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!