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OTS: Preparation Recommendations

Has it really been five plus months since I’ve blogged?  Yikes!  I’ve received a number of requests to keep up the OTS posts, and that is definitely my intent.  In the time that I’ve been offline, I’ve attended and graduated from the Logistics Readiness Officer Course, my technical training school after OTS.  I thought I would have time down there to blog, but the nightly readings were pretty extensive, especially when the reading was dry.

One of the biggest questions I get about OTS is what people should do to prepare.  I’m not going to harp on physical fitness here, because hopefully you already knew that would be important.  This is the military and all.  😉  Much like BMT, your best bet is to go to OTS already in decent shape, and not expecting OTS to get you to that point.  You will do three PT tests while at OTS, although we would quickly come to learn that unlike BMT, none of them count.  Mind-blowing, let me tell you.  That is fodder for another post, and may or may not have changed since I left.  You do need to pass one of them while you’re there, though, so you can’t avoid them completely.

My best preparation tip for you is one I heard and ignored myself, over and over.  To give myself some credit, I had less than a month’s notice.  These words of wisdom are,

“Study your OTSMAN and HAWK before you go to OTS.”

Please note that these documents are revised frequently.  Double check (Pronounced like “ah-tz-man”) – The Officer Training School Manual is the bible for all of the procedures and policies at OTS.  This applies to all components, including those in the Air National Guard, whereas there used to be supplements that were specific to the Guard.  This new revision integrates all of the supplements and reflects the Total Force Integration of OTS.  You will take two OTSMAN tests while at OTS, in addition to following all of the rules that are outlined within it.  It covers everything.  Procedures for marching, for classroom or auditorium instruction, for the dining facility, etc.  It has all of the privilege information as well, as you progress through the phases.  You will be expected to know and live by this document while you’re at OTS.  It may not make a lot of sense when you read it now, but you will soon know it forwards and backwards.  Unlike at BMT, if you have questions about what you can and cannot do, your commissioned staff will frequently ask you to refer to the OTSMAN and figure it out for yourself.  As a result, you can use this manual as justification for why you are doing or not doing something, including something not addressed within.  For example, the placement/wearing of the HAWK/OTSMAN on your person does not appear to be addressed in the OTSMAN, therefore you can standardize and come to that decision as a student leadership team and make an executive decision as a cadet wing.

HAWK – The Handbook of Warrior Knowledge includes memorization work for each day of training at OTS.  In the back of the HAWK are quotes for each day.  When prompted (either individually or as a flight/squadron), you will sound off with, “Sir/Ma’am, the quote of the day for TD-__ is as follows: [insert quote here, including the author/citation].”  “TD” refers to the training day that you are on.  Double check as to whether the day you arrive is TD-1 or if it is TD-0, and number your quotes accordingly.  The rest of the HAWK includes knowledge, such as the Air Force Creed, Mission, Oath of Office, etc.  Your staff will give you a deadline and a page number, and you will be required to know all of the information.  Studying through page fifteen is a great start, although keep in mind that the AF Creed, the AF song, the rank structure, and the phonetic alphabet are also popular amongst staff members.  You will sound off (cadet-initiated) during formation while you’re waiting, or if prompted by a staff member (“Let’s hear some knowledge, Cadet So-and-So”).  The proper way to initiate is, “Hoyas/Flight 2-10/Group Name, the Air Force Mission on three.  One, two, three!”  The response would be the same as the quote of the day response above.  As you’re looking at the HAWK, keep in mind that if you’re not Guard, you don’t need to memorize the stuff applicable to ANG.  If you see an asterisk at the end of the title and the item is a list, you only need to memorize the bold words, not the descriptions that follow.  The memory work can be daunting, to say the least.  One great strategy used by a fellow cadet was to input all of the memory work into Quizlet, which has an audio component for those that are auditory learners.  Another friend recorded himself reading the memory work, and then uploaded them as MP3 files for listening in the car while driving to OTS.  Mnemonics are also a great strategy, as are pictures or making connections amongst the concepts.

Why should you do better than me by studying these before you go?  Because daily living and training at OTS is stressful and hectic enough on its own, as you acclimate to the training environment.  If you already have this stuff memorized, or at least a strong foundation, you’ll be in a lot better shape than those walking in cold.  Plus, you’re going to be logging some late nights trying to memorize this stuff.  You need your rest.

Dear Female Servicemember

Dear Female Servicemember,

I see you.  I see what you’re doing.  I see you “Liking” that picture or that status on that mean-spirited Facebook page.  I see you putting military spouses down as a way to “bond” with others during shop talk.  We might wear the same uniform, but I don’t stand united with you in this fight.

You see, I was and am a military spouse too.  I was “just a spouse” for four years before I enlisted, and long before I commissioned.  Did you judge me then too?  Little do you know, my status as a military spouse is a strength.  While others around me without any close military connections struggled to hold back the tears at BMT during that first phone call, I was gushing to my husband about the leadership role that I’d been assigned.  I knew that the sacrifice was worth the results, because I am a milspouse.  I knew hope to cope through the separation because I am a milspouse.  I am a better servicemember because I am a milspouse.  I will be a better leader to my Airmen because I am a milspouse.

Chances are, Female Servicemember, that you’re like me and only responsible for one financial budget – your own.  So then, why are you judging the milspouse who stays at home?  Why are you judging the purchasing rights of that family, of that milspouse?  It is not my job to tell people how to spend their money or to question what they do all day while I’m at work.  Our families have different priorities, and I can respect that.  If they have budgeted for a one income family and for those fancy material goods, more power to them.  If they have scrimped so that one spouse can stay home and care for (or home school) the kids, more power to them.  It is only my business when the servicemember needs financial counseling assistance or if they are failing to meet their obligations and I’ve been notified as a commander.  At that time, I can help connect them with the resources they need to be successful.  Until then, live and let live.

I don’t even want to use the “D” word in this post, and it frustrates me to see you using it – spitefully, and towards people you don’t know.  We serve in a voluntary force.  Even if you’re a servicemember and a milspouse, you are no more better than the milspouse who doesn’t wear a uniform, and you’re not helping anything by putting that spouse down.  Your comments will fizzle after a momentary smirk, and only that negativity will remain.

Female Servicemember, you have every right to the freedom of speech that you’ve fought for, no one is denying that.  As a commander, I can’t stop you from speaking in this manner.   But what I can do is take another look at your package when you hit the promotion roster.  Do you promote the sort of culture that I want as a leader in my organization?  Do you exemplify the sort of role model I want my junior Airmen to emulate?  Do you live the Air Force Core Values of Excellence In All We Do, Service Before Self, and Integrity?  Do you recognize that if a family feels welcomed, they are more willing to support their Airman’s service and therefore contribute to the mission?  If you don’t, can’t, and won’t, then I can’t and won’t support the furthering of your career.  Your attitude is a key factor in the whole person concept, don’t forget that.

Female servicemember, it’s time to let it go.  Let’s build bridges.  Let’s foster an environment that truly supports our Airmen and their families.  Let’s make this an organization worthy of The World’s Greatest Air Force.  Live the Core Values, like we’ve asked of you and like you’ve pledged to do so long ago.  That’s the sort of Airman than I can stand by, and be proud to serve alongside.



OTS: Arriving at the Dorms

So, what finally happens when you drag your stuff across the grass?  Fortunately, the good folks behind OTS have shared with you a number of videos on their Facebook page! 

Clad in PT gear, prepping my blues.
Each room has one set of bunk beds, one double bed, three tall skinny dressers pressed together, three desks with hutches, two small walk-in closets, two vanities, and one toilet/shower room.  At this point, it didn’t matter who slept in what bed, but there are position numbers to all of the furniture, so if you’re in a certain bed you’ll use a specific dresser, a specific closet, a specific towel bar, and so forth.  Pay attention to that dorm bible and set everything up as best as you can.

The day is not over yet, and the fun is just beginning!

OTS: What To Pack

Packing for OTS is even more of a crap shoot than BMT, as there’s really no list of what to bring.  The OTS website has two lists, including this one about

My bags, ready to go!

Unlike with BMT, you have the option to drive to OTS (versus flying).  As a flyer, I was limited in what I could bring.  I opted to put everything in a backpack, a garment back, and my green BMT-issued duffle bag.  While it wasn’t as convenient as having my car available for storage, it worked out fine.  Driving to OTS gives you the ability to stash items in your car until you need them, such as civilian clothing items, additional uniform items you don’t want to have to roll and fold, as well as items that don’t fit in your security drawer or under your sink.

With BMT there’s a lot of talk about what kind of bag you should bring.  At OTS, that is out the window.  Feel free to bring a large rolling seatcase, or a bag in any color of your choosing.  It really doesn’t matter at OTS.  You might choose to bring a bag of essential items and put the “nice to have” items in another bag to leave in the car.  There is no maximum number of bags you can, but be smart about it – you’re going to have to lug them across the field.

Regardless of if you’re a prior or a non-prior, upon arrival you’ll be required to show two forms of payment for the items you’re about to buy (whether you buy them or not).  I had one on me and then was told I had to go back and grab another.  They will also grill you as to whether you’ve called and told your bank that you are located in Alabama and about to spend $2000.  Whether you’re buying everything or not, it’s always a smart idea to call in this “vacation” notice with the bank so they don’t put a hold on your card.  Side note, I love how the website tells you that if you can’t afford to pay, get an AAFES Military Star Card.  It costs money to make money, right?  Just keep telling yourself that.

You will be charged for the pre-positioned items upon checking out at the mini-mall, whether you want them or think you need them.  This might be different down the road though, as our Student Squadron Commander was trying to see if we could reuse the hand-me-downs of previous OTs, versus requiring everyone to buy them.

The beauty of OTS is that you can have friends and family send you anything you need or you can hit up Amazon and have it shipped to you.  Unlike BMT, no one is checking your boxes or criticizing their contents. 

Read on for the laundry list!

AAFES In-Processing List  (a.k.a. Your Shopping/Packing List)
This is the list of items you’ll need to buy at OTS (if you’re a non-prior) or have on you if you’re prior service.  I took this time to upgrade many of my items, and I purchased almost everything before going to OTS.  I did so because I didn’t want to be pressured to buy on someone else’s time and therefore be forced into sizes or items I wasn’t comfortable with.  I’ll explain along the way.  Also, please know that removing stripes off uniforms frequently results in unacceptable “shadows” from the thread holes.  Try as you may, you’ll probably have to buy new shirts and jackets.

  • Duffle Bag – I brought one (my BMT one), and ended up buying a second so I could keep one perfect for display.  We took one to our field exercises, and I didn’t want a dirty one on display.
  • Blues Belt
  • Sand Belt
  • Blue Tie or Tie Tab
  • Shirt Garters – The Y ones are my favorite.
  • U.S. Lapel Insignia – Remember to buy the officer ones.
  • Ribbon(s) and rack – Non-priors need a single National Defense one to start and a single ribbon rack, unless they get Marksman.  Some of the other OTs opted for thin ribbons, but I don’t have enough to make that worthwhile at this point.  They look great though!
  • White Gloves – Wait and just buy them there, so you get the correct ones.  They are the cheap all-cotton with a metal snap on them.
  • Two pairs of ABUs – I upgraded to the lightweight ones, since I was there in the summer.  You might want to stash an older pair in the car for field exercises.  I didn’t and it worked out fine.
  • Two short sleeve blue shirts – Ladies can choose between the regular and the princess cut.  For ease of wear, I went princess.  Just know that you’ll have to tuck it in for parade or open ranks, regardless of the cut.  A male OT in my flight splurged on the iron/wrinkle-free ones and said they were money well spent.
  • One long sleeve blue shirt – I don’t think we ever wore this when I was there.
  • Blue service coat – I bought mine before I left and had it tailored at my home base.  Prior to going to OTS, I was still able to get the alterations for free since I was still enlisted – insist on that!  Also, put your ribbon rack and insignia on before you leave.  Even if they make you take it off, the holes should still show.
  • Flight Cap – Make sure you get the officer one, which is pretty awesome to sport anyway.
  • Light weight blues jacket (Oct – Feb) – I didn’t have to buy a new one, fortunately.  I’m hoping to salvage my old one.
  • Blues wool pants – These were the kind you were issued at BMT.
  • Blues poly pants – I had never worn these before, so they were new for me.
  • White v-neck t-shirts – Required for males, optional for females.
  • Two packs of sand t-shirts – I purchased Duke brand 50/50 poly cotton shirts and they were awesome for rolling – like a dream!
  • ABU cap – I ended up with three of these.  Have at least two, just in case, especially when you need to sew on rank in the end.
  • Four pairs of PT shirts/shorts – I opted to spring for the IPTUs for OTS, which were nice and comfy.  The shorts are a pain to fold though, just be ready.
  • PT jacket/pants – While this might sound unnecessary for the summer, I was so thankful I had them.  The dorms are freezing and I wore these as pajamas.  While IPTUs aren’t cheap, this was money well spent.
  • ABU boots – There are no requirements here, so pick a pair that works for your feet, comfort, and budget.  Having two pairs helps in case one gets wet along the way.
  • Low quarters – You can choose to bring your dull BMT ones or corframs.  I upgraded to corframs, but my first pair was a total lemon.  Spend the extra $10 and get the nicer ones, trust me.
  • Sage green socks – Get comfy ones, you’re going to want them.  Ditch those cheap BMT ones.
  • Black dress socks – I went for nicer ones here as well.  Socks are important, folks!
  • White crew socks – While the list says crew, the short ones are fine as well, although they are a pain to roll and make look nice.  Maybe bring a pair of crew and the rest short if you so prefer.  I rocked crew the entire time, BMT-style, pulled up!
  • Name Tags and Tapes – You’ll get these at alterations if you don’t already own them or have them sewn on.
  • Privilege Shirt – This is a rough, cheap cotton polo shirt you’ll be required to wear until you’re allowed to wear civilian clothes when going off base or out of the dorms.  It has an embroidered OTS logo and the name of your squadron on the sleeve.
  • Khaki Pants – Bring your own from home.  As long as they’re professional looking, you’re fine.
  • Brown Belt – Interestingly enough, the rules were changing while I was there and they said black belt and black privilege shoes.  However, we all had brown belts and shoes.  If you drive, do yourself a favor and have both in the car, ready to go.  A professional looking slip-on shoe will save you the heartache of having to tie them tightly for inspection.  Bring coordinating socks for those shoes, if you don’t want to have to wear your black uniform socks.    

Optional Shoppette Items
These ones are up to you, and you can split some of them with your roommate(s).
  • Shower shoes – I didn’t actually wear these in the shower, but eventually we wore them around the dorms.
  • Boot/shoe insoles – Your call.
  • Deodorant – Please.  Bring some.  You can also feel free to bring body spray, perfume, or cologne.
  • Shaving kit – Probably going to be necessary to be in compliance with AFI 36-2903, gentlemen.  Ladies, this isn’t like BMT, you can shave whenever you please, as long as you have time.
  • Detergent – You can split this with your roomie, if you desire.  I ended up splurging on a fancy smelling one.  Again, simple pleasures.
  • Cotton balls/q-tips – Take them or leave them.
  • Dryer sheets – If you please.
  • Wrist watch with stopwatch – Yes, have some sort of watch, you’ll want one.
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste – Don’t leave home without it!  Just like BMT, the ones in the stand-up container are helpful for inspection.
  • Cough drops – Most OTs use them to stay awake in class, as opposed to soothing a sore throat.
  • Shampoo/body wash – Feel free to bring full sized bottles.  The rules are not as stringent here at OTS with making them look spotless while on display.
  • Pain/allergy medication – The Alabama allergies can get to some people, so you might want some meds if you’re susceptible.  Bring pain meds for sure.  You’re not at BMT anymore, Dorothy. 
  • Washcloth – Pass, seriously.  Another inspectable item.
  • Hand sanitizer – You might want some, especially if you’re trying to avoid using your pre-positioned hand soap.
  • Lysol wipes – You’ll want cleaning supplies for your room.  There are generally some in the supply closet on your floor, but you may end up buying some of your own.  You can share amongst your roommate(s).  Many people in my squadron also bought shower squeegees for fast clean-up.
  • Starch – There’s usually some in the supply rooms, so I would hold off on buying a can.
  • Fabric softener – If you must, go for it.
  • Tide pens – Always handy while in blues!
  • Field wipes – You might want a pack, just in case.  We used ours often.
  • Hair accessories – Ladies, bring what you need to get your hair in compliance with AFI 36-2903.  The rules aren’t nearly as strict as they were at BMT, but try to put some excellence into it.
  • Hygiene items – You have a lot more room at OTS than you did at BMT, so feel free to bring your own sunscreen, face wash, makeup, and any other hygiene items you might want.  Another OT and I even had essential oils in our belongings.
  • Undergarments – Just do it.  Bring compression shorts/spandex for your PT shorts while you’re at it.
  • Eyeglasses strap – If you wear glasses, you will need these for certain activities.  You can certainly wear contacts the entire time as well, if you so choose.

Pre-Positioned Items

  • Armband ID Holder – You’re going to get tired of wearing this thing, let me tell you.
  • Attache Case – I’m surprised I didn’t see more of these in the trash by the end of OTS.  I tossed mine in the back of the closet.  You’re going to also get sick of lugging this thing around.  Gone are the days of the satchel that attached to your canteen web belt that held your BMTSG.
  • Flashlight – A decent flashlight, in comparison to the Lackland Lasers.
  • Hangers – Total waste of your money, there are tons in the dorm storage rooms.
  • Large Rubbermaid – This is where you’ll store excess items under your bathroom sink.  You could take it home with you, but if you fly like I did, you’ll donate it.
  • Laundry Bag – Pretty straight forward.
  • Mesh Bag – Yes, these again.
  • Liquid Hand Soap – The AAFES store brand version of Dial Gold, in a bottle with no pump.  I ditched this as soon as I could and replaced it with a real pump hand soap.  It’s the little things!
  • Lock – I never used mine after I finally got a Speed Lock [more on those later].
  • Lint Roller – This is on the list, but we had to buy ours separately.  Very odd.
  • Plastic Cup – Practically for display purposes only, initially, although you’ll use it for drinks and coffee in the dorms down the line.
  • Squadron Reflective Belts – You’ll wear this thing out, let me tell you.
  • White Towels – These weren’t prepositioned for us, at least that I remember.  Make sure you acquire at least three of these.  One in your drawer that you never touch, one on the bar you never touch, and one that you actually use.  Don’t bother with a washcloth, it’s just one more inspectable item.
  • Small Rubbermaid – You’ll use these for snacks and your uniform accouterments.
  • Prop and Wings – You’ll get these…eventually.  Gotta earn ’em first!
  • Watch Cap (Oct – Feb) – I was there during the summer, although I wished I had one because the dorms are freezing.
  • Black Hydration Pack – Affectionately called “juice bags” in our class.  This thing will be permanently attached to your back.

Additional Items to Bring/Buy
The following items are based on my experience and general practices observed while at OTS.  If you drive, the sky truly is the limit, so feel free to stash it in your trunk if you think you might want it.  We had people who brought their GoPros, expensive camera equipment, frisbees, etc.  I even saw an upperclassman with a foam roller in his civilian luggage, which was just genius.

  • Study materials – Index cards, notebook, pens, pencils, highlighters, etc.  Whatever you need to study, bring it.  Taking notes in class, either on your computer or pen and paper, will help keep you awake.
  • Ruler – For correctly setting up your uniforms.
  • Clear packing tape – You’ll use this to “laminate” your HAWK and OTSMAN, two books you’ll be required to have on your person at all times.
  • Sharpies – A black and a silver, to mark things if you so desire.  Marking wasn’t as common at OTS as it was at BMT.
  • Scissors – They come in handy, but you could split a pair with your roommate(s).
  • Laptop – Ideally a lightweight one, as you’ll end up carrying it everywhere in your attache.  You need a computer while at OTS, as everything is done through Blackboard.  If it’s not in the budget, they do have some computers you can borrow, but you’re going to probably want your own.  Make sure you have the Microsoft Office suite loaded, with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
  • Printer – This is optional, but something for you to consider.  Most all academics are conducted paperlessly, via Blackboard, but I still ended up printing out schedules, practice tests, study guides, and various decorative items (door placards, desk placards) early on.  HP sells a $30 no-frills ink jet that is great for this purpose and served me well, although I did borrow a friend’s scanner at one point.
  • Flash drive – You’ll want one when the internet is slow and you need to send a document on to someone else.
  • Hot Spot – The internet is notoriously horrible in the dorms, and it can be a problem when assignments are due.  You might consider a hot spot for your cell phone.  I sucked it up and it was doable, but many grew frustrated and tethered their phones.  Remember to password protect it so you don’t have any leeches!
  • Lighter – You’re allowed to have a lighter at OTS, and these are so convenient for burning off threads on uniforms, versus cutting everything.  It really speeds up the process!
  • Pillow – Depending on how high maintenance you are, you might want to bring your own pillow.  Plenty of people did it, I had no problems sleeping without mine.
  • Civilian clothes – Once you’re finally allowed to wear them in the end, you’ll want them.  I ended up having to go to the BX and buy things to wear because I was tired of what little I had with me.
  • Headphones – You’ll want them in the dorms and in the classroom.
  • Snacks – Bars of some sort are great to have in your room.  Times will arise when you are starving and need more food, or when your cold MRE is just impossible to choke down.  A male OT in my flight was consuming a few protein bars a day to supplement his diet.  Mio or another liquid beverage enhancer was also a nice to have item for relaxing at the end of the day.  Just remember that until you receive permission, they can’t be caffeinated.

OTS: Arriving at OTS

When I last left you, I was posting from the Houston USO.  The rest of the journey was a lengthy one, let me tell you.  I ended up having my connecting flight to Montgomery cancelled.  Fortunately, they booked me on the next flight out that evening, but it meant a late arrival.  I had planned to attend  social gathering with some other Officer Trainees (OTs), but I was going to miss it as a result.

When I arrived in Montgomery, I was tired and I was ready to get what sleep I could before the big day.  I spotted another service member in the airport, but he went off before I could talk to him.  Come to find out, we ended up at base lodging together and he wound up being in my squadron.  I hit the curb and found the first cab driver that I could, although it was quite the adventure as I second guessed the legitimacy of his enterprise when I jumped in the car.  Luckily, I made it to base lodging and got into my room as soon as I could.  It was tough calming down that night, but I knew sleep was going to be precious.

The OTS Complex as seen from base lodging.

The next morning I went to breakfast with the other OTs that had been connecting via Facebook [Tip: Find out if Facebook has a group for your class date, for sure!].  It was a nice way to socialize and relax with people who I’d be getting to know really well over the next nine weeks.  Unlike at BMT, where you’re immediately thrown into the deep end upon arrival at the airport, OTS gives you a window for reporting (approximately 12 to 4 PM) and you’re on your own until then.  So, we had time to kill.  Lots of last minute Walmart and Target runs, sitting around chit chatting, and “last suppers.”  I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but we made the most of it and enjoyed our last moments of freedom.  

The calm before the storm!

As a group, we tried to agree on a general arrival time.  We didn’t want to get there too early, but we had also been warned not to show up close to the end of the arrival window.  I think we aimed for 2 PM or so.  The area is well marked on these arrival dates, and there are white signs pointing to the OTS parking area.  There are two long rows of parking for all of the trainees on the complex – Basic Officer Training (BOT), Academy of Military Science (AMS), and Commissioned Officer Training (COT).  There was a tent set up, and two columns of trainees had formed.  After parking your car, you’d walk up and stand in line.  At the front of the line was the commander of our training squadron, greeting us and asking us if we were ready and if we could recite the Core Values (and if we were prepared to live and breathe them).  The OTS Chaplain was also there on site, giving us tips as to what needed to have prepared before arriving at the front door of the dorms, turning males away to go get a hair cut, telling us to tuck in our shirts and put our hair up [Tip: Unlike at BMT, arrive with your hair already compliant with AFI 36-2903].

Two by two, we walked across the grass fields, dragging our bags and heading to the dorms.  For those that couldn’t carry all of their luggage at once, there was a truck for transporting it over.  Frankly, I wasn’t going to be that girl and schlepped all of my stuff.

What happened when we hit the door?  Well, that’s going to have to wait for the next post…


Aim High and Spartan Up in 2015!

The 31st of this month marks my 4th Air Force Anniversary!  What better way to celebrate than by giving YOU something!  I’ve partnered with

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Great things from our friends at Spartan Race this year, and we’re glad to work together again.  Even if you don’t win my anniversary present, you can still get 10% off your race with code SPARTANBLOGGER.  Aim High and Spartan Up!

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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!”

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!

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 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!

Finding OTS PEP

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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?