Preparing for COT

Considering this took oh so much time and energy over the past several months, I decided to share what went into preparing for commissioned officer training (COT) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Hopefully this will help any future commissioned Air Force officers. I will be heading there tomorrow and still need to finish printing paperwork and packing!

1) Pass the medical exam.
This can involve medical waivers, blood tests, x-rays, and the works if you do not pass the first time. For me, it meant I needed to lose 15 pounds during the government shutdown so that I qualified.

2) Fill out the paperwork.
There is paperwork galore. Medical paperwork. Contract paperwork. Oath paperwork. Coordinating details after receiving orders. There is a hodgepodge of information everywhere, and you just cross your fingers that you filled everything out appropriately and sent the forms to the correct people. Luckily, I have only encountered military personnel who are beyond understanding that this is a confusing process.

3) Look the part.
This probably applies for females more than males. I like a lot of color in my life. I love painting my nails and wearing happy accessories (my favorite color is sun yellow). I have experimented with dying my hair from blonde to black, as well as the ROYGBIV spectrum of hair streaks. I never do anything to my hair when it comes to styling because it dries perfectly. I struggle more with buns and ponytails than leaving it alone. So that is my disclaimer for including this section. If you are female, I strongly encourage youtube videos and pinterest to know how to do military hair (especially the sock bun). As long as guys cut their hair appropriately, they’re set. I chose not to cut my hair under shoulder-length. If your hair is thick and layered like myself, it can be a struggle. I am still not completed prepared for COT when it comes to looking the part.

4) Anticipate the sports physical.
We have different requirements based on sex and age, but there is a 1.5-mile run, 1 minute push-ups, and 1 minute sit-ups. I have worked on all three and am hopefully going to pass at 90% (passing is 75%, but 90%+ is preferred). Honestly though, I find all three to be a struggle when I am aiming for a certain number. I will likely talk about this process in detail in another post when I do my sports physical at officer training.

5) Read up.
Know what you’re getting yourself into, and know what will be expected. There are dozens of blogs, the USUHS website, the COT website, documents detailing rules and regulation, and books galore. Previous students, especially my student sponsor, have been excellent resources. I’m also currently reading the Air Force Officer’s Guide, which provides a nice overview. I learned that we will be doing a ropes course at COT, and I am actually quite afraid of heights. I am perfectly fine on planes and on roller coasters, but being high in the air without solid ground isn’t my forte (ironic that I chose Air Force, I know). I like challenging myself though, and I went to Earth Treks with an NIH coworker in Rockville and climbed three intense rock walls to conquer my fears. I cannot say I enjoyed the experience, but I believe I can work through my fear of heights if I have to. Now I will not be taken off guard when we need to do our ropes course this summer.

6) Pack everything you need.
I read every packing list available to know exactly what I’ll need to bring (will likely post a final list after my own experience for future officer trainees!). The number of snacks I’m bringing is probably unnecessary, but I am a grazer and I don’t mind sharing.

I definitely feel out of my element. I am excited for medical school but terribly anxious for officer training. I heard it’s mostly “death by powerpoint”, so we’ll see if it holds up to its reputation. I will have lots to learn: saluting, marching, saying “m’am” and “sir”. I definitely accomplished what I hoped to accomplish before this time with my NIH paper, travel, and catching up with friends and family. Now it’s on to the next big chapter. Second Lieutenant Anvari, out!

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Week 2 in Brasil: Rio de Janeiro

Apologies for the late update: I have fallen behind on my blogging since I returned from Brasil a few days ago. Towards the end of my first week in São Paulo, I began developing a cough/cold/throat/nose condition, which put a damper on the Rio portion of the trip. My immune system is not the best. Fortunately, I did not get anyone sick, and as of today, I have finally recovered.

We flew from São Paulo to Rio two Mondays ago. While at the airport, Renata received a phone call from her uncle insisting that she go to the Spain-Chile game with her sister, Fernanda. [[Back story: we had not fared well with securing tickets for World Cup games. Lottery and first-come first-serve didn’t work to our advantage. Renata’s uncle (who attended the opening game in São Paulo) gave four tickets for the Spain-Chile game to Fernanda and Renata. Fernanda was bringing her friend, Anila. Renata had three friends though and planned to give her two tickets to cousins on the other side of the family]]. We decided that the fair way to pick who goes to the game amongst Morgan, Olindi, and myself was to put names in a hat, literally. I read my Air Force Officer’s Guide on my Kindle while all of this was happening, as if touching anything would jinx my luck. Olindi and Renata wrote names on papers while Morgan crumpled them into Olindi’s American top hat. Renata pulled out a name, and I thought my heart was going to drop. Even after Renata said “Afsoon” and Olindi and Morgan smiled at me, I couldn’t believe it and continued reading my book. Really, I wanted to jump up and down and hug all three of them. Worst part though, I wished that Olindi and Morgan could come too.

We missed the first half of the Iran-Nigeria game, but we arrived at our hostel in Copacabana for the second half. Both sides played well enough by my account with a 0-0 score, the first tie of the World Cup.

I skipped over a quick detail… when we arrived at Copa Fun Hostel, I could visually see Olindi and Renata’s jaws drop as low as mine. I do not want to be a hostel snob, but maybe I have been in more upscale hostels in Europe. At Copa Fun, the receptionists and staff were lovely. The living area with the television was decent enough. The wi-fi would occasionally work. Our room, however, was possibly the smallest space you could fit three bunk beds. Our sheets were worn. Lumps of cotton formed what was supposed to be a pillow. We had no blankets, which turned out okay because it was too hot in the room for blankets anyway. Only two toilets in the hostel flushed well. Of the three showers, one had cold water, one had mostly hot water but would drip on you as you’re trying to change clothes, and the third had no hooks to hang your things. It was not very functional for the number of individuals staying there. Bright side: the hostel was quite clean. I grew pretty comfortable with the environment by the second day, but my first shower back home was absolutely luxurious in comparison. In the end, Copa Fun Hostel was a fabulous experience with lots of hilarity mixed in. “Copa fun”, being a ratchet version of regular fun, will now be a commonplace phrase in that group of friends.

Because Morgan was leaving early, we spent our first day seeing the big tourist sites. We signed up for an all-inclusive tour of Christ the Redeemer, a walk/drive around the city including Escadaria Selarón and the cathedral, and cable cars up Sugarloaf mountain. Copa fun began at the very start. After already driving up to the line for Christ the Redeemer, the tour guide and driver returned down to the city for a casual one-hour detour to pick a person who signed up last-minute…and NEVER showed. A good chunk of people were getting horribly carsick from the cobblestone drive; I was especially concerned for Morgan. The tour group turned hostile when the tour guide said we didn’t have time for the city tour and that there would be no refunds. In addition, we were previously told we could cut the line to see Christ the Redeemer – no such luck! We made the best of it though and took pictures galore. Although we only had 20 minutes to enjoy the top, the view was fabulous.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

The tour began to redeem itself a little (heh heh) when the tour guide gave us 70 reais back, due to Sugarloaf Mountain’s closure that day (womp womp). We got to complete the city tour and conclude the day by chanting, “this is copa fun!” That evening, we enjoyed the beach at Copacabana and watched the big screen for the USA-Ghana game (2-1). GO USA!!!!

The next day was the Spain-Chile game. It was an experience I will never forget. The energy of Brazilians and especially crowds in Rio for the World Cup was unbelievable. Chileans made up the vast majority of attendees, and Brazilians clearly outnumbered the Spanish. Sitting six rows away from the action near the goal post, I was rooting for Spain but witnessed the previous World Cup champions be the first country officially out of this World Cup, losing 0-2. The stadium constantly chanted for Chile: “Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, viva Chile”. I could see both goals so clearly. I didn’t even need to zoom my camera to take pictures of the action. We were lost in a sea of red and specks of yellow.

Renata and I at the Spain-Chile game

Renata and I at the Spain-Chile game

Interestingly enough, I later learned that a group broke a window at the stadium during the game and tried to break in. I imagined it began from the enormous crowd of Chileans out front begging for tickets, but I never looked up the full story. Throughout the entire experience, I felt really safe, even with protests nearby. The police and military force were strong in the streets and near the stadium. I never encountered individuals disrespecting one another’s countries. The crowds were positive and excited.

Renata’s cousin, Renato, and his girlfriend joined us in our last few days. For the rest of the trip after Morgan had to leave, we enjoyed the beach (where Olindi and I won Miss Boom Boom and ended up on Panama TV), going out in Lopa, and food. I must say my favorite is drinking coconut water straight from the coconut. We met awesome people at our hostel, including three Argentinians who joined for meals and the beach, a German, an Australian/American, a French girl, and a group of college kids from Boston. We also met a couple nice guys from Chile who helped alleviate my feelings toward Chile (the streets of Rio were packed with obnoxious Chileans). Rio had an energy about it, and it is definitely the city to visit during the World Cup.

Gorgeous shot of Rio from the airplane [photo credit goes to Fernanda]

Gorgeous shot of Rio from the airplane [photo credit goes to Fernanda]

We flew back to São Paulo last Saturday. Timing worked out perfectly because we ate at a nice restaurant at the airport during the Argentina-Iran game (the game that our three Argentinian friends from the hostel attended in person). While eating yet another Brazilian buffet, I enjoyed the company of a varied group supporting either side, with my immediate friends supporting Iran for my sake and rooting against Argentina as competitors challenging their prospective favorites. Alas, it was a loss for Iran (0-1), but I was proud to be Iranian American! They kept the tie up until the final minutes of the game. Even though they didn’t make it to the final 16, nobody had anticipated Iran would do so well during the group stage.

Our last couple of days in São Paulo were relaxing before heading home. It mostly consisted of watching games and eating all the Brazilian food we could get. My two weeks in Brazil were copa fun! I had a great time, memorable experience, and enjoyed the fabulous company. Time to get back to reality and start a new journey at home.

Excited for the USA game and for returning back to the states soon :)

Excited for the USA game and for returning back to the states soon

Week 1 in Brasil: São Paulo

Fun fact about myself: I get extreme travel anxiety. Not that it stops me from traveling. The month before, the week before, and especially the day of my flight out to my destination (especially when it’s international), I am in no way excited. Mostly I am unhappy I decided to partake in such an expensive and inconvenient adventure. Once I land, the story changes. It’s such a fabulous learning experience, and I love broadening my horizons, acclimating to an unfamiliar culture, and participating in local activities.

To be fair, Brasil isn’t all too unfamiliar. I visited 8 years ago around the same time (summer for home, winter for here). That time I went to São Paulo, Campos dos Goytacazes, and Bahia, a great mixture of places where I got to enjoy the city, the mountains, and the beach, respectively. I am lucky to have a Brazilian best friend since third grade, Renata, who also happens to have an amazing family, including both her nuclear family in Virginia and her extended family in São Paulo. Another fun fact: her grandfather was a famous politician in Campos, and we celebrated a festival in his honor when we visited before. Give me five minutes and I can easily draw her family free. Definitely cannot say the same for my own family.

Well here I am – back in Brasil again! Like 8 years ago, the World Cup games are the talk of the town. Unlike 8 years ago, I get to experience the games happen around me. Unfortunately, soccer game tickets fell through for my friends and me (we were 2 tickets short and decided to duck out as a group instead of leave anybody out), but Renata’s sister and her friend will go to the Spain v. Chile game while we’re in Rio. So jealous! But I will try to get over it…someday.

Finishing up week 1 in São Paulo. I left to Brasil later than the rest of the group so I could celebrate Andrew’s birthday last Sunday (the poor guy spent most of his birthday weekend working on a proposal project due the next day). I took a red eye Monday to Tuesday, watching movies galore instead of sleeping as per usual, and after successfully navigating out of the duty-free shops to arrivals, I was welcomed by Renata, Olindi, Morgan (childhood/high school friends), and Michael (Renata’s grandmother’s awesome driver slash former security guard). Her grandmother and one of her aunts are gracious enough to house us during the São Paulo portion of the trip. We are leaving to Rio de Janeiro on a flight tomorrow afternoon.

This past week is beginning to seem like a blur. Because my phone pictures aren’t importing properly and it’s 3:30am here, I will simply share highlights.

1) Opening game: Brasil vs. Croatia. The first Croatia goal startled us all, and Olindi came up with an escape plan in case a riot broke out: climb to the roof if possible or leave to the bar atrium near our table and then climb to the roof towards refuge. The plan proved to be unnecessary, as Brasil scored three more times and won the game. Wish I could upload the awesome video I have of the crowds cheering in the streets of São Paulo when Brasil won; I have never experienced anything like it. No matter what jersey you were sporting, no matter what country you were representing, you were just another World Cup fan excited for the games. Everybody got along fabulously, and the caparinhas kept the crowds alive. I also had a headband that day with the Iranian and United States flags to support my motherland and my homeland. Gotta represent.

From left to right, Morgan, Renata, Olindi, and I in our opening game attire

From left to right, Morgan, Renata, Olindi, and I in our opening game attire

2) Food and drinks galore. All natural fruit juices. Cheeses like catupiry and requeijão. Bread and cheese varieties like pão de queijo, quatro queijos pizza, and breaded cheese on a stick. Coxinha chicken dumplings that melt in your mouth. Pastel deliciousness of Brazilian-type hot pockets. Desserts of the condensed milk variety: brigadeiro, beijinho, and doce de leite, as well as many other flavors.

Caipirinhas: passion fruit, lime, and strawberry

Caipirinhas: passion fruit, lime, and strawberry

3) Zoo Safari, formerly named Simba Safari, featured emus that stare viciously into your soul, these hog-type animals, ostriches that bite your fingers, pigeons, flamingos, peacocks, lazy alligators, a hippo, monkeys who attack cars, adorable South American deer who slobber all over your hands for food, tigers, a lion and lioness, albino peacocks, camels, and llamas.

Everyone's favorite: the camel, who's loving up on Morgan

Everyone’s favorite: the camel, who’s loving up on Morgan

4) Sight-seeing: a gorgeous cathedral, the city-center of São Paulo, Paulista Avenue (where we witnessed metro riots over the World Cup), and more! Statues, architecture, and streets in different parts of the city all tell a story. Renata, her sister, and her cousins constantly share information about São Paulo’s history and culture with infinite pride.

Beautiful day in the park of the zoo

Beautiful day in the park of the zoo

Favelas with the best view of São Paulo

A few favelas with the best view of São Paulo

São Paulo skyline

São Paulo skyline

That’s all I have for now. It’s been a memorable week, and I definitely appreciate what São Paulo had for us. Next up, Rio de Janeiro!

Happy Belated Memorial Day

I had the well-timed opportunity to get a tour of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Memorial Day. It felt quite patriotic! An Army child psychiatrist in his fourth year residency at Walter Reed showed Andrew and me all around the hospital and the campus (which is why networking at conferences is a big win). The hospital is amazing – albeit quite confusing to navigate. Afterwards, I got to show Andrew my soon-to-be USU academic buildings.

Image     Image

On a similar note (I wish I had posted about this earlier), I had also recently toured the Pentagon for my father’s promotion ceremony to SES (Senior Executive Service) in the Department of Defense. It was the first time I have been to the Pentagon since 9/11. I met a couple generals, some of my father’s friendly colleagues, as well as the Assistant Secretary of the Army (for Financial Management and Comptroller). Quite the surreal experience. Our tour guide gave the family great insight into the history of the Pentagon, and the September 11 Memorial was really well-done.

With father and brother at Air Force Art Gallery for my father's promotion ceremony to SES

With father and brother at Air Force Art Gallery in the Pentagon for my father’s SES promotion ceremony