Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have a Great Air Force Christmas!


Merry Christmas to all of my readers that celebrate the holiday!  I spent Christmas Eve doing one of the best volunteer gigs out there - NORAD Tracks Santa!  Last year was the first year I participated and it's hard not to love being a Santa tracker.  I'm so fortunate to live in this area where participating is a reality for me.  Sign-ups go really quickly, so I've been stalking volunteer notices via my military email for a while now, as well as the Peterson AFB Airman & Family Readiness Center Facebook page.  As soon as I spotted them, I was signing up.
  
I purposely chose an earlier time slot this year (0600 - 0800 MST), in hopes of getting some phone calls from more distant countries.  It did help some, and I got calls from South Africa, Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and a few from Canada (including a radio station in Ontario).  Once the stateside children started calling in, I had a slew of calls from Pennsylvania.  Those kids were on it!  I publicize my direct line on my personal FB page, as well as the AHE page this year, as I love getting calls from friends' children.  I make a great effort to be a good tracker too, and apparently I do a good job.  I listened in on a call that a friend's children made later and the tracker had a flat personality.  This just doesn't do in my world!
Santa Trackers are prepared to answer a number of questions, and I got some fun ones this year!  We have a general script for frequently asked questions, but we're pretty much given free reign on the oddball ones.

  • Who does Santa like better, One Direction or Justin Bieber?  [I answered One Direction - good thing the caller was a bigger One Direction fan.]
  • What if the Tooth Fairy bumps into Santa? - Girl with a wiggly tooth.  [I told her she'd have twice the magic that night if she lost her tooth!]
  • Why does Santa use a sleigh and not a car?  [Clearly, because a car would sink crossing the ocean, although I didn't word it so morbidly.]
  • Does Santa use the sleigh other times of the year?  [Of course, even Santa needs a vacation!]
  • Does Santa want chocolate milk or white milk?  [Let's mix it up with the chocolate milk.] 

I hope my readers with younger children called in yesterday!  NORAD Tracks Santa is a great way to get your kids into bed at a decent hour on Christmas Eve!  I stressed the fact that if you weren't in bed by the time Santa came (he arrives between nine and midnight in your appropriate time zone), he doesn't stop by.  Hopefully I helped some parents out by striking their children with fear of a gift-less holiday.  ;)

Happy holidays to you all!   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Maternity Uniforms

Ah, maternity uniforms!  You'll most likely have a love/hate relationship with them, for various reasons I'll share below.  At this point in my pregnancy, I'm twenty-two weeks along.  I've been wearing a mix of maternity and normal uniform pieces, so I'll share what I've learned so far.

Acquisition
If you're a Reservist (and probably Guard too), you're in luck!  You'll be issued maternity uniforms, or at least the basics to get you by.  As soon as you learn that you're pregnant, it's best to see the clothing monitor in your orderly room, also known as the Commander's Support Staff (CSS) office.  When I learned of my pregnancy, I found out that budget constraints were making for a long wait time.  Better to put in your request before you actually need them and can't wear your normal uniforms anymore.

The stretchy panel at 22 weeks.
If you're Active Duty, your doctor will give you a note that you'll take to finance.  Your finance office will then give you an additional clothing allowance to purchase your own maternity uniforms.  According to Mrs. H, my lovely AD resource, this happens for each pregnancy and is not a one-shot deal!  Unfortunately, quantities are limited at the local Clothing Sales stores on base, so your best bet is ordering them through AAFES.  It's not a really helpful process when there's no way to try them on prior to ordering.  While the sizing for ABUs is similar to non-maternity uniforms, the jumper, blues blouse, and semi-formal/formal blouses are only sold as XS through XL sizes.  My Clothing Sales store tends to have these in stock, so try them on if you can.  

If cost is an issue for you, try the Airman's Attic at your base or try asking around your squadron.  Perhaps there's a woman who was recently pregnant in your squadron that might have some to loan/give you.  Ask around, you never know what you'll find!  I've found that the pregnant Airmen (or Airmen that have been pregnant while serving in the past) tend to bond and look out for one another.  I've enjoyed this new camaraderie with other moms.

Lastly, check out your local craigslist or similar websites.  I found a number of uniforms for sale when I first buzzed around.

Non-Maternity Uniforms
If you're putting off buying or wearing maternity uniforms as long as you can, there's a few things you can do.  I found that the pants were the biggest/earliest issue in my pregnancy, because the button fly was unforgiving.  Plus, having received my pants during BMT, they were fitted to a once smaller waist.  The elastic in the waistband is no help either.  Many pregnant Airmen use the rubber band trick, which you can see in this lovely pictorial.  I never resorted to this, but I did go around with a couple buttons undone and a loosely worn belt on top of it.  

While the policies and enforcement will vary from command to command, I've seen a number of pregnant Airmen getting away with strategies that might work for you.  In one particular case, an Airman was given permission to wear PT gear in the office, because of difficulties with morning sickness and having outgrown her ABUs (while waiting for maternity ABUs to arrive).  Another Airman still wears the regular ABU trousers well into her second trimester, but doesn't button any of the buttons and folds the front inside on the diagonal.  With the ABU blouse covering the front, you wouldn't know the difference.  Again, feel it out in your squadron and ask other moms.

AFI 36-2903
As always, AFI 36-2903 is your bible for guidance on the wear of maternity uniforms, unless your commander has given you permission to do otherwise.  **There is no rule or regulation as to how soon you can wear maternity uniforms.**  If you need them, you need them.  The AFI does specify (Paragraph 1.2.5.) that maternity uniforms can be worn for up to six months after delivery, so don't feel stressed out that you'll need to fit back into your normal uniforms right away, or that you'll have to purchase larger, non-maternity uniforms.

Who doesn't love the maternity jumper?!
If you should have to wear an infrequently worn uniform, I'd highly recommend checking out the AFI well in advance of your event.  I learned late in the game that service dress required me to wear a long-sleeved blue shirt, which I didn't own (a maternity one).  Thankfully I was able to wear a non-maternity one and it fit fine.  Plus, under the jumper you couldn't tell if I left part of it unbuttoned (which I didn't need to).  Service dress also required the satin tie-tab, which I've only ever worn with semi-formal dress when not pregnant.  Semi-formal dress requires the white long-sleeved blouse, pretty standard, but it requires that you have chevrons on that shirt, which is atypical of non-maternity uniforms.  Do your research so you're not having to scramble at the last minute!  Don't forget those maternity pantyhose! 

What I'm Wearing
Currently, I'm wearing the maternity ABU trousers and my regular ABU top.  All of my other items are non-maternity, including outer garments, cold weather gear, and sand t-shirts.  I've had to wear the jumper for my Deserving Airman Commissioning Board, when service dress was required.  I haven't had to wear blues, since I'm not typically there on Blues Monday.  Plus, now that the Space Command has put an end to Blues Monday, I'll probably rarely wear them.

Like a little bell!  Avoiding this bad boy for now.
I was issued one set of maternity ABUs, a short-sleeved maternity blues blouse, a long-sleeved semi-formal white blouse, maternity blues trousers, and the jumper.  If my ABUs become unserviceable, I have to swap them out or purchase my own.  When I ordered my sizes, I went down one size from my normal ABUs (which were issued at BMT), since I'd heard they ran large.  This probably wasn't the best advice.  I can see myself having to get another pair of maternity ABU pants eventually, as I felt like I was stretching the elastic waist to the max when I was first trying them on.  The ABU top is very much babydoll shaped at this point, so I haven't worn it yet.  I would look downright ridiculous with that flared top right now, so I'm holding off until I absolutely can't fit into my normal ABU tops (which are huge) anymore.  My normal ABU top covers the elastic panel in my pants, so it's a non-issue.

Maternity cold weather gear is non-existent.  If I was Active Duty in a cold location, I'd be in search of maternity thermals in off-white to wear under my uniforms.  I have my issued thermals that I just fold down in the meantime, but I don't know how much longer they'll fit.  Fortunately, most of the outer garments are so large, they'll grow with me.  I'm still blousing my pants and wearing my boots, which I intend to do for as long as possible.  I can see this being an issue as my stomach gets larger.  Interestingly enough, the maternity ABU pants aren't hemmed at the bottom (despite being available in short, regular, and long lengths), so keep this in mind if you decide to start wearing athletic shoes with your uniforms at some point. 

A Love/Hate Relationship
Many women have a love/hate relationship with the maternity uniforms.  Ask around and most moms will tell you that these must have been designed by a man, due to the lack of stylishness and functionality.  You can see in my pictures that most of these pieces are pretty unattractive and are meant to function, rather than flatter.  The elastic in the maternity ABU pants can be really bothersome.  The suggestion was made to me to take the elastic out and replace it with a drawstring cord of some type, so it's not as uncomfortable.  The maternity jumper is something no one looks attractive in, but at least it has hidden side pockets!  It's a very "freeing" garment though, which is a plus, and there's nothing constricting you.  Be careful - the sizing runs big.  I can fit my entire family in the jumper, husband included.  You might consider having it taken in on the sides, which was recommended to me as well.  Just be careful that your maternity blouse underneath doesn't make it look lumpy if you have it tailored.  

My biggest complaint is the lack of functionality in the maternity ABUs.  It's as though the designer viewed pregnant women as completely useless, even in the office.  There are no hip pockets in the pants, only tiny pockets on the sides.  The blouse has no breast pockets, just two small patch pockets in front.  Neither garment has pen pockets.  Absolutely ridiculous, especially when you figure that most pregnant women are going to be kept inside an office, doing administrative tasks during this time.  As a Personnelist, this is really frustrating to me, and this is why I'm holding onto my non-maternity top for as long as possible.

I've found that a positive attitude and smile goes a long way when sporting these uniforms.  No one is going to look particularly attractive, so you may as well have fun with it!  I owned that maternity jumper and it was a great conversation starter in my squadron.  If I would've dwelled on the negative, I know that would've come across during my board, and potentially affected my confidence and outward appearance to the board members.

Stay comfortable, Airman mommy, and rock those maternity uniforms!  
   

Development & Training Flight

I am excited to announce that I'll be working with the newly formed Development & Training Flight (D&TF) for the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson AFB!

D&TF is a new(er) program that Reserve units are adopting, slowly but surely, across the country to help prepare those who are waiting to ship to BMT.  Active duty enlistees typically have their own monthly meetings and activities, although they may take on a different form.  When I enlisted, my monthly DEP (Delayed Entry Program) "meetings" consisted of a weigh-in and signing some papers.  There wasn't much in the way of networking and knowledge sharing.  D&TF changes all of that and better prepares people for BMT.  Meeting your fellow shippers, staying motivated, and getting paid [yes, you'll get paid for attending]?  What's not to like about that set-up!

D&TF is designed to meet during the normal UTA weekend for Reservists.  I took a peek at our agenda and it's going to be packed.  Think of it as my website and BMT Facebook groups in real time. Saturday starts early, at 0600, and I think lights out was around 2100, or something similar.  The time in between that was scheduled for PT, transit time, briefings, meals, and various other activities.  There will be classroom knowledge (the Airman's Creed, the Air Force Song), information from legal and finance, and endless opportunities to network with fellow trainees heading to BMT.  I spoke with the Airman who will be leading our D&TF today and I am so excited about what she has in store for our enlistees!

Anyone else participate in D&TF?  What has been helpful for you?  What hasn't worked out well?  I appreciate any and all input on your D&TF experience, as it'll help us mold ours! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wreaths Across America

Lieutenant General John F. Mulholland, Jr., USASOC
During this time of gift exchanging and holiday gatherings, Wreaths Across America (WAA) serves as a reminder to me that there are those out there whose holiday table will be missing a loved one.  Their sacrifice and the sacrifice of their loved one is not gone unnoticed by the folks at WAA, whose mission is to Remember, Honor, Teach.  In a nutshell, the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, has donated wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of veterans since 1992.  This mission has since been recognized by US Congress and has spread to cemeteries across the country.  Worcester ships donated wreaths across the country, to participating cemeteries that join together in a national moment of silence to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

I first learned of WAA back in 2008, when I was living in California and volunteering with the Patriot Guard.  I was honored to have been given a leadership role, as I partnered with Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona Del Mar to organize their ceremony.  After moving to North Carolina, I took on the same challenge and organized the 2009 ceremony at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake.

As you can imagine, the mission of this organization is near and dear to my heart, as the spouse of a service member and as a service member myself.  Circumstances have prevented me from participating since I've been here in Colorado, but I found a wonderful way to contribute this year.  WAA is offering a chance for you to Help Cover Arlington, and it's not too late!  There are tons of sponsorship options, including the Military Tribute Patriot Pair, which I jumped all over.  For $34.50, you can donate a wreath and receive one of your own, with an American flag and the service flag of your choice!  This isn't the thin variety of wreath you find at your local home improvement store or grocery store - this thing is plush.  Our new home is proudly sporting a gorgeous Air Force wreath, and I love that one will be decorating the grave of a veteran at Pacific View because of our purchase. 

Wreaths Across America Day is this Saturday, December 15th.  If you aren't able to donate, consider going out to a participating cemetery this weekend.  Remember.  Honor.  Teach.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

DACP Interview and Results

Future commissioned officer...or official tour guide?
December's UTA marked the convening of the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program Board (DACP).  Where I was told that being round and in a small tent I wouldn't fit in any of the newer uniforms.  [Editor's Note: This is what happens when you leave your draft unattended and your DH gets at it.]  My appointment was at Saturday at 0830, and required service dress, which is fodder for another post!  

Prior to the weekend, I looked into the AFI in preparation for laying out my blues.  Good thing I did, too!  Apparently maternity service dress requires the long-sleeved shirt (I wasn't issued a maternity one) and a satin tie tab (which I already owned, thanks to the Awards Banquet).  After some problem solving with a pregnant Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO), I realized I could wear my non-maternity long-sleeved shirt without issue.  I rocked the blueberry muu muu that morning, and had a number of fun conversations about my stylish attire.

I arrived at the board location the Air Force standard of ten to fifteen minutes early, only to find that aside from one other board member, no one else was there.  We took a seat at the conference table and relaxed for a bit while we waited.  Finally, the rest of the board members and the MPF personnel in charge of the board filtered in.  I gave them some privacy while they reviewed my package and I took the time to center myself.

The board consisted of five officers, all O-5 and above.  Our board chairman was the Vice Commander of the wing.  They try to get representation from each of the groups in the wing, so there was someone there from the Aeromedical Staging Squadron (ASTS), the Maintenance Group (MXG), the Misson Support Group (MSG), and the Operations Group (OG).  Fortunately, I was well-acquainted with all but one of the officers present, so I felt fairly comfortable and at-ease.  I can't stress enough how important it is to get involved in your wing through volunteer work, as well as seizing opportunities to further your training and networking.  Make sure that people know your name, and for positive reasons.  

When given the signal, I entered the room and gave a reporting statement to the board chairman.  I was a little shaky on that part, only due to the lengthiness of the wording.  Luckily I didn't break from my position of attention and I completed it without losing my military bearing.  After being given permission to sit, I continued to sit at the position of attention, just as I was taught at BMT.  Remember those BMT skills and procedures!

The board members each had a prepared question, during which they took notes on my responses.  There's no time limit given to respond, so I was able to think before speaking and give a thorough, thoughtful answer.  The questions were as I imagined for something like this.  I didn't write them down for you after my interview, but you can get the gist from the examples below.
  • Why are you ready for commissioning at this stage in your life/career?
  • What are your strengths as a leader?  What are your weaknesses?
  • What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment in your life and how did you learn from that accomplishment?
  • Describe a time in your life when you faced a challenge as a leader and what that taught you.

After the board members made it through their five prepared questions, they were free to ask additional questions of me.  I was asked what my preferences were for career fields as an officer.  Be cautious about how you answer this.  The question was originally proposed to me as which ones did I not want to do, and I truthfully said that I wasn't closed off to any opportunity, but that my preference was toward logistics or maintenance.  Lastly, the board ended in a typical fashion for any interview - by asking me if I had any questions for them.  Make sure you come prepared with a question!  I let that one slip my mind, so I had to try to think of something on the spot.  

I left the board feeling strong about my performance, thanks to their positive feedback during the process.  I tend to do well in interviews, and coupled with my strong package, knew that I had made a solid case for myself.

So, what were the results?

Well, if you're a fan of my Facebook page, you've already read that I was indeed successful in receiving approval of my nomination for commissioning!

What happens now?  I have a year to find an available officer slot in my wing, interview for that position, get the A-OK from that commander, pass a commissioning physical, and secure my school dates for OTS.  If I go beyond that year, I'll have to begin the process again from scratch. 

Thank you for all of your encouragement during this process!