium, and an empty wall locker.  We also had a flat screen TV that never got turned on.  There is a white board on the wall for instruction, a mirror, and a bulletin board with some informational flyers.  You'll also see various motivational wall decor items.  When you are in the day room, you'll be sitting on the floor, in close proximity to others so that everyone fits and that there's a clear walkway for your MTI.  The civilian luggage closet is located in the day room, and is kept locked at all times.  The day room crew is responsible for keeping this area clean, including polishing and dusting everything.  Again, your MTI will inspect the area with his finger for dust, as well as checking mirrors and framed items for streaks in the glass.  Furniture has to be aligned and straight.  The day room crew is also responsible for the civilian luggage closet.  Inside of that closet, civilian items are stacked one on top of the other, and must not go over a certain height.  Each bag is tagged with a cardstock luggage tag that must be filled out according to certain specifications that your MTI will share with you. This tag must be on the end of the bag facing out, and visible for inspection.  The day room crew will also do the floors in both areas.  This crew normally finishes quicker than the others, and can help out where needed.

Hallway/Chrome Crew
The hallway crew will sweep and clean the hallway, which includes a few bulletin boards, the Entry Controller (EC) stand, and most importantly, the chrome stripes on the ground as you step into each of the bays.  Be prepared for that finger tip inspection from your MTI!  No dust - anywhere!  You'll be wiping down the walls, making sure the mirror is streak-free, wiping down the EC stand, the fire exit signs, the hardware on the door, the tops of the bulletin boards, etc.  As you enter the dorm, there's a bulletin board immediately on the nearest wall, with a roster of the trainees authorized to enter the dorm.  You'll also have a list of MTIs that are authorized to be inside of the dorm.  There will also be a reference sheet of access badges that are accepted in lieu of having a name on the roster or authorized MTIs.  We had two additional bulletin boards with other important notices and informational flyers, including off-limits places in the area.

The biggest task in the hallway was the chrome polishing.  Each dorm is given a roll of polishing cloth that's about an inch wide.  You'll cut it into 1" squares and use those little squares to polish the chrome strips using teeny tiny circular motions.  You'll reuse those strips until they practically disintegrate.  This is a pretty tedius job, to say the least, and your MTI will implement the policy that you can't step on the chrome.  Many trainees remind themselves of this policy by saying the word "Chrome!" every time they step over those strips.

Stay tuned, more duties and details to come!

MMS giveaway - LAST day!

2nd Clothing Issue

Today is the LAST day to enter my giveaway for a free copy of My Memories Suite software!  If you haven't already entered and were thinking about it - go for it!  Entries are low right now, so this could be your shot to win!  Check out the official entry page here.  Happy scrapping!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BMT: Duties and Details, Part 1

It's high time I described some of the possible duties you could be assigned with at BMT.  After Dust Down each day, you'll go to your assigned detail area where you'll clean it to inspection perfection standards.  Your MTI will select who does these jobs, and may sometimes ask for volunteers.  My MTI questioned us initially, to figure out what our strengths were in.  Trainees who were artistic in nature, or good at visually eyeballing something got stuck with alignment.  Regardless of what is chosen for you, suck it up and do it to the best of your abilities.  Excellence in all we do, even if you don't want to do it.  You will be resented by your fellow trainees and won't earn any points in the eyes of your MTI if you shirk your responsibilities or fail an inspection because you didn't do your job properly.  It is possible to get "fired" from your detail, if you can't perform it to standard, and you'll most likely be assigned to something less desireable of your MTI's choosing.  If you do your job well, take initiative/be proactive, you can be recognized for your hard work.  Our MTI gave one trainee an additional phone call because she recognized one of the lights was out and went and got a replacement without being prompted.

I'll present the different details/duties in a few different posts, that way this post isn't insanely long.

Bed Aligners
Three to four trainees in your flight will be bed aligners.  Bed alignment is one of the priority details, as so many other details depend on the beds being done first, such as shoe alignment.  Our bed aligners frequently stayed behind in the dorm behind the rest of the flight or went first at chow, so they could complete their detail first.  Beds and bunks move with the slightest tap, so your bed aligners are an easy group to piss off if you mess up the beds.  Be kind, don't bump the beds! 

Dorms have both bunk beds and single beds, with more bunk beds than singles.  I think our bay (two bays to each dorm) had approximately 7 single beds with the remaining 19 or so being bunk beds.  The single beds are closest to the front of the bays and the flight office, with the bunks in the back.  The bed aligners in our flight used long 2 by 4 pieces of wood to measure the distances between beds, as well as kite string to ensure that they were in line with each other across the aisles.  A 3' piece of wood was used to measure the required 3' that the first single bed had to be from the wall.  Each additional bed and bunk had to be 4' apart, so we had 4' pieces of wood for that.  Bunks and beds had to be aligned with each other across the aisle, so they were perfectly straight.  Our MTI brought bright pink kite string and our bed aligners would stretch it across the aisle, align the two furthest posts and kick the other two beds until all four posts were in line.  This process is repeated all the way down the line. 

Shoe/Chair Aligners
We had two trainees for shoe and chair alignment.  They used two long boards (spanning the length of a bunk/bed) and had to do all of the chairs and shoes in the entire dorm.  While the bed aligners were doing their thing, they'd be pushing the boards up agains the wall lockers and moving the chairs up against them so they line up with the edge of the wall locker.  Once the beds are aligned, they use the same boards to align the shoes.  Each bed is numbered and has an "inspection side."  If you're laying down (looking up at the ceiling) with your head on the pillow, the inspection side is to your right.  Your shoes are lined up so that they are flush with the edge of the bed.  The board is held up against the bed posts and the shoes are lined up so that the toes touch the board.  Shoes are lined up so that the first pair furthest to the left.  The order of the shoes is remembered by the rhyme, "Loose, Tight, Shiny, Wet, White."  When all of the shoes are there, you'll have a pair of loosely laced combat boots, tightly laced combat boots, your low quarters (oxfords worn with blues), your shower shoes (black flip flops), and your running shoes.  When in place, the heels are touching and each pair is right up against the next, touching at the balls of the feet.  Our MTI used to tell us that it wasn't a parking garage - you'll never have an "empty" spot in the line-up.  Shoe alignment is similar to bed alignment - it doesn't take much to throw it all off, and trainees can very easily knock shoes out of place.  Don't make more work for your poor shoe aligners, try to be respectful of their work and stay out of their way.

End of Bed Display
The last detail that involves working in everyone else's personal areas is the End of Bed Display trainees.  We had two trainees that were assigned to this task.  The EOB display consists of your towel and your laundry bag.  These trainees will align the towel, to make sure the laundry mark is visible and properly displayed, and that the edges are aligned and flush with each other.  The towel is positioned on the footboard (nearest to the wall locker), all the way to the left, so that it's touching that left bed post.  The right side is where your laundry bag will hang.  It's a small cotton bag with a white drawstring at the top and a zipper along the bottom.  The drawstring top is wrapped and tied around the footboard.  The EOB trainees will ensure this knot is tight and that the strings hang straight down (and don't cross over each other).  Laundry bags are not allowed to stay stuffed during the day, and if you're inspected you'll take a hit for this.  Many trainees try to get away with hiding clean laundry in their laundry bags, so they don't have to fold/roll it.  You'll do this to a certain extent, but you can't have it overloaded.  Each laundry bag is required to have a certain number of mesh bags in it (you'll buy these at the mini-mall and put your laundry mark on them) at all times, two, and you'll have four total.  You're also required to have two bundled up white kitchen trash bags in there as well, for placing wet laundry or mesh bags in.  Your MTI will set you up with these trash bags, or you'll buy more at the mini-mall.  I don't believe our EOB trainees examined the inside of our laundry bags to verify if these items were there.  Lastly, the EOB trainees examined the towel and laundry bag for any loose strings, trimmed them, and lint rolled both items.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Miscellany Monday

Finally got caught up at work, bring on the Miscellany!  It's been a long weekend of training; I was orders Friday through Sunday, so there was little to no downtime this weekend, let alone time for chores.  Any teacher will tell you that planning for a sub and re-organizing upon your return is sometimes not even worth the absence.  On with the miscellany!

Miscellany Monday @
lowercase letters1.  Normally I'm really eager for UTAs and active duty orders, but this month is draining.  In a period of four weeks, I'm at drill three of those weekends.  It may seem like I'm whining, but when you factor in full-time employment on top of it, I haven't had a lot of free time on the weekends.  This weekend reminded me why I don't do office work as a full-time job.  I was more exhausted on Friday than I normally am teaching crazy high schoolers all day.  Sitting and staring at the computer screen, largely uninterrupted, doesn't work for me.  It's mind-numbing.  I think I would've rather been here at school!  Sundays are the worst; as soon as I bail from the squadron, I have to speed-shop my way through the commissary and then race home to do an entire weekend's worth of chores in a few hours.  Not fun.  I'm hoping to get to relax tonight.

2.  Did you know...that if an Air Force aircraft hits a bird while in flight they need to take a blood sample or some downy feathers with a special kit and then submit them for DNA testing?  The Air Force documents the altitude, frequency of occurrence, migratory patterns, and analyzes the data to better inform their pilots.  Who knew?!  Yes, as a personnelist, I sat through this briefing.  You know, because I'll be hitting birds flying in between buildings as I go back and forth.  ;)

3.  I'm hooked on McDonald's Strawberry Banana smoothies.  I used to work at Jamba Juice (for four years), so I know they're not "real" smoothies, but I still can't get enough.  The local Jamba is way too far away for me to frequent, so I have to settle for the McD's.  I had one every day this weekend while I was on orders.  Nummy!

4.  I visited the education and training office again this weekend and was thankful to learn that our petition to earn credits in a few additional areas was granted.  Sadly, I still need three credits in speech, 0.34 credits (really?!) in math, and 0.34 in humanities.  So, I'll have to test out of math or humanities (three full credits) in order to fulfill those measely 0.34 credits.  Taking a class is also an option.  *sigh*  I've signed up for the DSST test in speech for this weekend.  While I feel comfortable with the recorded speech portion, I received a 67% on my practice test for the multiple choice portion.  I've never taken a speech class - I don't know the technical jargon, and I need to learn it all quickly.  Part of me is tempted to take a couple classes at the community college, just for fun.  I just don't know how well I'd do on some of these tests.  We'll see what happens.  Maybe a summer session at the community college is in my future.  I wouldn't be opposed to it at this point, especially because I'd get to pick classes that sound interesting to me, rather than just taking a long as my Tuition Assistance covers it!

5.  Easter is the best season for candy, hands down.  What are you munching on?  Here are some of my favorites!

6.  Have you entered my giveaway yet for a copy of My Memories Suite Vol. 3 software?  What are you waiting for, go for it!  I love MMS and can't speak highly enough of how much fun it is to use!  Here's another two pages that I've completed with the software.  


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BMT: My Challenge Coins

I have a couple more coins to share with you!  The first was a gift from my MTI, a tradition he continues to uphold for all of his trainees.  Prior to taking our EOC (End of Course exam), he let us know that anyone who scored a 90 or higher would receive a special challenge coin from him.  Granted, it takes more than just a 90 on the EOC to be designated as an Honor Grad, but that's one of the requirements.  He made a point to let another trainee who had scored high on the EOC, but not in other areas, that he still considered highly of her accomplishments and awarded her with a coin as well.

The Honor Grad coin is available from an awards shop in the mini-mall.  If you (or your trainee) is an Honor Graduate, you can purchase this coin if you'd like.

The monument pictured is located at the Parade Grounds.

The second coin I received at BMT looks very much like my squadron coin, aside from the decorative edging.  If you notice though, written in the silver edging is "Presented By The Commander."  I was awarded this coin from our squadron commander after retreat, in honor of my Top Honor Graduate award.  I was most proud of this coin, and typically carried it around as my coin of choice in my pocket, until I was coined by my wing commander at my new unit.

BMT: Squadron T-Shirt and Coin

Sometime during the 7WOT, you'll sign a roster and cough up cash for your squadron t-shirt and possibly the squadron's challenge coin!  It may seem like you're constantly getting hit up for money, but you'll be glad to hand this over - it means you're almost done!  I think the total for both was under $15.  They make it fairly reasonably priced, as everyone in your flight needs to be wearing a squadron t-shirt for the Airman's Run on Thursday of graduation weekend.  Your shirt will be in the squadron's color with the training complex on the front breast and the full logo/motto on the back.  Prior to traveling to Lackland,  your family can do their research (on the BMT FB page)and figure out what color to expect you in so they can spot you during the run.

I was in the 324th Training Squadron, which is currently in transition to becoming the Medical Hold squadron, and is no longer housed in the Cunningham Training Complex.  Your shirt and coin will differ, depending on your squadron.  We had our laundry crew wash them as soon as we received them and you'll most likely wear them to bed with your PT shorts on Wednesday night, in preparation for the next morning.  It's a great feeling, strutting around the squadron in your shirt, knowing that the next morning you'll see your family and friends.

324 TRS, no longer at Cunningham.  :(

The squadron challenge coin is not a required purchase, but there is usually a "package deal" for buying both.  Collecting challenge coins is popular in the military, and I knew I wanted to have one to remember where I was reborn as an Airman.

BMT: The Airman's Coin

This is it folks, the pièce de résistance at BMT, the Airman's Coin!  It doesn't matter if you enlisted as an E-3, E-2, or E-1, or if your address says "AB" in front of it and that's what your mommy's calling you on AF Wingmoms.  Until you hit Thursday afternoon in your 8WOT, you are a trainee.  Call yourself an Airman to an MTI - dare you!  You are a trainee up until this coin is in your hand.  At that point, you may officially and rightfully refer to yourself as an Airman.  Coin in hand, you've earned the title.  You'll understand when you hit that point.  Airmen are fiercely protective of that title - you have to pay your dues, like everyone else.  There is nothing more satisfying than hearing your MTI congratulate you after a long, hard eight and a half weeks, shaking your hand, and presenting you with your Airman's Coin.  You'll only get one of these coins in your career, so don't lose it.  Chase the dream, future trainees!  

This coin measures 1-9/16" in diameter.  The front (above) features a raised Hap Arnold logo, the Air Force Core Values, and the birth year of the AF.  The back (below) recognizes that you've just become an Airman and has the modern AF logo in the center.

BMT: "Made It!" Postcard

Here it is, the "I Made It!" postcard that you'll be sending home to a chosen loved one when you first arrive at BMT.  You'll get only one of these cards, so figure out who's going to get it (ideally before you go) and instruct that individual to pass that address along to every one who may want to write to you.  I sent mine to my husband with the explicit instruction that he post my address on our Facebook pages for friends and family.  Make sure anyone who plans to send you anything knows the rules and guidelines for mail before they get over-eager and start boxing you up a care package full of cookies!

The postcard mentions something I haven't brought up on here - the Red Cross.  Your immediate family needs to be aware of how to contact you throughout your military career, if an emergency comes up.  If you're on duty and an immediate family member dies/is dying or a spouse has a child, you can send a message to your military member through the chain of command by contacting the Red Cross.  This is typically the only way that the chain of command will verify that this information is accurate and then potentially authorize the member for emergency leave.  Don't expect to have your spouse home from BMT for a child birth, however, if a parent, sibling, or spouse dies, they may be granted emergency leave to fly home for the funeral.  Give a few close relatives this information and the number for their local Red Cross.  I passed this info on to my father and my husband, in case something happened to one or the other.  Active Duty, find more information here; National Guard/Reserve, find more information here

BMT: Racing for PT!

My Bib and 4th Place Trophy
One of the fun opportunities that may come up while you're at BMT is the chance to run in a 5K!  Lackland AFB hosts a number of road races throughout the year, typically around the holidays.  I just Googled "Lackland AFB 5K" and multiple listings came up.

These events are not mandatory, as you'll have to pay the registration fees out of your own pocket.  The fees are nominal - our race was approximately $15, and benefits went to a local shelter for women and children.  Remember, charitable giving and benefit work is huge in the Air Force, as you'll document your participation for your EPR (Enlisted Performance Report) when you're in the operational Air Force.  Almost all of the trainees in my flight participated.  It's a great way to build motivation in your flight, and challenge everyone to see how their running has improved since they've been at BMT.  An MTI at your squadron will be in charge of organizing the participants from your squadron.  As a DC, I collected money from my flight members who were interested in participating and submitted the cash with a roster of our desired t-shirt sizes (sorry, forgot to snap that picture).

The Beach Run came up after we returned from BEAST.  The incentive for many of my trainees was the fact that we got out of regular PT that morning if we chose to do the race, and we jumped at that chance.  Flights can chose to run as a group or run as individuals.  We ended up running as individuals due to the fact that many trainees didn't want to run the risk of hurting themselves prior to our 7WOT PT eval.  We dressed in our regular PT clothes and ran around the base, ending up at the retreat pad when all was said and done.  Some of the MTIs chose to participate in the race as well, and would encourage runners that were tempted to walk, although it was a fairly stress-free run.  

At the end of the race, trainees sat in flight formation on the retreat pad, and waited for the awards ceremony to begin.  Awards were given to trainees and non-trainees, in a multitude of age groups, as well as to flights and squadrons who ran as a group.  We ended up bringing home three awards to our flight, which was exciting.  I took home 4th place in my age group, a feat I chalk up to being an older trainee.  It's the only award for running that I've ever received, and it was awesome to have my flight and my brother flight yell "DORM CHIEF!" as I jogged up to accept my award.

If you get the opportunity to do a race while at BMT, I highly encourage you to participate!  Racing energy is infectious and can encourage even the most reluctant runners.

Confession - Having recently returned from BEAST, I was used to filling up my canteen from those orange Igloo dispensers.  There happened to be some at the retreat pad after the race, so I went over to fill my empty canteen, only to discover later that I didn't get water but purple Gatorade!  Having any sort of food or beverage on you (other than water) is scandalous at BMT.  I confessed my transgressions to an element leader and downed my clandestine beverage as quickly as I could.

BMT: Dust Down

"Dust Down" was one of my distinct privileges as the Dorm Chief of my flight at BMT.  Dust Down is the way your flight will keep the dorm clean, and is performed at least twice a day during duty days.  On Sunday you'll do deep details, so you'll probably only do Dust Down once in the evening.

Dust Down will be lead by the Dorm Chief, and is a series of directions that are given to the flight, which will then echo them back and perform the request.  The idea is to get the entire flight cleaning up their own area, so the entire dorm is clean within a period of ten minutes or less.  The more often you clean, the better your dorm stays inspection ready at all times and the less effort you'll have to put out when you do clean.

I would stand at the end of the dorm, in between the two bays, where both A Bay and B Bay could hear me.  It wasn't uncommon for our MTI, in his thick Puerto Rican accent, to say, "Why are we not doing Dust Down?  Let's go!"  That was the signal for me to immediate start jumping into my script.  While we were beginning DD, someone from the Utility Crew would've already passed out rags (ripped up pieces of towel), so that each trainee had one.

Your MTI's script and procedures for DD may vary, but mine were as follows.  They may not be verbatim, but they're to the best of my recollection right now.  Every command is followed by with an allotted number of seconds to complete it in.  Each command and its count is echoed by all trainees.

Prepare for dust down!
Clear all chairs!
Weapons cases by wall lockers!
Tightly laced shoes on jail cells!
Window sills!
Chair boards and h-bars!
Bed rails and jail cells!
Sweepers, go!

That was the first "paragraph," if you will, of the instructions.  That "floors" part?  You'll be on your hands and knees gathering up all of the dust bunnies with your rag.  You'll shake out that rag in the center aisle, where the sweepers will go by and collect the piles.  The second paragraph included setting up our personal areas again - putting those chairs back, re-aligning shoes and weapons cases, aligning the towels and laundry bags on the end of bed display, and so forth.  The third paragraph has you open your wall locker and align all of the clothing items in there, the flashlight, and the BMTG.  Eventually, we became more responsible for our own wall lockers, so we skipped that last paragraph.  Once you get your wall locker perfect, you won't want to touch it.

As the weeks progress, more and more of your flight members will be off doing other things during DD, so you may end up having to pick up the slack for your missing wingmen.  DD usually happened during nightly accountability, which meant I was gone with another trainee, which meant that an element leader took over for me, which meant three spots were unattended.  Get my drift?  It happens.  Help your wingmen out, they'll repay the favor later!

DD should be a fairly easy task.  As you advance in your training, you'll learn strategies to speed the process along, like putting the shoes and weapons cases up early, without waiting for the prompt.  Other trainees liked to do all of one task in their general area, while someone else did another task.  You can get in trouble during DD, but only if you're not moving with a sense of urgency, or not pulling your own weight - dirt bag trainee moves.  Don't be a DBT.

After DD, you'll report to your individual duty areas.  I'll be describing those shortly on the blog, so stay tuned!

BMT: Wordless Wednesday

Enlarge me!
I snagged this via screenshot from Facebook (hence the arrows).  I can't take credit for it, but it's fantastic!  My understanding is that it was created by someone named Taylor James Garfield - well done sir!  If this is inaccurate, please contact me and I'll credit you appropriately.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BMT: The Obstacle Course

The Weaver - the oldest obstacle on the course!  [Source]
One of the most motivating challenges you'll do at BMT is the obstacle course!  I had the opportunity to meet a young woman this last weekend who is considering enlistment.  She confided in me that successfully navigating the obstacle course was one of her fears.  I reassured her with the same bit of information that I'll share with you now - the obstacle course is not a graduation requirement.  Nope, not required!  
The obstacle course (during 4WOT) serves as a great motivational and team-building tool for your flight and your sister/brother flight.  When you're out there you'll be encouraged to sing jodies [known as cadences to other branches], cheer for each other, and keep the motivation going to push each other further.  The course is challenging and you're never just standing there, so it's very physically demanding.  Motivation and encouragement will help everyone get through the course, and that's what your MTIs want to see.  It's a great opportunity to work side-by-side with your brother/sister flight, since you're gearing up for BEAST soon.

You'll prepare for the obstacle course by loading up your duffle bag with your second pair of boots and a spare change of ABUs.  Your flight will march over to the obstacle course, which is a fairly lengthy walk - it's going to feel even longer when your wet ABUs weigh down your duffle!

Once at the course, you'll line up in flight formation, set your duffle down, and remove all of your pocket contents and any jewelry and place it in your hat, which goes in your duffle.  The instructors at the course will take you around the entire course as they explain the safety procedures and how to safely traverse each obstacle.  Listen to everything they say, and again, follow it to the letter.  If you do not follow the procedures, you'll be kicked off the course and you'll miss out on the opportunity to participate.  There's a medical team on site, so if something should happen, you'll be able to receive immediate care.

Once you begin the course, you'll be jogging in place constantly, running from one obstacle to the next.  During this time you'll be encouraging others or singing jodies.  As trainees complete each obstacle, you'll automatically buddy up with the next trainee off, so you never have the same/established wingman.  It's a great way to bond and connect with other trainees in your flight.

You'll have a certain number of attempts before you move onto the next obstacle, if you should prove to be unsuccessful.  Don't let it get you down, just move onto the next one and keep your energy and motivational levels high!  My MTI team was taking bets on how many trainees would end up wet (from falling into the various pools).  My team chief actually made a bet with me that if less than 25 trainees fell into the water, we'd all get to have cheesecake as a reward!

The video below was not created by me, but the gentleman in the introduction shares a lengthy video of a group going through the obstacle course.  Viewing this video will be better than me attempting to recall and describe each of the obstacles.

As for me, yes, I ended up in the water, but not until the very end with the rope swing.  If you hit the water at that point, it's unlikely that you'll be able to complete the last obstacle, which is the monkey bars across another pool.  I was proud of myself for doing an earlier water obstacle, where we had to ranger crawl across a rope over a pool,  You could choose to ranger crawl or dangle and drag your way across, and I managed to successfully ranger crawl!  My favorite obstacle was The Weaver, pictured at the top of this post.  The Weaver is the oldest obstacle on the course, dating to 1962.  I loved the history of that particular obstacle, knowing that my FIL who graduated in 1964 had probably crossed it himself.  You lay on your back the entire time, using your arms and legs to propel you over the yellow beams and over the green beams, until you reach the top.

Once everyone is finished with the course, you'll change (if needed) into dry ABUs and march back to the squadron.  You'll awake the next day to discover that you have seriously dark bruises on body parts you didn't imagine could be bruised.  Inner arm, anyone?  Yeah, I can thank The Weaver for that one.

The downside to the obstacle course?  Your 4WOT PT evalaution is usually the next day or the day after that, when you're bruised and sore from the course.  Thankfully this PT eval is not your final one!  

Remembering Mom

I had originally intended to write a long post on Sunday to recognize the 11th anniversary of my mother's death, but life happened, and I know she would want it that way.

For those of you who are new readers, my mom lost her battle with ovarian cancer on February 19th, 2001, when I was only twenty and in my second year of college.  She had been diagnosed approximately three and a half years prior, but as was the case with ovarian cancer (at least at the time), she had a 20% chance of living past five years.  It never felt like she was "dying" until the last three months or so, when it became evident that she would never be the same again.

I'm going to keep this post brief, and leave you with the message I posted on my personal Facebook page, which my father shared with his friends as well.

"Eleven years ago today, I kissed my mother on last time and reluctantly watched her physical presence slip out of my life.  She's been gone over a third of my life, and while at times it feels like she's missed everything that I consider important in my life, I know she was there for the most essential, formative part of it.  I would not have been the woman I am today without my mother.  I love you mom, one day we'll meet again.  </3 "

[Jamie @ Handling With Grace? - I was thinking of you this weekend.]

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Memories Giveaway!

My Memories has been making the rounds amongst the milspouse blogging crowd, and I was excited when they contacted me to do a giveaway for their software!  I know that many of you have read these posts and seen these opportunities before, and maybe you've passed them by - let me be the one to make you stop and reconsider.  Why?  Because I actually use their products!

I've been scrapbooking for some time now.  I got started over eight years ago (at least) when my cousin invited me to a home party.  Like Trinnie will tell you, when I do something it's balls to the wall, so I plunged into paper scrapbooking.  I took a few years off, but started back up when DH left for the Army. I started frequenting my local scrapbooking store, snatching up every military-themed item I could find, and I even went to a scrapbooking convention!  I accumulated a lot, but didn't get far - I think I left off during BCT/AIT, and never managed to scrap Korea, Bragg, or Afghanistan.  Oops.  I hadn't scrapped since then, and that was back in 2007/2008.

When I began my own journey into the military, I knew that I wanted/deserved to document my experience as well.  Paper scrapbooking was tempting, but given my track record, it probably wasn't the smartest idea, and it can add up financially.  I hadn't ever tried digital scrapbooking before, but I thought it might the best option for me.  Digital scrapbooking makes so much sense for military families.  You're not carting around tubs or bags of supplies and praying that the movers don't damage anything, or hoping that the next home you wind up in has room for a crafting room.  With a portable lifestyle, you need a crafting pastime that moves with you, and digital scrapbooking does just that.

My Memories was smart to reach out to bloggers.  They know that by the very nature of what we do, bloggers are archivists, documenters, and family historians.  When I found won one of their giveaways on Liv's blog, Fairytales and Cancer Don't Mix, I was excited about finally getting to scrapbook my military career.

The My Memories Suite (MMS) software is a breeze to use.  It's intuitive, well-designed, and there's little to no learning curve to getting started.  If you don't consider yourself a creative purpose, fear not!  They have 100+ templates already created, so you can drag and drop photos like you would if you were creating a photo album on any other website.  MMS combines the ease of creating a photo album with the flexibility for complete customization and scrapbooking creativity.  You can edit photos, integrate multimedia for publishing online, and create an album of any size.  You can have multiple albums going at one time, just as you would with paper scrapbooking.  I love being able to switch back and forth between albums as I get inspired by one idea or another.

The stock software comes with more than enough to get you started - papers, embellishments, etc.  If you want more or something more specialized, you can shop at the My Memories website for kits and other add-ons.  The beauty of the shop is that it's not "one style fits all" - My Memories works with all sorts of designers who create and manage their own shops within the site.  Kits and add-ons are reasonably priced and sales/specials are held often!  Did I mention Friday Freebies?  Every Friday the My Memories Facebook page has a downloadable freebie mini-kit.  There's a free content area on the website as well.  If you've already purchased digital scrapbooking elements from another website, you can integrate them into MMS - complete flexibility! 

So, let's get to it!  Let me show you what I've been able to create the few short months that I've been using MMS!  

Not sure if you have the creativity in you?  Don't fret!  My Memories is fantastic about getting its customers/users involved and keeping you crafty!  Their blog has weekly challenges, features where you can meet their designers (and win free stuff), and my favorite, the Speed Scrap!  Every Sunday they host a scrap via their Facebook and Twitter sites.  Tune in at 8:00 PM EST and a series of six prompts will be given every ten minutes, for a full hour.  They'll tell you how many photos to use, how many elements, different shapes, etc.  It's a great way to make time for yourself and your craft, and it's amazing how differently people interpret directions.  When the Speed Scrap is over, participants share their finished page on the Facebook page, which I love to check out for future inspiration.  All of the pages you see above were made during Speed Scraps.

Get in on the action!
This giveaway will run through 12:01 AM EST on March 1st, 2012.  By the end of the leap year, one of you will be exercising your creativity with a copy of My Memories Suite software!

Friday, February 17, 2012

BMT: Weapons and CATM

Howdy, BMT readers!  A post about weapons training and CATM is long overdue from me.  These are the sorts of big events at BMT that I know everyone wants to read about.  So, let's do this!  I'll tell you about the highs and lows (across the board and personally) of weapons training!
The M-16 A2 Training Weapon - "Smurf Gun" [Source]

Your first exposure to training weapons will come on your memory work, where there will be a picture of your M-16 A2 training weapon in its disassembled state.  There will be a smaller inset diagram of the bolt carrier group.  You'll expected to have a general idea of what each part is called, as it will help you out when you're issued your weapon and given instruction/direction by MTIs who are using the proper names of each part.
The memory work also has "knowledge questions" about your weapon that you're expected to memorize.

1.  What is the maximum range?  3938 yards or 3600 meters.
2.  What is the maximum effective range of a point target?  602 yards or 550 meters.
3.  What are the three settings the selector lever can be set at?  Safe, semi-automatic, and automatic (3-round bursts).
4.  What is the first step in weapon disassembly when field stripping?  Clear the rifle.
5.  What are the four cleaning groups?  Barrel, Upper Receiver, Bolt Carrier Group, and Lower Receiver.
6.  What houses the rear sight and any optical devices?  Carrying handle.
7.  If your weapon fails to fire, what ACRONYM is used for immediate action procedures?  SPORTS (slap, pull, observe, release, tap, squeeze/shoot).
8.  Identify 3 of 7 weapon safety rules.
  • Do not point your muzzle at anything you are not willing to shoot, injure, or damage.  [Quickest way to get yelled at by an MTI.]
  • Treat all weapons as if they are loaded.
  • Horseplay is not tolerated.
  • Handle the weapon only when told to do so.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your weapon is on target.  [This is HUGE at BEAST - your finger will be up, almost at a diagonal, overemphasizing that it's nowhere near the trigger.]
  • Never get ahead of the instructor.  [Never mind how much experience you have - wait.]
  • Always ask questions if you do not understand.

During 1WOT, you'll be issued your weapon, the M-16 A2 training weapon.  It is a fully-functioning weapon that has had a few parts removed to ensure that it does not fire.  The majority of the parts are there.  You'll receive a hard case for storage, which contains an empty magazine, a red cap for the tip of your weapon, and a fabric mat with outlines of each of the parts.  Parts of the weapon are colored blue, as pictured above, hence the nickname the "Smurf gun."  The MTI that issued weapons at our armory was not a very patient person.  Ensure that when you handle the weapon that it's not pointing at anyone, or you'll go to the back of the line while everyone else receives theirs in front of you.  Don't stress, your MTI will show you how.  Receiving your weapon seems exciting at first, but by the end of 6WOT after you've returned from BEAST, you'll be eager to ditch that thing.

Learning how to handle and clear the weapon are priorities in your training.  Your MTI team will instruct you on how to hold the weapon in the low ready position.  On occasion, you'll sling the weapon over your shoulder, holding the strap with your bent arm making a 90° angle.  I highly recommend handling the weapon with two hands at all times so you have more control and so you can be more conscientious of where it's pointing.  MTIs have very specific procedures for clearing the weapons that you must follow.  Wait for their commands, as they'll direct you to approach the clearing barrels (located in red-outlined boxes outside the dorms).  You'll repeat their commands, show them that the weapon is on safe, and go through the rest of the procedures (ensuring an empty magazine, pulling the handle back, pushing it forward, releasing the bolt catch, closing the hatch, and ensuring that it's back on safe).  [Don't quote me on that order, it's been a while.]  They are very strict during these procedures, so make sure you're paying attention and waiting for their instructions.

Weapons are stored under your bunk, with the case centered and flush with the end of the bed, closest to the wall locker.  As long as you have it in the dorm, you'll have to dust it, detail the inside of the case, etc.  The weapon case becomes another part of your personal area, and therefore it is an area/item that will be inspected.  See why I say you'll want to ditch the thing after a while?  The inside of the case can't be dirty, and must contain all parts.  On Sunday deep details, we used to clean out the cases and lint roll the foam liners.

One of the next things you'll learn how to do is disassemble your weapon.  Your weekly schedule will even include time to work on this task, as you'll be evaluated on disassembly and assembly in 4WOT, and you will be timed.  Fear not, most every trainee mastered this task.  I think we only had a couple not pass on the first attempt, largely due to nerves.  We'd been practicing for so long that most of us were disassembling in a little over a minute.  I think my best time was 1 minute, 18 seconds, or something in that area.

You'll clean your weapon twice during BMT, when you initially receive it, and after you return from BEAST.  Many of my trainees looked forward to that first time we cleaned our weapons, as they felt like they were really doing "military" training at that point.  You won't enjoy it as much after BEAST, since there will be sand everywhere and you won't be able to turn it back in unless it's clean.
You'll finally get to use your weapons (in a simulated sense) when you learn tactical movements and defensive fighting positions.  All of these exercises are in preparation for BEAST, so listen up and pay attention.  You'll do a tactical march in a staggered formation out behind your squadron, generally near the PT area, where the sandpits are.  You'll get to practice manning DFPs (defense fighting positions), which in layman's terms is a sandbagged, u-shaped structure used to guard an entrance.  You'll learn non-lethal ways in which to use your weapon, including slashing, butt-stroking, thrusting, and so forth.  These skills will also be used when you do pugil sticks.

Around the same time in training, you'll learn how to high crawl, low crawl, and work in pairs to advance between places of concealment, in a leap-frogging motion (forgive me, I forget the term).  This is one of the dirtiest days you'll have (until you get to the obstacle course or beast, of course).  Low crawling with your weapon is not fun.  You're in a Captain Morgan pose with a cheek in the sand, and they expect you to get down and dirty, only moving that one bent leg.  You'll feel like a sea turtle, trying to make it's way to the water. You'll move slow and you won't be able to see where you're going.  Sand will accumulate in every pocket on your person.

One of my favorite activities during DFP training was the apprehension procedures.  You'll learn how to safely/correctly pass through by giving a sign/counter-sign.  If you're manning the DFP, you'll learn how to prompt those advancing, and what to do if they don't give the correct countersign or advance to attack.  As the Dorm Chief, I was the lucky person who got to play the advancing party.  I had my face in the dirt a lot that day.  The apprehension part goes a little something like this (try to imagine me doing this over and over):
Put your weapon on the ground in front of you!
Turn 180° from the sound of my voice!
Take 6 paces forward!  Stop!
Slowly get down on your knees!
Slowly get down on your stomach!
Put your arms out in a T!
Spread your fingers!
Spread your feet apart!
Face up!
If you want to stand out and take a leadership role at BEAST, now is the time to show your interest and motivation!  Your MTI and student leaders will be discussing who stands out after doing this training.  If you'd like to be the BEAST Monitor, a TDL, or the weapons monitor, now is the time to shine.  If you're too timid or nervous, you most likely won't be considered.  Practice that war cry and take this seriously.

I haven't described Entry Control (EC) on the blog yet, which is a fancy term for guarding the door at the dorm.  It's a skill that is utilized in combat and every Airman is expected to know EC procedures, as there's always the chance that you'll be assigned to an atypical job when deployed.  Your dorm will have two trainees on EC at all times, 24 hours a day, for two hour shifts.  As long as you have weapons, the trainees on EC will be required to carry them.

CATM finally comes around in 5WOT, a day that many trainees await with great anticipation.  CATM stands for Combat Arms Training and Maintenance - when you go to the shooting range!  You'll board the bus to drive over to the other side of base.  Again, take a five to ten minute nap along the way, if you can manage to calm your excitement for a bit.  We got lucky on one of those bus rides to have an incident come up at the gate that delayed our trip - extended nap time!  Sleep is an essential commodity at BMT - take advantage when you can!

When you arrive at the range, you'll exit the bus and line up in flight formation.  There will be MREs in large bins - you'll be instructed to walk by them in a single file line, grabbing one without looking at the label.  The MTIs love to tell you that this is not a restaurant - grab and go, and trade with other trainees.  Once you've got your MRE, you'll file into the classroom.  You'll be grouped with another flight or two of trainees, for a total of four.  We didn't end up going to BEAST with these folks, although we speculated that they might be our partners there.  We were broken up into two different classrooms, so your flight may be split up for this portion.

Classroom instruction consists of reviewing safety, being issued your (working) weapon, learning how to load a magazine, and so forth.  You'll also learn how to charge and fire your weapon, as well as troubleshooting procedures for if it doesn't fire.  You'll take a lunch break before you head out to the actual range.  You'll have a certain amount of time to go outside, pound your MRE, and get back inside for the second half of training.

You'll walk across a small street to the actual range, where there is approximately one CATM instructor to every six to eight trainees.  You'll don hearing protection and wait on instructions.  Follow everything to the letter.  Your safety and the safety of those around you depends on it.  You will be kicked off the range if you can't comply with directions, at the bare minimum.  When live fire is involved, they're not going to be very understanding.  The CATM instructors will show you a number of firing positions that you'll shoot from, with and without your gas mask donned.  Oh, did I forget to mention that?  ;)  That's what makes weapons qualification challenging - half of your shooting is done with the mask, and both sessions are timed. has a great article on how the session at the firing range is broken down.  I've reviewed the article and it seems fairly accurate to my experience, so check it out if you're interested in reading specifics with the appropriate terminology.  There are a few errors though - you will not use the M-9 pistol and the article doesn't specify how much of your shooting is done with the M-16 while in and out of the gas mask.  In a nutshell, you'll do some initial firing so the instructor can help you align your sights and increase your accuracy.  Then, you'll do practice sessions in each position, with and without the mask.  Lastly, you'll do the full qualification where you'll have to make 25 out of 50 shots in a timed session to qualify on your weapon.  If you want to earn the ribbon for Marksman, you need to make 45 out of those 50 shots.
Qualification in the area of shooting is not a BMT graduation requirement.  Let me write that again.  Qualification in the area of shooting is not a BMT graduation requirement.  Similarly, if you do not qualify for the marksmanship ribbon, you'll have other opportunities in your AF career to do so.  I say this for a reason.  CATM was not a fun experience for me.  I am somewhat of a perfectionist and set high expectations for myself.  I came to BMT hoping to walk away with all four ribbons.  I'd done some shooting before, and thought I'd done fairly well in the past.  During the course of my range training, it became apparent that I really wasn't that good of a shot.  Tired and stressed, the pressure of performing started to get to me and a had to take a few moments to compose myself.  Yeah, I cried at the range, I'll admit it.  I had the full emotional breakdown.  It may seem silly to you, but mentally I was having to deal with the fact that not only was I not going to be a Marksman, but there was a chance I might not even qualify with the minimum standard.  I didn't want to crack, especially in so public of a place, but it happened.  Luckily my CATM instructor was sympathetic, rather than tearing me down during an already discouraging moment, and tried to help me pull it together.  [It didn't hurt that he looked like Jon Hamm from Mad Men either.]  I ended up barely passing, but I qualified nonetheless.  I wasn't the only one who had a negative experience.  There were a couple other trainees in my same boat, even one whose AFSC was Security Forces.  Not an encouraging experience for her either, knowing that this was going to be her job.  Most trainees loved CATM and were enthusiastic after completing the qualification, leading them to ask others about their score, which was difficult to stomach if you weren't particularly proud of your score.  Ok, enough whining and complaining from me.

After you finish up at the range, you'll head back over to an outside cleaning area where you'll clean your weapon.  You'll turn your weapon back into the armory (locked wheeled boxes) and board the bus to head back to the squadron.

There you go folks, CATM and weapons!  Not my finest moment at BMT but it happens to the best of us.  It didn't stop me from being successful in the long run and one of these days I'll earn my marksman ribbon.  :)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's YOUR song? Link-Up Week 46

I've been plotting my weekly song for a few days now.  I'd stumbled onto one song, became convinced that it was the one for the week, then promptly changed my mind this morning.

I remembered this gem from my school days, and it's been fitting with the anniversary of my mom's death coming up this Sunday.  It's been 11 years since she's been gone.  Last year I came to the realization that she'd be gone for a third of my life.  Expect a letter to my mom this weekend.

You know when a song resonates so well with you that you're convinced it's been around forever, when it's actually a new hit?  Yeah, this Jake Owen song felt like that when I saw him back in concert in the fall.  It's starting to hit the radio more often, which makes me a happy camper because I love to belt it out.

Happy Thursday, everyone! The weekend is almost here and I'm beyond excited to get some downtime in!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BMT: Shakedown Sheet

Do I have a treat for you today!  I was rummaging around my home office, looking for a binder to organize my Air Force documents for UTA weekends, when I found the original binder I purchased and took to BMT.  [Reminder: Don't bring a binder, it's unnecessary.  If anything, bring a 5 or 6 compartment accordion folder.]  

What was in that binder?  My shakedown sheet!  Titled "Health Morale and Welfare Briefing," this sheet details where items that you've brought to BMT need to go on the bed when you dump out your luggage.  When all of this stuff is organized and separated, you'll report to the MTIs wandering through the squadron, and they will inspect (and criticize) your belongings.

Enlarge me!

I'll go ahead and list these items here, since I know the text is a little faded.  The valuables go inside of the security drawer in the narrow tray, which is locked at all times.  You'll wear the key to this lock around your neck at all times (including when showering) and you are never to have it outside of your clothing.  You and your fellow trainees will yell "Key Check!" if you see someone's key out and you need to remind them to put it away.  Don't let the MTIs catch you with your key out.  Authorized items will go in your security drawer as well, in the back half (or underneath your towel) where you have personal space.  Unauthorized items are confiscated.  Some may remain in your civilian luggage, others are confiscated and not returned (like food or my unmarked travel bottles of body wash).

Driver's License
Calling Cards

Authorized Items
Any important paperwork
Personal hygiene items
Stationery (letter writing material)
Motivational reading material (Religious books)
Small photo albums (remove all pictures for inspection)

Unauthorized Items
Weapons, guns, knives
Alcoholic beverages
Food items
Aerosol cans
Drugs or drug paraphernalia
Tobacco products to include lighters
Pornographic or obscene material
Books or magazines
Gambling devices (cards, dice)
Over-the-counter or Rx meds
Vitamins or nutritional supplements
Cell phone, cameras, CD/MP3 players
Other electronic devices (remove batteries)

Hope you enjoyed this little treat from BMT!