Phase Two at COT: Week 3

Alas, I made it to Week 4. I feel like we are about to hit the promised land because graduation is in sight!

Because I have my final PT exam in the morning, as well as my final academic test, as well as open ranks where they inspect uniforms and ask military questions, as well as room inspections in the afternoon, I am going to keep this short. Highlights:

– We got phased up last Monday. This means we are allowed to talk quietly at dinners and go around the base on the weekend. The first meal we ate outside the DFAC was fantastic (sub and FRIES). Also got to go grocery shopping and feel like a real person again. Did my squadron photographic officer duties at the UPS Store and BOOM, errands accomplished outside the OTS complex. The power of printing and shopping is something we should all appreciate.

– On Wednesday, my 5k time was under 24 minutes, major improvement of about 5 minutes from my last timed 5k. We also had picture day (yay for getting my photo officer duties in) and presented our briefs. My brief on human rights in Iran was not as coherent as I wanted it to be. I was rushed with the time limit and skipped over a lot of information (I was also interrupted by an “active shooter” exercise where we had to barricade ourselves inside the flight room). Everything is a learning experience. All in all, I enjoyed listening to the briefs and learning about cultural/regional differences and the US military.

– We went through a series of obstacles last week for field leadership training. We’ll be doing a LOT more leadership training this coming week (deep breaths thinking about the ropes course. I’ll channel the progressive relaxation techniques my flight did earlier today in anticipation for our busy day tomorrow).

Drilling and marching

Drilling and marching

– Standardization: we have to keep everything standardized (the same as everything else and everybody else), including but not limited to our dorm rooms, uniforms, name tags, how we organize books, etc.

– Had a field trip to a military museum about enlisted heritage and history. Twas interesting and a nice getaway to Gunter on a rainy day.

Museum time with my flight mates

Museum time with my flight mates

– The Bravo Bombers are continuing to rock it. I believe we currently rank in the top 3 flights. We got one of the highest flight averages on our big academic test Monday (with the smallest standard deviation of all 21 flights). This past week we won flight of the week in our squadron, as well as academic flight of the week and social butterflies (we like to smile and be nice to other people, go figure).

Bravo Bombers slash the Bravo Bunch with our spoils :) #winning

Bravo Bombers slash “the Bravo Bunch” with our spoils #winning

Peace, Love, and Bravo.

Phase One at COT: Weeks 1-2

Today signals my thirteenth day at Commissioned Officer Training (COT), and I finally found time to update the blog. Technically, we just finished training day 8 of 23 on Friday, but our schedules are packed whether it’s the duty week, the weekend, or the fourth of July. We usually scramble from activity to activity from 0430 to 2300 daily, so I’ll try to hit the big points of what’s been going on here.

Two Sundays ago, I made the full drive from McLean, Virginia to Montgomery, Alabama in about 13 hours. I had the horrible realization my drive was one hour longer than anticipated when I reached the Alabama border, with a sign indicating it’s in the central time zone (womp womp). When I arrived at the Air Force Inn on Maxwell AFB, I ran into two females in the hallway discussing COT. One was a captain who just graduated dental school and was beginning COT the next day with me, and the other was an enlisted female who shared some of her experiences in BOT (basic training). In comparison, COT is much less stressful, but at the time, I did not realize what was in store for me.

Let me preface the rest of my post by saying that it was crucial to read a few blogs beforehand and to do research on the training program. COT has been one of the most difficult professional experiences for me, challenging me in ways that I had not expected while also being easier in other ways. Everyone gets stressed out. Everyone feels uncomfortable. Everyone is sleep-deprived, which is why our large auditorium is referred to as the “big red pillow”. At the same time, you’re going to have a lot of fun and learn what it really means to become a military professional. Every person has a different experience here; it’s all about the perspective you take away from this opportunity to train to become an Air Force officer.

On day 1, I drove in with the dentist I had met from the night before, who coincidentally ended up in my squadron and lives down the hall from me. Our class of about 320 officer trainees is split into 4 squadrons with 21 flights total. My Falcon squadron has 5 flights (mine being the Bravo Bombers, the best flight ever).

Day 1 consisted of LOTS OF YELLING. I learned to stop talking, to march, to follow directions, and to stare straight forward with zero facial expressions as screaming comes from every direction. I quickly realized that this would become a regular deal, but bright side: the screaming stops phasing you really early on. They instruct by yelling. When you calm down, listen, and follow through, all goes well. Things are only a big deal if you make it a big deal (unless you’re doing something egregiously horrible, but most trainees I have encountered are individuals of high moral character). Buying uniform items was a hot mess that day, but it was refreshing to have normal human conversations with the people working at the store before being thrown back to OTS staff again.

Most activities here revolve around five main things: 1) drill/marching, 2) physical training, 3) academics, 4) your duties/leadership roles, and 5) team building activities.

1) Drill.
I have no idea why this hasn’t been mentioned in previous blogs more. Marching and saluting and rendering military customs and courtesies are way more difficult than I thought they’d be. They also play a huge role in the COT experience. We passed our pennant test yesterday and Bravo flight came out as the #1 flight in our class. This is a BIG DEAL, especially because we really got our act together and practiced drilling meticulously the couple days beforehand. We were underdogs, but we rocked it. Our success earned us a most professional flight of the week award within our squadron. THIS GUIDON IS OURS. WE OWN THE GUIDON.

After receiving our pennant and professionalism award!

Bravo flight after receiving our pennant and professionalism award!

2) Physical training.
We head out for PT at 0440 most mornings. Per other blogs, I assumed the workouts wouldn’t be challenging, but they’ve actually been good thus far. Lots of running and group stretching. I can tell certain individuals are struggling more and others are breezing through it, but I am getting some good workouts in and my physical abilities are clearly improving. We took our baseline PT test on Monday, and I got all my personal bests for the 1.5 mile run, the push-up portion, and the sit-up portion. I surpassed my goal of hitting the excellent mark (scoring 90/100) and got a little over 95. #Winning.

3) Academics.
In the first week, there is so much paperwork processing and drill that you forget you’re here to learn the logistics of being a military officer. It has definitely picked up week two, after we took our big test on the officer training school manual (I got 100%, which was a huge pick-me-up when I was getting mentally exhausted from sleep deprivation. Sleep is huge, people. You’ve got to get it.) I had assumed classes would be more on Air Force history, rules, and regulations, but it’s a lot better than I anticipated. Courses thus far have focused on team building, motivation, and leadership skills. We also have classes on warfare studies, profession of arms, as well as communication. Big test coming up Monday that I should be studying for as we speak. Also, I am giving a brief on Wednesday about human rights in Iran. Stay tuned for how those go.

4) Your duties/leadership roles.
There are dozens of opportunities to get involved in leadership here. I will admit that most people who pick those higher-up roles seem stressed out of their minds, but if that’s your thing, then definitely jump on it. Leadership comes in many forms though, and everybody plays a part here. I lucked out with my flight job as the photographic officer. I would like to consider myself a morale booster. For weekend #1, I had to crank a lot of things out, but now my main responsibilities are to take photos and update the flight board (which is pretty difficult in a place where there is basically no functioning internet and you’re not allowed to print). My flight and squadron have excellent leaders. I am grateful for the opportunity to train with such a fabulous group of people (shout out to my Bravo Bombers – BOOM BOOM – as well as my flight commander).

5) Team building activities.
I think this will come more into play later, but what I really wanted to emphasize is how closely we work within our flights. My flight consists of 16 amazing people, including mostly medical students and dentists, as well as a couple psychologists, a pharmacist, and a chaplain (who’s my roommate!). We have done some field leadership training as well as countless group activities together. Our Bravo flight is a cohesive unit, and our team morale is always high. None of us are prior-military, so it has been quite the process where we are all learning how to be military officers. These people are going to be the #1 reason I might miss COT after graduation.

Ready for the next leadership mission

Ready for the next leadership mission

Other random points worth mentioning:
-Alabama feels like a toaster oven. How we wear boots, pants, and long sleeves still baffles me.
-Tight meals consist of shoving as much DFAC (our dining facility) food as you can in under 10 minutes. Sitting at modified attention and the no-talking rules aren’t painful in comparison to the stomach pains I get after meals from eating too quickly. The food is pretty good though AND very cheap.
-Being feminine is quite the challenge. Not much time for make-up or pretty hair. Luckily, OTS staff has not been passing out demerits for hair that “looks like a rat’s nest”. In defense of all the females here, we try.
-Andrew and my dad are flying down for graduation in August. Happy happy happy happy. 3 weeks and counting.

Peace, love, and Bravo.