Saturday, November 8, 2014

OTS: Dynamic Disclaimer

Much like BMT, OTS is an ever-changing entity.  It is a dynamic program that is constantly being reevaluated, reassessed, and reconfigured.  If you are one that prefers rigid structure and organization, you're going to be challenged while at OTS.  Semper Gumby, or whatever mantra you prefer to use, OTS is going to require that you go with the flow and be flexible.

My class, 15-01, was the first in a move away from the previous structure of upper and lower classes. Previously, there would be overlap in the classes at OTS, and the upper class would be actively involved in the indoctrination phase of the lower class (including assuming MTI-like "motivational training") and continued support of them throughout the mentoring phase.  There were upperclassmen assigned to lower class flights as Junior Flight Commanders and Assistant Junior Flight Commanders.  This system is no longer in place.  When other OTS grads I've talked to hear about this change, they are usually blown away.  I've heard this was half the battle, and that the upperclassmen used to "time jack" their lower class and have them sounding off in the hallways for hours.  I can only imagine that they phased out this program partially because it's too hard to monitor and standardize the treatment of Airmen when these OTs haven't been properly trained in a formal program to do so, and you run the risk of maltreatment.  Later in my OTS experience, I couldn't help but think that I was missing out by not being able to participate in this aspect of OTS.  I love mentoring others, and in the end I really enjoyed the interactions I had with members of 15-02.  

The rumblings we heard were that OTS was moving towards no overlap of classes whatsoever, so there would never be an upper or lower class at all.  With force shaping, I can see this being reality, with fewer and fewer people being sent to OTS.  I can only imagine that this is going to make OTS selections even more difficult.  

OTS is also moving towards a Total Force Integration (TFI) concept, and attempting to consolidate the Academy of Military Science (AMS), the OTS program for Guardsmen, and Basic Officer Training (BOT), the OTS program for active duty and Reservists.  AMS recently extended their program to (nearly) match the length of BOT.  We do a number of combined auditorium classes and combined activities, including the Blue Line ceremony, the Prop and Wings run, and Parade (on graduation day).  I really don't see a reason why the program are separate, given the extent of joint operations and TFI in the force, and I think that sentiment is shared by those behind this push.  Logistically there are some hurdles, but I think merging the two programs is feasible in the future and the components will benefit from the experiences of others.

The other challenge that Class 15-01 faced was the revision of the OTSMAN, which was being finalized during what felt like the first half of our program.  This is the guiding document behind all policies and procedures at OTS.  This made for inconsistencies in the expectations for us by commissioned staff members.  Some staff members would have the outdated procedures cemented in their heads, and that would conflict with the current procedures.  So, you'd be penalized by one staff member and not by another.  It led to a lot of confusion amongst OTs, even when we had the new OTSMAN in hand.  Near the end of my training, a group of students who performed well on the second OTSMAN test were asked to participate in a lengthy feedback session with OTS leaders to point out errors in the document and contribute to the revision process.  As for the syllabus?  Ha!  We didn't get it until the 6th week of training or so.  Examination of the BOT website as I write this reveals an absence of a syllabus link, so it's possible that it's being revised again.

Long story short, OTS is a dynamic program.  Expect change.  Prepare to be flexible.  Hang in there and know that the ends justify the means.  The staff is equally as confused as the trainees as times.  Don't be afraid to challenge those inconsistencies if you know you're in the right, "per the OTSMAN."  Like the chaplain loves to say, "It Gets Better!"

Friday, November 7, 2014

OTS: Background Info

Photo by Paul Stocklin

Kicking off the first in a series of posts about Air Force Officer Training School (OTS), I wanted to give you some basic, background information, as well as some background information on my class. 

OTS is located down at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama, and is nine weeks in length.  Individuals at OTS are referred to as Officer Trainees (OTs), versus Guardsmen who are called Officer Candidates (OCs) - more on them later.  A group of OTs is called a Class, and they're organized by the fiscal year and their order of graduation in the fiscal year.  My Class was 15-01, the first class of fiscal year 2015 (we began during FY14 but graduated in FY15).  From there the Class is broken down into three squadrons.  Squadron 1 is the Goldhawks, Squadron 2 is the Hoyas, and Squadron 3 is the Tigers.  Amusingly enough, the Squadron 1 is on the 3rd floor of the dorms and Squadron 3 is on the 1st, but maybe it's a slight bit of OCD that made me meditate on that.

Our class originally began with eighty-nine people.  Not too far into the program, one female OT became an SIE - a self-identified elimination.  Near the end, we lost three additional OTs.  One was recycled (held back and made to repeat training) due to concerns about "adaptability" and the other two had three failed graded measures.  Eighty-nine in, eighty-five out.  My squadron, the Hoyas, was the biggest with 38 people, and the other two had twenty-five each.

Squadrons are comprised of both male and female trainees.  The separation amongst the sexes one experiences at BMT is out the door at OTS.  Men and women live in rooms right next to and across from each other, dine together, do laundry together, and attend class together.  You are housed in dorms similar to tech school dorms, with three beds (one bunk, one single), three desks, three dressers, two closets, two vanities, one shower, and one toilet.  Typically there are only two OTs in a room, but depending on the numbers (especially with females), there may be three.

Squadrons are broken down into flights, with approximately twelve members.  That flight is your core group of people while at OTS.  You do all of your training with them, including field leadership and academic instruction.  Your flight is lead by a Flight Commander (FLT/CC), a commissioned staff member whose rank is either a First Lieutenant or a Captain.  The FLT/CC serves as both an instructor, providing small group instruction in a flight room, and a mentor in the later weeks of training.

Training consists of field leadership exercises (most of the "cool," hands-on stuff you see pictured or in videos), military training (bearing, the military lifestyle, marching), and academic instruction (either in the flight room or an auditorium) covering warfare studies, communication, leadership, and the profession of arms.  Physical Training (PT) is a daily part of life while at OTS as well, with the exception of Sundays, where OTs are permitted to attend worship services.  

OTS is broke up into four phases, each of which have privileges associated with them.  Privileges largely dictate where you're allowed to go on base and off, and what you must wear while exercising privileges.  The first phase is indoctrination (referred to as "Indoc"), when your primary instructor is your Military Training Instructor (MTI) - yes, them again!  There is one MTI assigned to each squadron.  This MTI duty is a special assignment within the MTI corps, and they must apply for this duty at OTS.  That being said, two out of three of our MTIs were Blue Ropes (Master Military Training Instructors), and the third was an exemplary MTI as well.  After this phase is over, your FLT/CC takes over as your primary instructor.

In addition to the training program, OTs manage themselves through an OT Wing, which is designed to simulate the Wing organization and structure that categorizes the operational Air Force.  There is an OT Wing staff, a Missing Support Group (MSG), a Operations Group (OG), and staff in each individual squadron.  Your flight has positions as well, so you may find yourself wearing multiple hats and performing many functions while at OTS, in addition to doing your academics.

More to come later, with lots of specific descriptions, tips, and photos to share!  Stick around, and enjoy the read!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Goodbyes and Friendly Skies

The day finally came.  I've been simultaneously waiting for this and dreading this for what seems like forever.  I started the Deserving Airman Commissioning Program (DACP) in the fall of 2012 and met the board in December.  Enter the littlest Airman.  When she came into my life, things changed.  My motivation to be a better woman and a good mother lies in her little eyes and every wobbly step.  I knew that while it would be heart wrenching to leave her behind while I went to OTS, I had to go.  I had to do it for her, for our family, not that she would think any less of me if I didn't, but I want her to know the lengths to which I'm willing to sacrifice for our family - to make her proud and to give her the best life and opportunities within my power.  Will she remember this absence?  Hopefully and probably not in the long run.  I will bear that burden, as I shoulder many - it's a mother's curse and blessing.  She is my motivation, my driving force.  As I told Aunie, "I am not leaving my daughter to fail."  Period.  End of story.  Failure is not an option.  This sacrifice will reap rewards.  Every day will bring me one day closer to holding her again.  I must move forward to return home.

I finished packing last night, and I'm pretty proud of the job I did.  Hopefully I won't regret that statement tomorrow when I'm schlepping things from point A to point B during in-processing, and wishing I hadn't made any pre-purchases.  The airport farewell went smoothly, and probably better than I'd expected.  Between last night and today, we had many bittersweet "last" moments - last bath time, last bedtime routine, last walk around the block with mommy, last time nursing, and tons of last hugs and kisses.  They left me at the airport and I went through security on my own.  I managed to hold it together all the way to Dallas, where I took advantage of the USO's "United Through Reading" program.  If you are ever separated from your child/children, I highly recommend it.  I didn't know what to expect, but I was taken to a small room with walls of books.  I got to select a book to read to her, filmed reading it, and then the book and the DVD are sent to her - totally free of charge!  There are tons of books too.  I hemmed and hawed for a while, but had to hurry so I picked "On The Night You Were Born," knowing that it'd be a struggle to get through it.  Sure enough, tears and tissues came flying, but I made it through.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in this program, given how much time we spend reading at home.

And then from Dallas...wait, I haven't left Dallas yet.  You know, because my plane was cancelled.  Sigh.  Cue the panic, but fortunately, I was already rebooked on a later flight tonight.  So much for joining the other Officer Trainees (OTs) for dinner.  Looks like I'll be booking it right to lodging so I can get what remains of my good night's sleep.

Other than that, I'm doing well and holding it together.  I am so thankful for the USO and the services they offer to military service members.  If I'm going to spend three hours killing time in an airport, I'm glad to do it in a cushy chair with internet access and free snacks, serviced by smiling volunteers.

Tune into the AHE Facebook page from now until early October.  I have a feeling I won't be able to blog during this period, but I should be able to post the occasional update on FB, hopefully!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Finding OTS PEP

If you're not following CMSgt Juan "The Fired Up Chief" Lewis on Facebook, you need to be.  I wasn't blessed to have been at BMT when he was part of the leadership team, but his legacy lives on in his retirement years as he visits trainees and inspires others with his infectious PEP.  Pride, Enthusiasm, and Passion (PEP) are what drive this leader, who is known to treat everyone with the respect they deserve as heroes.  My MTI mentor speaks of Chief Lewis fondly, and that is a nod of approval that I can back without questioning.  This Airman was Aiming High before the Air Force conceived that phrase for a future motto.  Enlisted or officer, everyone can learn from this leader and the impact that he has on others.

I happened to catch this graphic on his page today.  It's a Hero Card that he sends to Airmen in need of encouragement.  I love the accountability of being held to achieve my goals, not only by another person but by self-identifying a deadline.


He also had this message today: "Quit worrying about failing and start believing in achieving.  If you change the way you think, you increase the goals you accomplish."

Today I thought about my own five goals, and I am sharing them with you as I build myself up in preparation for the task at hand.

I certify I will accomplish all five goals listed below before 10 October 2014:
  1. Make a difference in a wingman's journey.  Whether it be a non-prior in need of some guidance and motivation as they adapt to the military lifestyle or a prior needing a reminder of our goal, I hope to make a difference, even if just a small one, in the journey of a wingman on their way to commissioning.
  2. Commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.  This goes without saying.  As I told Aunie, I am not leaving my daughter to fail.
  3. Score a 90 or higher on my PT test.  Other than my postpartum PT test, I have a track record of scoring in the 90s that I intend to keep.
  4. Assume a leadership role in my flight.  In the second half of OTS, flight leaders are chosen that mimic the chain of command in the "real" Air Force (e.g. OT Colonel).  I would like to be placed in a leadership role where I can utilize my talents and skills.
  5. Achieve distinction of some sort while at OTS.  There are a number of awards at the end of OTS.  While it would be amazing to have one similar to mine from BMT, I will not set that as my goal without knowing what I'm getting myself into yet.  ;)
I might even throw out a bonus #6 - I would love to earn my marksmanship ribbon, and redeem myself from my BMT experience.  During OTS we shoot the M9 pistol, so we'll see if I fare better on that weapon.

What about you?  What goals are you setting for yourself?  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Family Separation Prep

As I've mentioned before in the past, OTS is going to be the first time I've ever been away from my daughter.  The longest I've been away from her is the length of a work day - never overnight, never for a "getaway weekend," never ever.  As a nursing mom, you realize that it's easier just to be with your child, versus being away and pumping/storing/transporting milk, at least that's what I've realized.  My DH feels likewise, and isn't in a rush to run off with me and leave her behind (at least, if Uncle Sam isn't requiring him to do so).

Twenty-eight days notice for OTS meant that we were going to have to transition her to her own bed at night (originally we thought my husband was going to be TDY during this time period as well), and wean her from nursing so that I wouldn't undergo any of the numerous physical ailments that go along with weaning cold turkey.  I plan to write more on this subject later, most likely after my return so I can document how it went when I was there and how we acclimated to our new normal upon my return.

Let's put the cliched statement out there first - "This will be harder on me than it is on her."  That's what they keep telling me, and I hope that it's true, for her sake.  In the meantime, we've tried to do some fun things to prepare ourselves for this absence.  Keep in mind that my daughter is only 15 months old, so she doesn't understand too much about what's going on and we have limitations to what we can do.

We've ordered her a Daddy Doll, with stripes photoshopped out so that we don't have to change it too soon.  If you're going to be separated from your child for whatever reason, they're pretty amazing.  You take a high quality [read: not cell phone pic] of yourself and send it to them and they make a doll out of it.  They've branched out and do more than just military members these days, so there's something for everyone.  No, I wasn't paid to rave about them, I paid for this awesome likeness of myself out of my hard earned money.  :)

I also ordered the Sesame Street "Talk, Listen, Connect" DVDs.  She doesn't watch TV, but I made an exception for this series, which is designed to introduce family separation and feelings to young children.  We attempted to watch it and it went as expected - she lost interest after a couple minutes and wandered away to play.  I am totally fine with that.  It's a very cute series, available in English and Spanish, and available for free from Military One Source.  Both websites have a ton of (free!) resources to assist military families and military kids.  

Military One Source has even more great freebies, including a number of board books for ages one through three that have been developed by licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) through the organization Zero To Three.  All of their books are winners in our household, and include information in the back for parents on how to broach topics like separation and reunification with children, as well as typical reactions of children to these sorts of emotions.  Most of their books include slots for photos, which DD really loves.  Just try not to choke up while you read "Over There" to your child, especially the line, "My Mommy/Daddy is away and I miss her/him, but she's/he's always here in my heart."  Seriously.  DD devours books and loves being read to, so we have gone through these books time and time again.

Ultimately, I am thankful that unlike at BMT, I will have access to a personal computer and significantly fewer restrictions on use of my personal cell phone so that I can call home and FaceTime whenever possible.  I don't know the exact policies just yet, so I don't want to speak before I have firsthand experience, but I am relived to know that this is an option for me.  I tip my hat to those parents that go through BMT, separated by their children with minimal opportunities to communicate with them.  In the meantime, we are trying to make the most of our summer and our remaining days together.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

OTS Packing Prep

Packing for OTS makes me long for the carefree days of BMT preparation.  No, seriously, take me back to the days of a small backpack/duffle bag with as little as possible.  Get your pocketbook out if you're heading to OTS - you're going to be dropping a lot of cash.  That's the bottom line.  Hopefully you've got some money squirreled away.

There is a main webpage for OTS with all of the "information" you need.  It has its pitfalls though, and there is not a single, consolidated list of items you need to bring, paperwork or otherwise.  There are several subpages that have their own items mentioned in one-liners here and there, so you have to comb through everything to get the full picture, as well as talk to other former Officer Trainees (OTs) to get the rest of the story.

I am amused by the fact that the official website straight up says, in a nutshell, "Bring $2000 with you.  If you don't have it, prepare to apply for a Military Star [Credit] Card on the first day."  Ouch!  I guess you really do have to spend money to make money...

There is a main AAFES shopping list, and a pre-positioned list of items in your room upon arrival.  I imagine those items to be similar to my BMT experience, in which you're charged for them when you checkout at the mini-mall at OTS [read: not free].

My first recommendation is to keep and/or make copies of the receipts from all of your purchases.  Unlike BMT, nothing is going to be issued to you as an officer, and everything comes out of your own pocket.  Sure, you get a clothing allowance, but when is that going to come through?  Not in time for this, let me tell you.  I maintain an envelope with all of my receipts for tax purposes later, since these are all work-related expenses.

Things I've Purchased So Far:

  • Service Coat - Officer coats have epaulets.  Snagged the US emblems too.
  • Flight Cap - Ooh, fancy braiding!  Already took a picture of my kid wearing it.  ;)  
  • Blues shirts - Two princess cut short sleeve and one princess cut long sleeve.
  • Blue Poly Pants - The BMT blues pants are the wool blend (bringing them), but I am also required to have two pairs of polyester pants, which aren't issued to you.
  • Bras, sports and otherwise - The woes of a mom with a new, post-baby body.
  • IPTUs - Four sets of shirts, shorts, and a new suit.  I upgraded from the "loud" original PTUs I got at BMT.  Don't forget crew socks!
  • Compression shorts - One of mine got lost/stolen at BMT, so I made sure I had a pair for each set of PT gear.
  • Shower shoes - I chucked mine after BMT. 
  • Running shoes - I prefer to be properly fitted at a running store.  My existing ones aren't horrible, but probably not fit for inspection.  I was able to get a pair that will meet my needs given the terrain I'll be running on.
  • RABUs - The lightweight ABUs seemed like a must for Alabama heat.  I got two pairs, and had name tapes and functional badges sewn on.  Thrown in a new RABU hat, a new belt (mine had paint wear on the buckle), and six new sand t-shirts (cotton/poly blend).  Oh, and don't forget three more pairs of my preferred sage green sock.
  • Low Quarters (Corframs) - I upgraded after hearing that everyone has the "shiny ones" down there, and for the fact that it saves me the trouble of shining them.  We wear blues a significant amount of time down there.  I snagged new black socks as well.
  • Ribbon Racks - I am bringing two regular ribbon racks, a functional badge, and a rack of mini medals and the smaller functional badge.  We are in mess dress during graduation week for Dining Out, and have to have our racks prepared in advance.
  • Toiletries, Cleaning Products, Hair Care Items - Tons upon tons.  All new products for styling my hair, travel and full sized toiletry items, cleaning products to maintain my dorm room, energy chews and B12 supplements [I still can't believe you can self-medicate], the list goes on...
Things To Purchase:
  • Printer - Not super excited about this one, but Amazon has some cheaper printers that do only that.  Must grab ink to go with it.
  • Lightweight Blues Jacket - Planning to pick this up down there.  Seems like the OTs wear the ones without the embroidery and mine has that and the stripes showing.

So, how do you do this on the cheap?  If you have a sufficient amount of time prior to leaving, you can scour local resale pages on Facebook or Craigslist in search of officers unloading their old uniforms.  You can make due with your current uniforms if the markings left by your stripes aren't readily apparent.  You can rummage through your house in search of toiletries and sundries you already own.  

Does this seem overwhelming?  Well, you could always just show up with the bare minimum and purchase everything there.  I chose not to do that, because I don't want my choices to be limited down there [e.g. only one brand of shoe] and I wanted to have as much time as possible to try items on and make decisions for myself, versus being pushed through a line.  I also wanted the option to spread out my purchases over the course of a few weeks, versus getting that sticker shock all at once.

I plan to update with another post after OTS of what was truly needed and what wasn't, as well as my recommendations for future OTs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Say what?! An OTS school date!

Prior to our normal July UTA, I had a few AT days scheduled, so I could get them done for the fiscal year.  It made for a long week, Monday through Sunday, that I was working, or the longest week I've had in a while.  When Wednesday rolled around, I attended a meeting at the wing level that involved representatives from each squadron, including some supervisors from the Military Personnel Section (MPS; the folks who process the DACP program).

I was sitting there with a wingman, taking everything in and waiting for the meeting to start, when someone asked me, "so, did you get the letter?"

Um, come again?

Seems my selection letter had just come in the day or so before and they had it in their email.  At first I wasn't sure if this was some sort of horrible joke, as I was told my school date was next month.  I was familiar enough with the 2015 school dates and I knew that the next date was August 6th.  A mere twenty-eight days away.

The deliverer of this news wasn't expecting the reaction they got.  "Flabbergasted" is a good way to describe my initial feelings towards this news.  Am I excited?  Yes.  But it is a bittersweet, loaded bunch of emotions that come with it.  Remember that I've been going through this process since the fall of 2012.  To say it's been dragging is an understatement.  So, to sign the final papers on the 23rd of June and see a selection letter dated the 1st of July was beyond anything I ever expected.  That meant I had twenty-eight days.  Twenty-eight days to prepare my family for my departure, to get my daughter to sleep in the big girl bed, and to wean her.  DH is only home temporarily, before some additional duty out of state.  That means our family care plan is in full effect and DD is being watched by FIL.  I have no doubt that she'll be way taken care of, but I also want to get a support network together for him, as that's a big nine week undertaking for anyone.  Never mind the fact that I'm sure my school administrators are thrilled to hear that I won't be starting the school year with them.  The thought of writing lesson plans right now prior to leaving seems daunting, and low on my priority list in comparison to my family, military, and personal obligations.

That's where I'm at, readers.  I have twenty-two days remaining.  So many things to share with you already, but I definitely feel like I hit the rewind button back to 2011 and I'm preparing to go to BMT all over again, except with a lot more luggage and money out of pocket prior to leaving.  Forgive me if I can't share right away, but you can expect lots of stories when I return!  Eyes on the prize, the 10th of October and those gold bars.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Zuus 4th of July Playlist

Hello friends!  I should be baking a cherry pie right now [no, really, the crust is sitting out, waiting for me], but instead I had to pop online to share with you a cool musical collaboration I recently got to participate in.

I am a big fan of websites that compile a playlist for you, based upon certain interests - Songza, Spotify, etc.  They're a great way for me to listen to a certain type of music at work in the morning, while still keeping it interesting and unpredictable.  I hadn't heard of Zuus before they contacted me, but they do essentially the same thing, but with videos.  Awesome!  If you pop onto YouTube to watch music videos, you'll love this site.

They asked if I wanted to participate in a 4th of July playlist with a bunch of other military mom bloggers, and asked for a couple of my favorites.  The playlist is predominantly country in genre, which is the first genre that jumps to my mind when I'm looking for patriotic songs.  Fire this up for your 4th of July celebration and enjoy!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

New Beginnings

This past week was graduation week at the Air Force Academy.  Living in the area, we have the pleasure of witnessing the preparation for the big day, including the practice sessions by the Thunderbirds (back this year after budget cuts last year).  My father is a gifted photographer, and was able to capture some spectacular shots of their performance on graduation day.  These sights are a little reminder of one of the many reasons I'm proud to be an Airman.  

[Credit: J. Boone Pooler Photography]

[Credit: J. Boone Pooler Photography]

[Credit: J. Boone Pooler Photography]

On another personal note, three years ago today I left for BMT.  It does and doesn't seem like it's been all that long.  When I think about the changes that have occurred at BMT in these three years, it feels like it's been forever.  I've discussed with friends before that I know my blog has a finite nature due to the constantly evolving beast that is BMT, but my hope is that it continues to motivate and inspire, even in my absences.  I promise, I'm not holding out on you - just enjoying my summer days with my young family, soaking up all the time that I can!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Happy Milspouse Appreciation Day!

Disclosure: I was gifted a flag by Gettysburg Flag Works, and made the personal decision to share my experience.  All opinions presented within this post are my own.

The Friday before Mother's Day is recognized as Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  I consider myself fortunate to have been a milspouse before I joined myself.  I went to BMT knowing the purpose and value behind my sacrifice, and with the experience of separation from my husband.  I cringe when I see fellow service members putting down military spouses, or even worse yet, military spouses picking on each other.  I believe in a shared sense of pride, in our country and in our duty, and I believe in the power of community.

Mike from Gettysburg Flag Works recently reached out to me and shared their dedication to military members and their families.  In honor of Memorial Day and a token of their gratitude, they offered me a flag from their extensive catalog.  A full-sized flag pole was a selling point of my home, and I was proud to be able to add a POW/MIA flag from Gettysburg Flag Works to it.  The flag is a bold, double sided all weather nylon.  Durability is essential out here, where our flags are flown around the clock (appropriately illuminated) and exposed to the gamut of weather conditions.  

With the Run For The Wall Central Route coming through our small town next weekend, it's a time for humble reflection on those who have sacrificed for our country.  I am thankful the small sacrifices my own family has made, and for the opportunity to honor those of others.

Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day to my husband and my fellow milspouses!  To those families who have made the ultimate sacrifice, you have my utmost respect and deepest condolences.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Just Keep Swimming


Yeah, I'm going there.  The Dora/Finding Nemo approach to this whole situation, although that wasn't my first analogy.  I started thinking about sharks, and that thought that they can't stop swimming, or else they'll die.  Discovery, the lovely purveyors of "Shark Week," partially dispel that myth, but I digress.  Can you tell it's been an exhausting week turned drill weekend?

We know that the military is an endless waiting game, and patience is a virtue, but even the most patient can only hold out for so long.  Does that mean that I'm giving up on OTS?  Not at all, but it does mean that I'm starting to do more forward thinking, especially if this should fall through.  

The last two school dates for this fiscal year are 20 May and 1 July.  I've heard rumors that they are full through this fiscal year, and I've also seen stories from people who just found out on 30 April that they're in the 20 May school [yikes!].  We are also coming up on my eligibility to do Airman Leadership School (ALS), the Professional Military Education (PME) course that I need to complete in order to be promoted to SSgt.  As a Reservist, at 42 months Time in Service (TIS), I am eligible to do ALS, at least as someone with a six year enlistment.  You have two options for ALS - by correspondence (online) or in residence.  When I am eligible, my school year will have started, so while I could do it at my local base, I will most likely opt to do it online.  

Why go to this trouble?  Because if I'm going to be sitting around waiting for OTS, I may as well do it at a higher pay grade, or like I said before, if OTS doesn't pan out for whatever reason, at least I won't have wasted all of this time waiting.  Side note, there is a Time in Training requirement for my promotion as well, but there is a waiver process for it if desired/possible.  I am also promotable in my current position (up to TSgt).  If you are active duty, your process for promotion will be very different, but ALS is required for you as well.

So, that's where I'm at.  A hungry shark, who can't stop moving.  Dori, who is just going to keep swimming.  [Insert persistent sea creature here.]  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An Exercise in Patience

The "Hurry Up and Wait" phrase is a bit of a cliche in the military, but sadly, there's so much truth to it.  That's where I am right now, with my future in a holding pattern, waiting to hear where I'm heading next.  Preaching to the choir for you active duty folks waiting on orders, I know.

The Good
Remember this?  Yeah, my enlisted self is still here.
My Deserving Airman Commissioning Package finally made it out of the Wing and up to the appropriate people.  I've verified this with two different people, so I believe it to be true at this point.  Lots of blind faith going on over here.  Too bad they don't make trackers for packages, like they do pizza delivery and online shopping.  I have no idea what happens next and on what timeline, or how I'll even be notified.  

The Bad
I'm running out of time here, folks.  My preferred school date starts May 20th.  I've been buzzing around again, and saw that someone has already been bumped into the next fiscal year.  I would prefer not to go July through September, as that really throws off my teaching year.  Say what you will, but I would like to do OTS during my summer vacation.  I'm dedicated to both of my careers, military and civilian.

The Ugly
I have no idea what's going on with my career or DH's at this point.  We're flirting with the idea of relocating out of state if he finds permanent employment there, but everything is up in the air at this point.  He's on a six month TDY right now and loves what he's doing.  If he were to make that a full-time gig, that'd be great for our family.  Of course, it would be ideal if he could find a position like that out here, but I'm not sure if that's going to be possible, especially with the latest proposal to cut jobs at Peterson.  I can't make any plans beyond May because I have no idea if I'll even be in town.  My assistant principal at school is anxious to know if I'll be here next year or what's going on with DH's job.  I tell him he knows as much as I do at this point, which is true.  Don't even get me started on the "what ifs" - what if I'm at OTS when an out of state move needs to happen?  What is my culinary-challenged FIL going to feed my daughter while I'm gone?  Questions like this swirl in my head all the time.

So, in the meantime I'm going on about my business and trying to be proactive in my research.  That's about all I can do.  Keep on truckin', friends!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Community College of the Air Force

You may have heard your recruiter talk about education opportunities within the Air Force.  I'm not talking about Tuition Assistance or the Montgomery G.I. Bill, as I have not taken advantage of either of those programs yet, but I have earned my Associate in Applied Science degree courtesy of the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)!

CCAF degrees are increasingly becoming more important to your military career.  While I'm not sure if it's been put in print just yet, the word is that you cannot progress to the senior non-commissioned officer ranks unless you have a CCAF degree.  The Air Force really stresses that education and leadership go hand in hand, and this is no exception.

Upon graduation from tech school, you are automatically enrolled in the CCAF degree program that goes with your AFSC.  As a 3S0X1 (Personnelist), my CCAF degree program is Human Resource Management.  You can check out the program requirements for your AFSC in this catalog - hit Ctrl F (or command F) and do a search for your AFSC.

Some credits are earned at BMT and tech school, others you must complete through college courses or by taking a DSST or CLEP test.  If you already have some college coursework under your belt, you can submit your transcripts to CCAF to have those credits transferred to your CCAF degree.  I did that, as well as taking DSST and CLEP tests, which are free of charge to military members (at least, the first time is free).

Your program may also require that you have your five level in your AFSC as well, keep that in mind.  While I finished my CDCs early on, I had to wait a full year after tech school to get my five level, and then my CCAF could be awarded.  It was a long time in the making, but I'm glad to have this one checked off my list.  This process took from September 2011 to April 2013 for me, largely because of the time in training requirement for my five level.

My understanding is that you can also take the credits awarded to you through military training, request a transcript, and apply those to your civilian degree, if you are working on a bachelor's degree.  I only recently ordered CCAF transcripts for the first time.  They were very inexpensive ($2.25 for five), which is always appreciated.  If you take a good look at mine, you can see where they applied my credit from BMT, my tech school at Keesler, my five level acquisition (journeyman), as well as my transfer credits from my civilian school work and DSST/CLEP tests.

The CCAF degree is one of the many ways that you can further your education through the military, as well as one that looks great as a bullet on your performance reports or awards package, especially when completed early on in your military career.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Aunie's ANG Student Flight

Are you awaiting your ship date for BMT?  Perhaps your unit has a Development and Training Flight (D&TF) or a Student Flight that you can participate in, not only for networking purposes but to prepare you for BMT.  I didn't get the benefit of such a program, but I wish I had!  Annelise is joining us here on AHE today to tell us about her involvement in her Guard unit's Student Flight.  Read about her experience after the jump!

I'm Annelise and I joined the Air National Guard in November of 2013.  I recently found out that I'll be attending Basic Training (BMT) this spring of 2014, and until that training date arrives, I'll be spending our mandatory UTA's (drill weekends) out at Student Flight.

Friday, January 31, 2014

3 Years = Meritorious Service

Third time's a charm!  Well, it's a medal anyway.

Today is the third anniversary of my enlistment in the Air Force Reserve - my Air Force birthday!  It means an increase of $15.20 for each drill weekend.  Seems like peanuts, but we're moving forward and that's always a good thing, right?  

I only recently was reminded that this birthday also means that I will receive the Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal, for three continuous years of service in the Air Force Reserve.  As a former Marine, DH tends to laugh at how easily ribbons and medals are handed out in the other branches, but that's how we do things in the Air Force, so who am I to judge?  In a way, I understand where he's coming from.  I haven't "done" anything, at least nothing that feels special or extraordinary.  I haven't fulfilled my enlistment contract yet, so yes, I did sign up for this.  I've just done my job for the last three years.  I've shown up.  Maybe this ribbon seems like a "Everyone Gets A Trophy!" occasion for others, but I've also watched those around me opt to go into the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) left and right, leaving behind their military careers.  It's not easy, balancing family, career, and service, but for me it's more than worth it to serve my country.  We make it work and I see the value in continuing my service, despite the sacrifice.

So, I'll wear my new medal proudly and pat myself on the back for the three year milestone I've hit today.  Only seventeen to go!

In all seriousness, my personal Facebook status read as follows: "Three years ago today I stepped out of my comfort zone with the belief of "Better Late Than Never" in terms of goal achievement.  I never wanted to look back and wonder if I could have served my country, like all of the noble and honorable people in my life.  So I did it, at age 30.  It was one of the best decisions I could've ever made for myself and I would do it again in a heartbeat."  My message is simple, but heartfelt.  Whatever brings you to that recruiter's office, I hope that you, too, are filled with the same enthusiasm on day 1095 (hell, 7300!) as you are on day 1.     

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

17 Jan 14 Uniform Updates!

Future Airman Aunie of Aunie Sauce recently contacted me about the changes to 36-2903 and how that would affect her down at BMT.  Say what?  She beat me to it!  Thanks to Aunie for holding me accountable!  

What am I talking about?  Well, Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of AF Personnel, was updated on 17 January 2014 and includes changes that may affect you at BMT!  Take it from me and do yourselves a favor - download AFI 36-2903 to your iPad or tablet of your preference for easy reference.  Sounds super moto/geeky, but it's worth it.  When I'm putting together my uniform for a blues inspection or a formal event, it makes it really easy to pull it up on my iPad while I'm using my ruler to perfectly align my ribbon rack.  Get in the habit of getting really, really picky about how perfect you look in uniform.  Trust me, it'll serve you well for years to come.  

Anyway, let's get to it!  I'm only highlighting the biggest changes that could affect you while at BMT and tech school.  **Please keep in mind that training environments tend to be more strict than in the operational Air Force.**  You may be held to higher standards by your MTI or squadron commander. Once you get to tech school, the rules lighten up a bit, and you'll really get to live these rules (and new freedoms) once you're permanent party.

Physical Training Uniform (PTU) Footwear

7.1.6. Footwear. Socks. Socks are mandatory. Socks will be white or black and may have small

trademark logos. Athletic style shoes. Athletic style shoes are mandatory. There are no restrictions on the color of the athletic shoes.
Authorized?  Yes.  Smart?  Debatable.  [Source]

This is a biggie, folks!  I don't expect BMT to start issuing you black socks for PT gear, but it's nice to know that you have that option now for the future, if you prefer black socks.  Just earlier this month when I was taking my test, I was reminded by my supervisor that my socks had to be white or I would not be allowed to test. 

As for athletic shoes, this should hopefully put many of you at ease and minimize the number of "Are these shoes ok?" questions that start flying around the web.  Use some common sense though.  BMT is probably not the time to debut these fabulous New Balance 890V3s.  Save your loudest pair of kicks for that half marathon when you come home, and find a more subdued pair in the meantime.  Remember that even though they might be authorized, you're not going to want the attention that they bring to you by the MTIs.  Be smart.  Color is fine, but don't go overboard.

Cell Phones

6.3.3. Handheld Electronic Devices. Handheld electronic devices are small electronic equipment such as cellular phones (personal or official), MP3 or similar players, radio, or hands-free devices (e.g. Bluetooth). Handheld electronic devices, if worn on the belt/waistband, or clipped to a purse will be plain black, silver, dark blue, or gray. Handheld electronic devices that are not worn on the belt/waistband/or clipped to a purse can be any color. Holster and other storage devices used to attach handheld electronic devices to the uniform or purse will be plain black, silver, dark blue, or gray. One handheld electronic device may be attached to a belt/waistband on either side or clipped to a purse.

This may or may not affect you at tech school, depending on the rules enforced by your squadron.  This definitely won't apply to you while at BMT.  While at Keesler (back in 2011), we were not allowed to have our phone on our person during the duty day.  The biggest change here is that if you're not wearing your cell phone on your waistband or visible on a purse, then the case can be any color.  If your phone is visible, you must adhere to the limitations of the case color as described above.  Pretty simple to follow.

If you want read about the other changes to the AFI, which won't likely affect you until you become permanent party, you can read a concise description here.   

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Palace Chase - AD to ANG

"Force Shaping" is a dirty little pair of words in the Air Force.  If you haven't heard it before, it's the nicely worded phrase for "someone's going to get fired."  Well, maybe that's a little extreme, but it's the term coined to describe how they thin the herd, typically amongst the active duty Airmen.  It happens in a variety of ways, either voluntary (retirements, people getting out of the military by choice) or involuntary (people being discharged).  How can you be proactive during this time of instability, if you think you're on the chopping block but you still want to serve?  Let's welcome back Dina from Blueberries and Bokeh, who's here to tell us about the Palace Chase program after the jump!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Postpartum PT, Round Two!

Aiming high and making a comeback!  Was that too much of a tip-off about the subject of this post?  Oh well, if you've been following me on my Twitter account, you probably already knew the results.

Everything has been building up to this weekend's UTA and my PT retest.  I was anxious about this one, understandably, since so much was riding on my results.  I couldn't proceed with my OTS package without a passing fit test score.  So many members of the Air Force are being discharged due to PT failures (albeit, not after the second one, at least not that I've heard).  I am definitely not ready to leave the Air Force behind - heck, I have seventeen more years to go!  ;)

Back in November, I shared with you the result of my first PT test failure, my first test after having DD.  Since that time, I slowly got back into making an effort to work out, or at least do something physical in preparation for my PT test.  Every other day I would do sit-ups and pushups in my daughter's room after I put her to bed.  I would do at least my minimums (as a 33 year old female) - 14 pushups and 29 sit-ups.  By the time the test came, I felt confident that I could at least do the minimums.  Over winter break I did seven days of Annual Training, and all but one of those days I hit  the gym, alternating between running and strength training.

All of that being said, the night before and the morning of my test I was really nervous.  I was ready to get it over with.  So, SO ready.  I headed over to the Fitness Assessment Cell (FAC) nice and early to take some deep breaths and get in the zone.  We started right away with height, weight, and measurements.  How did I fare?

Weight: 171 lbs [Seriously?!  12 lbs lower than last time?!  Yes!]
Height: 71 inches
Waist: 30.5 inches [I was surprised by this one, since she was measuring around the peak of my "baby muffin."]
Pushups: 23
Sit-Ups: 40 [Yes!  I doubled my total from last time!]
Run: 13:54, adjusted due to altitude to 13:37

The FAC staff won't tell you your total score.  You sign off on your sheet, but must either calculate the score on your own or look back online later once they've entered it.  When I was trying to get a quick calculation on my own later, I was shocked to realize that, holy crap, I think I may have gotten a 90!  Sure enough, my final score was a 91.20!  If that's not reason to celebrate, I don't know what is!  Going from an unsatisfactory to an excellent after having a baby?  Game on!  Quick recap - a score below 75 is a failure (as well as if you don't meet the minimums in each category), between 75 and 90 is a satisfactory and requires a retest in six months, and a score above a 90 is an excellent and doesn't require a retest for another year.

Needless to say, I pigged out at lunch.  What you don't see on my DFAC tray is the ice cream sandwich behind that red sports drink and the second cookie.  ;)  Yes, yes I did!  And I deserved it!

The new strategy I tried for this test?  Stopping short of the minute time limit during the pushups and sit-ups.  I had heard it from someone else, the idea that you should figure out on your charts when it's "not worth it" it to proceed further because of the point values, for the sake of saving your energy.  After 23 pushups and 40 sit-ups for me, it required too many more repetitions to get the next point, so I just stopped and saved my energy.  Let me warn you - don't try this strategy at BMT.  This is more one for the operational AF, since the MTIs will be yelling at you if you stop short versus giving it your all until the very end.

Hope you had a great weekend!  Keep positive when thinking about your PT tests - if I can do it, you can do it!  Take time to encourage each other too.  During each step of the way, I tried to keep my wingmen motivated to meet their own goals.  We all need our cheerleading sections!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Enlisted on FOX

Source: Enlisted on FOX
When the promotions team from the new FOX show Enlisted reached out to me to check out their new show, I jumped at the opportunity.  I'd seen a preview or two on the TV, and had a good feel for what to expect.  I finally had the opportunity over my winter break to sit down and watch four uncut, preliminary episodes, including the pilot.  The show started a bit slow for me, as I was wrangling my daughter, but as I kept at it I found that I really enjoyed it.  What was even more surprising was that DH was just as transfixed by the program, which had him laughing through numerous comedic moments.  Whoa there!  My husband is a hard man to please when it comes to military-based shows, being a veteran of three branches of service.  Media representations of the military that fall short annoy him, and he can't see past inaccuracies to buy into the plot, no matter how well written.  He used to roll his eyes and make negative comments when I would settle in with Army Wives on the DVR.

Enlisted is different, much in the way that M.A.S.H. or Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. were different.  They're military shows, yes, but the show's themes emerge not through the portrayal of military conflict, but the interaction and relationships of their characters.  They're friends, family, and they also happen to be soldiers.  We see mentorships, leaders struggling with their roles, friendships forming, and relationships blooming, all in the context of a military setting.

The show has apparently received some negative feedback, although I haven't seen any of it online.  Some people are complaining about inaccuracies like haircuts out of regulation, overweight soldiers, grooming standards, etc.  Really, folks?  What'd you expect?  It's a comedy.  Not to say that the Enlisted team didn't receive military advisement.  To appease the nay-sayers, they're doing a "Spot Our Snafus" contest, so go ahead and take notes while you watch - pick it apart!

As for those that claim this show is disrespectful to the military, I think that's a little far fetched.  Like any other source of comedy, the show magnifies characteristics, both positive and negative.  The hearts of the creators are in the right place, and the Enlisted team is really connected to their viewers. My question about who'd be watching on the AHE FB page last night hit Twitter and it blew up!  A simple question for my readers was acknowledged and appreciated over and over by the creator, the writers, a producer, an actor, and so forth.  It was like IMDB threw up on my Twitter Interactions.

Ultimately, Enlisted provides a great opportunity to unwind at the end of a long week, poke fun at ourselves, and have a good laugh.  We need that, especially during wartime.  We face the harsh realities of our duty day in and day out.  Laughter is cathartic, we owe it to ourselves.

Enlisted premieres on FOX this Friday, January 10th, at 9:30/8:30 central.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mind Tricks and Running Tips

Source: J. Boone Pooler Photography
Not everyone enlists in the military with a background in running or a passion for running.  I know I didn't.  I couldn't run a solid mile when I first started.  The reality is, running is 60% of your PT score.  If that freaks you out and/or you have testing anxiety, this post is aimed at you and how to better prepare yourself mentally and physically for the running portion of your fitness assessment.  Please keep in mind that I am not an athletic trainer/coach and/or a doctor.  These are some things that have worked for me and may just work for you!

  • Find a track.  Ideally, find a standard, artificial turf track in your local area, like at your nearest high school.  One lap is a quarter mile, and six laps will give you that 1.5 mile distance that you're required to do for your PT test.  Start practicing on that track.  I find that when I hit a track after not being on one for a while, I get really anxious.  I like to train for my PT test on an actual track to help reduce the anxiety on testing day.
  • Start easy.  It's really easy when you're nervous to take off way faster than you're comfortable with.  Start off at a comfortable pace.  Most running sources recommend that you be able to talk while running to determine if you're pushing yourself at an appropriate level.  If you can't talk, you're overexerting yourself.  Heads up, the MTIs will try to tell you differently.
  • Focus on form.  If it's a day where I'm exhausted and not running at my normal/fastest pace, I slow it down and think about my form versus thinking about how slow/fast I'm running.  Practice working on your form so that it becomes natural for you.    
  • Hydrate.  This goes without saying and you'll get it hammered into you at BMT.  You need to hydrate.  Not the day of your run either, the day prior.  The hydration you do the day before affects your performance the next day.  Keep that in mind if you're training heavily.
  • Pace yourself.  See if you can make it around the track in 2:15.  If you can keep up that pace, you're in good shape.  That's the time of the timed run down at BMT.  If you have a hard time of gauging this, go ahead and grab a buddy to run with you.  During a PT test in the operational AF, it is permissible to have a pacing buddy to keep you motivated and to help you keep time.  If you can't do it just yet, go as slow as you need to, just don't stop running.  That's the biggest thing, since once you start walking down at BMT, the MTIs are all over you.  It's easier to pick up the pace from a slow jog than it is to start running again after you've been walking.
  • Mind over music.  While MP3 players are allowed in the operational AF while testing, you will not be allowed to listen to any music while at BMT.  That may be an adjustment for you if you typically use music to relax or motivate yourself while running.  I used the time while running at BMT to think about my goals, envision myself running races back home, or to "race" the person just ahead of me and see if I could get past them.  Keep your mind busy, it's some of the only time you have to think.
  • Countdown to finish.  Being a mathematician, I like to spend my time on the track calculating just how much more I have left.  Rather than thinking of each lap as "I just finished my 3rd," I mentally say to myself, "I'm on my 4th!"  It's the little things for me, mentally.  Here's how I break it down while on the track:
    • 1.5 Laps - 25% down!
    • 2 Laps - 1/3 of the way done!
    • 3 Laps - Halfway done!
    • 4 Laps - 2/3 of the way done!
    • 4.5 Laps - 75% done!
  • Treat your feet.  I've said it before, and it's worth repeating.  If you can afford to purchase a new pair of shoes before you leave, do it.  Go to a local running shop and get properly fitted for running shoes based upon your gait and foot strike.  Break them in before you go down to BMT.  Your feet will thank you.  
Need more help with your running?  Try the Couch-to-5K program if you're a brand new runner.  Best of luck to you - you can do this!