COT Packing List and Words of Advice

I have received multiple inquiries concerning: “what do I pack for COT this summer?” and here is an all-inclusive list including optional items. Please send a message or comment if you believe there is anything I should add, and I will edit the post!

Note that there is a Military Star credit card that you can receive after getting your orders. With the star card, you get 10% off your first purchase, so buying your uniforms the first round will be when you want to use it. I personally didn’t want to keep track of another credit card, but it’s a great option to keep in mind. I spent upwards of $3500 or so in my first 6 months on military gear (during COT you’ll get $400 back towards uniforms).

If you have the time and a prior service individual to help you out, I strongly encourage you to buy your uniforms and get your name tags in advance. I didn’t purchase them in advance myself (I only had a few days between returning from Brazil and leaving for Alabama) and it worked out fine. If you buy them at COT, you’re assembly-lined throughout the store and are likely to get many things at slightly the wrong size. The poor tailors are also rushed to get everything done, so you might need re-tailoring when you return. Bright side, it feels like a break on day 1 from all the yelling (but OTS staff will be circling to make sure you’re not hanging out). Keep your uniform list on you and ASK QUESTIONS if you think you’re missing something. You don’t get opportunities to go to the shop in the first couple of weeks unless you get flight commander approval.

Uniforms to get beforehand or at COT [# suggested]:

  • ABUs/field uniform [2-3]: blouse, pants + 1 belt and 1-2 covers
    • Last name, USAF, and rank tags for the blouses are ordered at the shopette counter – can be sewn on in the later weeks at the tailor when you get privileges to go. You can also get your specialty badges sewn on (MS badge for USUHS/HPSP). These badges are optional for COT. For some career tracks, like chaplains, you are technically required to get your badge for the uniform. You won’t be called out on it if you wait until after COT to sew them on.
    • I personally preferred 3 uniforms because I sweat buckets at COT, but 2 uniforms are definitely enough after COT.
  • Subdued hard ranks [2-3 sets]:
    • Get however many you need to have a pair of hard ranks for your blouses and a single hard rank for your cover. You can transfer hard ranks but I thought it was easier to have extras and leave them on.
    • You will have sewn versions later and won’t use these after COT, but they’re cheap.
  • Desert tan shirts [3-9]
    • If you are a female who never sweats, you can probably re-wear the t-shirts. I ended up buying like 12 t-shirts (excessive) by the end of COT because I would change my shirt at any opportunity when we had time to stop by the dorms. Everyone smells bad, so not a big deal if you’re trying to save money. After COT, you’ll never wear half of them if you buy as many as I did.
  • Sage socks [3-9]: again, buy as many as you think you’ll need.
  • Sage boots [1-2]: people say to break them in but I didn’t have any problems with mine
  • PT shirts [3-6]
  • PT shorts [2-6]
  • Optional: PT pants, jacket, sweatshirt (it’s really cold at night, but useful if you go during the colder months)
  • White or black socks for PT [6]
  • Blues: you only wear a few times in the last couple weeks
    • Short sleeve shirt [2] – get the princess cut if you’re female! You don’t have to tuck them in.
    • Long sleeve shirt [1]
      • Not required for our summer session
    • Wool pants [2]
      • Don’t get the polyester pants because they don’t match your service coat. The “wool” pants also have a percentage of polyester in it, so you’re looking for the wool/polyester tag.
    • Belt [1]: cut to fit your waist, buckle on R side for females, L for males
    • Rank epaulets [1-2 sets]: to slide onto blues shirt and optional pull-over
    • Bright rank [2-3 sets]: to pin onto service coat, flight cap, and optional blues light jacket
    • Females: skirt [1]
      • We weren’t required to buy the skirt and never wore them at COT, but we all wished we bought them once we returned. You’ll wear them with tan or black tights and synthetic leather black pumps or flats (no taller than 2 inches high, plain)
    • Tie tab (females)/neck tie (males) [1]
    • Garters/blousing straps [1]
    • Shoes [1 pair]
    • Long black socks [3]
    • Service coat [1] + name tags, U.S. Insignia, 2 required ribbons (DoD and national service ribbons I believe) and ribbon mount, optional specialty badge
    • Flight cap [1]
    • Optional: jacket, pull-over sweater, cardigan (seasonal)
    • Males/optional for females [1-3]: white v-neck undershirt (worth it on the hot days so you don’t sweat through your blues shirt)
  • Note that you do NOT need to get mess dress or your service coat for COT, but you’ll be required to get these uniform items for USUHS by spring. Most waited until they came back and you will not be assembly lined to get these uniforms.

Packing list:

  • Civilian clothes [2-4 outfits]: wear an appropriate outfit on day 1
    • Might want more if you go to religious services on Sunday
    • Only useful during the last couple weeks to wear on the weekends
  • Hair gel
  • Hairspray
  • For ladies with longer than shoulder-length hair: hair ties galore that match to your hair color, bobby pins that match your hair color (I love love love hair pins for the buns, work better than bobby pins for thick and unruly hair), sock/mesh buns if you don’t roll your hair into a bun or don’t braid your hair
  • Underwear
  • White shower towel [1-2]
  • White hand towel [1-2]
  • Hygiene supplies – don’t forget that deodorant!
    • Shampoo/conditioner/soap
    • Razor
    • Small detergent bottle
  • Combination or padlock
  • Green service duffle bag
    • Will hold all your things when you’re coming from the uniform store and you’ll be using this for field exercises
  • Notebooks/paper/pens/pencils/stapler/highlighters/erasers/sharpies/tape whatever things you like for classes
    • If you’re photographic officer (like myself), more supplies were useful to decorate the flight room board
  • Black eyeglass straps if you have glasses (I hear they’re called croakies), can purchase at uniform store
  • CASH ~$400: small bills preferable
    • If you’re not going straight into active duty (HPSP and reserves), you’ll need cash to pay for your meals all the way through. It’ll be 3 meals/day, very cheap but it adds up. If you’re AD, you’ll get a card midway through with money on it (deducted from your pay) to pay for food at the DFAC. There’s an ATM at the shopette, but you won’t have privileges to go there in the first few weeks.
  • Credit card/debit card to spend ~$1500 on day 1 for uniforms and supplies
  • Wallet/ID/etc.
  • Phone + charger (you will not be able to keep your phone on you in the first few weeks unless you are a leader of some sort with the privileges)
  • Laptop + charger
  • AA batteries (can buy at shopette)
  • 10+ copies of your orders
  • Immunization records
  • Note that the shopette is like a convenience store, so if you don’t pack certain items, you can get them on the first training day. The uniform store and shopette have almost everything you’ll need.

Buy at COT (for convenience/standardization with your flight):

  • White Rubbermaid storage container for food
  • Plain, white mesh laundry bag
  • Plain black camelbak 4L bladder: your “hydration system”
  • Black flashlight

Optional:

  • Car
    • Convenient for when you get privileges to go off base, but your car will be sitting in Alabama heat for 3-4 weeks and you CANNOT go to your car during this time (but the parking lot is next to the Morehouse dorms). There were 5 cars in my flight, which was very convenient, but beware of your car battery dying (happened to myself and one other person in my flight). There’s a good auto shop right off base I got mine fixed.
  • Digital camera + charger
    • Helpful if you want to be the photographic officer (I was and it is a way better flight job than most)
  • USB flash drive
  • Non-perishable food (you will have a specific place you will be storing these in your dorm room)
    • All the snacks, all the granola bars – can buy these at the shopette on day 1 too
  • Baby wipes
  • Little scissors or nail clippers
    • You’ll really want to bring these to cut cables (the little thread pieces on your uniform). Demerits galore from the little cables you’ll inevitably miss. I kept my scissors in my pocket at all times and they were popular for daily use as we passed them around in our flight room.
  • Black umbrella
  • Pocket knife
  • Hotspot (ideal if you have it available on your phone)
    • The internet is awful, and you’ll need it. Be nice and let your flight makes use it when they’re frustrated. Ask for a few dollars if you’re worried about cost. I would’ve willingly paid to get quality internet access.
  • PRINTER WITH AMPLE INK CARTRIDGES
    • You will be a savior to your flight if you bring a printer. Ask everybody to chip in $2-3 for ink so your flight-mates can use it for the random things you’ll need to print when you’re not given access to any computers or printers.
  • Bug spray
  • Sun screen
  • Ear plugs/face mask if you’re a picky sleeper
  • Energy drinks/caffeine pills (I’m not a fan, but many swore by them)
  • Ladies: makeup/accessories for your few days of freedom
  • Black watch cap (seasonal)
  • Sage watch cap (seasonal) – you can only wear with ABUs
  • Black gloves (seasonal)

Despite this EXTENSIVE packing list, try your best to pack light and tight. Buying uniforms at COT gives you the benefit of lighter luggage but the loss of having your uniforms actually fit right. In terms of quantity, buy what you feel comfortable with. I liked having extras, but I have a friend who wished she bought far less. Just keep in mind you’ll be wearing your ABUs 6 days a week and your PT gear 5-6 days a week before you can do laundry. If you have time to kill before COT begins, you might want to skim/read the OTSMAN. It will make no sense at first, but you will be quizzed on it constantly from OTS staff and you’ll have a written quiz on the first Saturday. You will also have a tiny font book version of it issued that you will need to have on you AT ALL TIMES. Every spare moment where you’re doing nothing at COT, they’ll want you to hold it a special way as you read read read it slash pretend to read it as you daydream about all the things you’d rather be doing. Just be grateful your training is way easier than BOT and that you are already a commissioned officer.

ON DAY ONE:
When you first report in, the screaming starts. Better have everything at the ready when you come in (if they don’t change things up, this includes $60 cash – an advance for food – and your ID). You might be lugging your baggage in gravel on day 1. Keep your cool. It’s okay that people are yelling. They want to see you stay calm. Even if you’re doing everything perfectly, you’re going to get yelled at. Still though, don’t smile (OTS staff do not like that, and it took me a while to keep a straight face).

Wear appropriate clothing (sneakers, no short shorts). Always have a pen and cash on you. Men, cut your hair short. You cannot have your hair beyond 1 inch bulk (you can gel down longer hair) and you will not be able to get a haircut for the first few weeks. Ladies, tie your hair up in a bun (as neat as you can, you’ll get the trick a few days in). Don’t wear jewelry besides wedding rings (in real life Air Force, you can wear studs, plain bracelets, and up to 3 rings). Day 1 is meant to throw you off your game. Keep your cool, and remember that this is all testing how you respond to stress.

During the first or second night, your flight will need to meet and assign duties. Pick whatever you feel most comfortable with. I was squadron photographic officer and was very happy with it (you have to sign up for a flight duty, but there are squadron and group officers too, putting you in charge of more people). FOIC, flight-officer-in-charge, is recommended if you want to step it up as a leader (VERY stressful, but you can keep your cell phone on you; they prefer captains for FOICs over lieutenants). Standardization officers never realize how much they’re actually signing up for; it’s A LOT of work and you get demerits for your flight mates who mess up their uniform. You’re responsible for everyone’s rooms and uniforms and appearance (that they are appropriate and match each other). Administrative officer is pretty easy; they collect mail (they got rid of postal officer my year). Financial and social officers seemed like good deals too. If you’re prior service, drill officer is a good call to teach everybody how to march. In my class, the positions were as follows: FOIC, academic, social, drill, photographic, standardization, administrative, computer, finance, athletics, dining in/out, logistics, safety, and field trainings officer (I cannot remember the exact name of that last one; it’s good if you like outdoorsy activities). The general consensus is that FOIC and standardization officers have way more work to do than everybody else and take a lot of heat from staff. The rest are fine as long as you pick something you are okay with (organizing flight grades, coordination for COT graduation, taking pictures, IT, finance spreadsheets, coming up with exercise routines, making table centerpieces for dining in, logistics of picking food up etc.)

The most upsetting thing I saw in COT was when people let the stress get to them. If you keep your cool, do your best, follow directions, and take care of your fellow wingmen, you will do just fine. Remember it is only 5 weeks, and once you get to weeks 4-5, you’re in the clear! The first two weeks are the hardest, and the worst thing you can do is let it get into you mentally or emotionally.

Unlike previous years, THERE ARE ROOM SEARCHES and you will get demerits (possibly for your roommate as well) if you do not have your things organized. You might not be an organized person, but help yourself, your roommate, and your standardized officer out and try your best to stay neat and keep your rooms standardized to regulations. They say that they will take your luggage away with all the things that do not follow regs, but that never happened with my group so I hid my civilian clothes and other random items in my luggage that didn’t have a place anywhere else.

Last words of advice: sleep as much as you can before COT, make friends, and ENJOY YOURSELF during this experience! Real world Air Force is completely worth it.

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.

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!