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.

Advertisements

To Pandakar and Back

It’s time to break my longest hiatus from the blog. Alas, I’ve officially succumbed to the hectic life of being a medical student. I often choose the pleasures of sleep, food, and an occasional Netflix or Hulu episode over writing. I might need to reevaluate my priorities.

Fundamentals proved fruitful. Unlike the other modules, it’s a hodgepodge of information, and I personally liked the variety of subject material (most of my fellow classmates probably disagree and prefer the focused content of most modules). We were graded on more classical methods of class work (lab quizzes, weekend quizzes, NBME midterm, NBME final, practical final, faculty exam final) and some more society-centered studies (medical interviewing of patients, full physical examination, and humanities essays on medical history and emotion processing after seeing patients). I actually enjoyed myself during Fundamentals. Despite the stress and long days, I enjoyed the information and had a decent time on the weekends, not so social, but I at least managed to get relaxing time in, which I desperately need to recharge.

Within 20 hours of my last Fundamentals final, I found myself on a bus to Pandakar, our patient role-play destination where the four-year USU med students used first-year students as well as volunteers as guinea pigs for a mock deployment scenario of patient health care. We stayed in barracks, which were much nicer than I anticipated. Likewise, all the porta-potties around Pandakar were surprisingly well-maintained. It’s the simple pleasures that keep you going.

We began our first day by taking an emotion intelligence test, personality test, and by learning how to play patients (which included an understanding of various medical abnormalities, how to act them out, and how the fourth-years should be treating our conditions). The next few days in Pandakar were quite epic and exhausting with more or less moulage involved. We played patients in combat scenarios as well as in sick call scenarios to give the fourth-years a plethora of presenting conditions to treat.

I will have more on what the MSIVs do in a few years for their side of the story of Bushmaster (Bushmaster was this doctor-patient role-play experience in fake-country Pandakar/real-world Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania). They had several roles to play, including security, surgery, ATL, CSC (for mental health), medic, litter carry, and a few more I either cannot remember or never learned myself. The poor fourth-years seemed exhausted by the end and were organized by platoons into different clinical teams by helmet color. I happened to see the Red platoon all the time, and I also happened to play a couple of hilarious patients, one of which was an “odd person”. For the respect of not showing us goof off with fake injuries, we can’t share our photos from Bushmaster, but it was an awesome/exhausting/educational experience for both the patients and the physicians – an experience no other medical school gets!

After Bushmaster, we had our own military training experience as MSIs within our platoons that included M9 shooting/safety training, LRC (leadership reaction course – my COT training served me well), land navigation, preventive medicine, ultrasound, CBRNE (training for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense), combatives (thanks to a West Point graduate I partnered up with, I learned way more and definitely enjoyed myself…slash we sparred in pairs at the end, which I found terrifying to watch but fun/painful to do myself), Health Service Support (strategy of establishing medical/military posts during combat), casualty evacuation, and movie nights to watch clips of videos/documentaries and listen to panels/speakers ultimately illustrating the realities of military medicine [besides my parenthetical insertions, I promise this sentence/paragraph wasn’t a run-on].

And thus, we reached the end of our time in Pandakar. I bonded with the members of Alpha company (the half of MSIs that did Bushmaster before MSI training), and it was nice to go home and have a few days off before classes started up again. Unfortunately, on my last day in Pandakar, I woke up with the world spinning around me. I basically crawled to the bathroom to vomit from dizziness. Luckily I found two kind classmates to take me to the medic who diagnosed me with vertigo due to a viral infection. Fun times. The next few days were mostly spent at home recovering and relaxing, with some occasional activities within the scope of my ability to sit and walk slowly.

This past weekend before classes started, I went to a pumpkin patch with some Air Force friends and had my first experience pumpkin-carving at my parents’ place with Andrew. Also got to catch up with a few local friends and family before classes began yesterday. After organizing my calendar and planner for this next module, MSK (musculoskeletal), I am both excited and terrified to hit the books again.

Here we go again.

From Montgomery to Nashville to USU Orientation

As a COT-graduate, I had been entirely too sleep deprived. Right after the graduation festivities on Friday, everything still felt rushed with the campus bustling and people all over Morehouse Hall exchanging goodbyes and luggage. Andrew and my dad helped me pack my belongings into my dad’s car (well, the car that said “Distinguished Visitor” on the license plate – I learned from one of the administrators that the Air Force views SES as equivalent to 3-Star Generals and the Army generally views them as the civilian equivalent to 2-Star Generals. Makes me proud!). 

I had the opportunity to show my dad and Andrew downtown Montgomery when we grabbed lunch in The Alley near the Riverwalk. I scarfed down a bacon cheeseburger like nobody’s business. My dad bought wine, and we celebrated my accomplishments/survival. I mostly celebrated the ability to see my family and go home and sleep (you’ll notice this theme of SLEEP will come up frequently). After lunch, we picked up Charlie (my 2006 Honda Accord) from the shop with her new battery. McGriff’s Auto Shop proved to be a great spot right next to Maxwell AFB (suggestions for future COT-goers who have their batteries die…I heard of a number of individuals with this problem, probably because we had to leave our cars unattended for a few weeks). Beware of politics if you mention you’re in the Air Force though. The guy working at the auto shop certainly had his opinions about “Barack Obama negotiating with terrorists” and I prefer to steer clear of such conversations with strangers, namely to avoid political affiliations with the military. Remember: whoever the President is, he/she is your Commander in Chief!

Once we got back to base (I’m beginning to rock the car salute), we all decided to take a power nap in the Fairchild suite my dad and Andrew were staying at. Originally, Andrew and I planned on driving to Nashville after dinner as a pit-stop on the way home – we both have friends in Nashville and have never been to Tennessee. However, this power nap turned into a 4+ hour affair. Neither my dad nor Andrew wanted to wake me up, and I am grateful they didn’t! After waking up, showering, and having a cup of coffee, I was finally ready for dinner. At this point, it was sometime after 9pm, and we set out back to The Alley. My dad and Andrew were both very impressed by Montgomery, and I attribute that to my tour guide skills of downtown. Enjoyed some Mexican food, some margaritas, and some good old-fashioned conversation.

Blurry photo of Andrew at El Barrio in Birmingham, Alabama

Blurry photo of Andrew at El Barrio in Birmingham, Alabama

My dad’s flight went out Saturday morning, and Andrew and I headed for Nashville a couple hours after. Because of traffic, our 4-hour drive turned into an 8-hour drive (somehow there were 4 accidents on the one highway we were taking). We managed a pit-stop in Birmingham, Alabama, and to the suggestion of my Alabammer flight mate, we went to El Barrio, a fantastic Mexican food place in the downtown area that had A+ breakfast burritos. Very cool ambiance. Several hours later, we made it to Nashville! Andrew treated me to the Marriott with a view of Vanderbilt Stadium. 

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

Soon after, Ben – a William and Mary friend who I knew through Project Phoenix (a tutoring/mentoring organization), APO (a community service organization), and math/science classes, currently getting his education degree at Vanderbilt – picked us up for a driving tour of Nashville and dinner at Five Points Pizza. If I was a Yelper, I would have given fabulous ratings. I never realized what a small city Nashville was, and it has so much Southern character. After dinner, the three of us went to Andrew’s friend’s place. His friend is managing a band in Nashville, a great city to kick start a music career. His friend, also named Andrew, took us bar hopping and gave us a variety of scenes – from underground bars to Broadway street. Music was everywhere. The streets were absolutely packed. I have never seen so many bachelorette parties in one location! 

Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee

Broadway Street in Nashville, Tennessee

After our half-day in Nashville, Andrew and I had to make the drive back home Sunday morning, which was really painful due to traffic and poor pit-stop experiences, including a gas pump in Knoxville that kept going after my tank was full, resulting in gas spilling over onto my feet. Eating at Cracker Barrel eased our hanger – don’t judge, I’m a huge Cracker Barrel fan.

Once we made it back to Northern Virginia, I had this brief existential moment when I realized I had changed. COT definitely had a greater impact on me than I expected. I have this huge appreciation for being home as well as being with the individuals I care about. I also appreciate time to sleep (which I should hold dear to my heart before medical school really picks up). It’s time to prioritize what I value most in life. Spend less time on the things that don’t matter and more time on the things that do. I’ll try to maintain the school-life balance to the best of my ability, but I want to be a qualified physician and will do what it takes to get there. Wish me luck 🙂

I have been attending USU orientation for the past three weeks, the first two designated for Military/Brigade Orientation and the latter week for Academic Orientation. Military Orientation was a little like COT 2.0 with more direction and without the screaming. We had some lectures relevant to the military and mostly filled out paperwork and completed online training programs. Orientation provided ample free time to get life in order. It was a fabulous time to catch up on my social quota with friends and family in the area and to catch up on much-needed sleep. Academic Orientation this past week introduced us to the USUHS curriculum, mostly focusing on the pre-clerkship period in the next year and a half. We had a lecture for our first module, Fundamentals, which basically provides a foundation for the rest of the modules and is Pass/Fail (no honors, unlike the other modules).

I’ve been spending lots of time with my fellow USUHS Bravos and the one amazing USUHS Alpha (I’m clearly still in COT-speak. We have been staying in touch with our fellow Bravos – a few of us went out to U Street when a Bravo from Philly visited last weekend. And our flight commander sent us a final Bravo Bombers morale memo to motivate us for the next stage of our careers). All in all, my classmates seem awesome. Everybody is friendly and always willing to help each other out. Faculty members thus far seem fabulous, both engaging and caring for their students. I am a balance between excited and terrified to embark on the next stage of the journey. Somehow I am already swamped with readings, an essay, online quizzes, and a massive to-do list. First day of medical school is tomorrow! Although I feel quite unqualified, I see my first patient this week and am doing a home visit with a classmate on Wednesday. And so it begins. Ready, set, gooooo!

The COT Finale: Weeks 4-5

It’s been three weeks since my last post, and oh my, a lot has certainly happened. I had been so chronically sleep deprived that I never managed to set enough time aside to write a coherent post of what had been going on. So let’s give this a try.

The fourth week of COT was a jumble of events and emotions. We all anxiously awaited graduation, which was the Friday of Week 5. I have no idea how the BOT, ROTC, or BMT trainees do it because 5 weeks for COT already felt like eternity. I have the utmost respect for everybody who successfully completes these intense training programs.

WEEK FOUR
Monday
The day was quite busy, beginning with our final PT exam and the CWT #2, followed by lectures galore (not gonna lie, it was the first time I straight up passed out in the big red pillows. I am quite grateful I was sly and not caught by any instructors. You’re supposed to stand up in the back of the room if you’re falling asleep.) In other news, I finally got my ranks sewn onto my uniform and it feels GOOD. Now I see what OTS staff members mean by having pride in your uniform. My name and rank are looking pretty beautiful.

Some happy times in Boyd Auditorium

Some happy times in Boyd Auditorium

PT test: earned a 98.4 of 100 on the test. I have never run so quickly, smashed so many push-ups, or whipped out that many sit-ups. For the first mile of my 1.5mi, I ran a 7:28 (if you know me, this is a miracle). Ran the full deal in 11:34. Did 43 push-ups in a minute and 57 sit-ups in a minute. KILLING IT. Did not think it was possible to improve on my original score, but I did. Everybody in my flight improved across the board for all three elements of the PT exam. In retrospect, it’s funny that I stressed so much about PT before COT when it turned out to be my strongest aspect.

CWT #2 (our final academic test): solid score, felt good to be done with the academic portion of COT. Done done done done done and time to celebrate!

Tuesday-Wednesday
LRC: Leadership Reaction Course (not to be confused with the Learning Resource Center at USU)

The LRC was a continuation of Project X from the previous week where staff members graded us on leadership skills in a series of (mildly dangerous) obstacles. Playing out Navy Seal-type missions with zero prior outdoor leadership experience, we dealt with heights, climbing walls, building tripods (oh hey, that’s my claim to fame), maneuvering in water, utilizing given resources, relying on the leader, planning the mission before execution, etc. LRC was a great learning experience because it was one of the first opportunities everybody could get leadership training. I might have preferred a crash course beforehand in field activities and outdoor safety though (I was never a girl scout and have never been privy to climbing things). Bravo Bombers beat the record for one of the obstacles when we happened to have only athletic guys grouped for one of the teams.

After the LRC events, we were phased up! Ironic timing too because we were granted phase 3 privileges before our mock deployment began (called Blue Thunder), meaning we could only truly exercise phase 3 status over the weekend. It was nice in theory, but man you have no idea what it meant to be given phase 3 privileges. No more tight meals and we could leave the base outside of duty hours. Sweet sweet freedom was in grasp. Freedom tastes so good.

Anyway, we were phased up before heading to our overnight mock deployment. The tents were air conditioned even though the bunks hurt my back. Awesome Air Force planes were taking off like they were right in front of us (same with on OTS campus but the view was much better here). Luckily we were so ravenous during the events that eating MREs weren’t so bad. [[In case I didn’t mention it before, MREs are almost space-type meals with way too much sodium and interesting methods of chemistry to heat food. I am bringing a few of these meals home that I didn’t finish so Andrew can have an MRE-picnic with me.]]

Our mock deployment base

Our mock deployment base

Inside the girls' tent for Alpha and Bravo

Inside the girls’ tent for Alpha and Bravo

Thursday
Beware of the trains that you hear passing in the middle of the night and the 4:30am wake-up call to rock music. Didn’t get too much sleep at Blue Thunder before beginning our long day of the Ropes Course and Litter Carry during Black Flag weather.

Ready to embark on the day

Ready to embark on the day

The ropes course consisted of a 40 ft rock wall, the tooth pick (the second worst), a repel wall, and an actual ropes course (which was the worst). I have this massive fear of heights; despite lots of crying, I got through it. I received endless support from my Bravos and the Alphas who came after us as well as OTS staff (the OTS staff members helping on the ropes course were fantastic). I was grateful to have the most adventurous Bravo female in our group come behind me to help out emotionally along the way. Completing the ropes course events in its entirety was a big accomplishment for me but I cannot say I will ever do it again voluntarily. It was pure torture. Good to know I can accept a challenge and see it through.

Featuring the wall and the toothpick

Featuring the wall and the toothpick

I assure you, that was not a real smile

I assure you, that was not a real smile. Also, the picture is misleading; I am not walking on ground.

Who knew there were so many things involved in carrying stretchers (ie litters) in the military? So many commands. I was pretty unhappy to discover that carrying a 113 lb flight mate on the litter was painful although most of the guys didn’t have a problem. Here I thought I was a strong, capable woman, but I guess I should hit the gym some more. Luckily, black flag conditions meant we didn’t have to do the litter carry course with an actual person on the litter. A highlight of the course was when OTS staff threw sand on us (“blood and guts”) as we crawled underneath wire that got progressively narrow as we proceeded. Fun times at COT.

Sleepy during litter carry break

Sleepy during litter carry break

Friday
As part of the Blue Thunder mock deployment experience, MRIC (Medical Readiness Indoctrination Course) consisted of two portions with a massive tent set up as a combat field hospital, the first part testing response to patients with minor injuries and the second part testing response to a mass casualty event due to a bombing. Trainees had a variety of positions, including hospital administration, security, manpower, ICU, OR, patients, moulage, etc.

The Bravo moulage crew

The Bravo moulage crew

I signed up for mental health originally, but only 1-2 individuals got the slot. I was assigned the role of a patient, which ended up being ridiculously fun. First scenario, I was a marine who got hit by an IED while chasing car bomb suspects. Despite my minor injury (which was never treated), I was sedated for being so belligerent (I was trying to stick with my devil dog, aka my chaplain roommate, who was severely burned. Also security took my rifle away. You don’t take a marine’s rifle away.) I was almost sent to the morgue due to confusion about my sedation records. That was exciting. Second scenario, I had shell shock, and the team had a much more appropriate response to my clinical condition than the first round. Very interesting experience from a learning standpoint of what should be done in a mass casualty scenario.

Coming back from MRIC, we had our usual Hall Call to end the week, which is basically one big pep rally. Bravos won flight of the week within our squadron and our overall class. Within Bravo, I won the award for flight member of the week, which was exciting recognition for building flight morale and challenging myself during all the field events. In other news, my Falcon squadron rocked the drill competition (with Bravos leading the way as element leaders, guidon bearer, and flight leader for the superflight and made it #1). As per usual, Bravos REPRESENT.
FORWARD HARCH.

Getting our flight of the week award

Getting our flight of the week award

OUR GUIDON

OUR GUIDON

Falcon Superflight

Falcon Superflight

Saturday
The morning was short but eventful. We wore dress blues for the commandant inspection, consisting of open ranks (basically a fancy drill/uniform/military inspection) and room inspection. Only thing the Bravos needed to learn was folding hospital corners in our beds, which was something we had not been taught before so we were pretty proud of ourselves.

As for the rest of the day, we got to feel like normal people again, wear civvies, watch a movie (got a military discount for the first time!), eat out, and go shopping. I was a little bit of a chauffeur but I missed my Charlie baby so that was alright. One day to almost feel like a real person, despite our imposed squadron curfew at 2230 (aka 10:30pm).

Sunday
A little back to the COT world – errands galore for dining centerpieces, plus a summer camp feel when we were doing art for it, plus the ultimate Frisbee tournament. One of our Bravo’s dorm rooms had electrical issues that caused a fire alarm to go off, which added extra spice to our weekend because we weren’t allowed to go to Morehouse dorms for a solid chunk of Sunday.

WEEK FIVE
Monday
Our day mostly consisted of random lectures galore. They were actually pretty useful topics for the future. However, I had still been struggling with sleep debt and thus paying full attention was not the easiest. We spent the evening at Mellow Mushroom (deliciousness) for our flight commander dinner, where we invited Capt Warren, his wife, niece, and seven children out for a meal. They were such a lovely, happy family. His wife and kids decorated rollos to look like dynamites in honor of the Bravo “Bombers”. Adorbs.

Dinner crew at Mellow Mushroom

Dinner crew at Mellow Mushroom

Tuesday
The highlight of Tuesday was the Dining In, which was a formal event (despite wearing our ABUs, not blues) at the Officer’s Club. The military traditions were a-plenty and oh so odd. If you broke any rules, you could be sent to the grog, which was a hodgepodge of mixed drinks that apparently tasted really good (with both alcoholic and nonalcoholic options). There was a certain way of doing everything. So many rules to remember, which they cover pretty extensively and include in the red packet they leave on your table. So many little quirks about the meal; for example, instead of clapping, you tap the table with the round part of your spoon. The best part was the comedy skit coordinated by our class – absolutely hilarious and pointed out all the silly idiosyncrasies of COT. The night ended with a DJ event in the basement bar area of the Officer’s Club.

At the Officer's Club

At the Officer’s Club

The beautiful centerpieces!

The beautiful centerpieces!

Wednesday
We did our last PT with a fun run around campus, learning about the history of Maxwell AFB. At the conclusion, we got our wings! It was quite ceremonial.

Family started pouring in (so we were phased up to phase 4 privileges) and made me wish I could fast forward to Friday when my dad and Andrew were coming into town. We had the USAA dinner that evening, which included a delicious buffet. It turned out to be a huge advertisement event with bankers and USAA insurance agents at the ready while speakers were giving out random prizes and presenting certain aspects of financial opportunities with USAA. Congrats to me: USAA approved me for a career starter loan (at 2.99% interest!) so I can pay off my credit cards and my higher interest student loans. Afterwards, some of us hit the town near the Riverwalk area in the Alley (basically the only place to go out in Montgomery, Alabama).

Thursday
The last full day of COT. Falcons won Honor Squadron at the awards ceremony, and unfortunately, Bravo came in 2nd place for Honor Flight (we lost by 0.2%). In my heart, Bravo will always be #1. Even though my car battery died and needed replacing, I absolutely enjoyed my last day and night with these fabulous officers.

Friday
Thanks to an active duty meeting first thing in the morning, a few of us were late to our graduation ceremony – whoops – in the COT conference room (it was actually supposed to be in our flight room but we had too many guests to fit). When I walked in, the very first faces I saw were my dad’s and Andrew’s. So much happiness in the world when your home comes to you! Our flight commander shared funny tales about each of us while giving out certificates and coins. Great success! As per usual, we rushed to get to the graduation parade after. Because my dad was one of the few distinguished visitors (as an SES in the Army), I knew exactly where he and Andrew would be sitting and watched them with my peripheral vision during the entire parade – you’d be surprised how much you can see using peripheral vision by the end of COT. After graduation was over, I exchanged hugs and photos with my Bravos as we said our goodbyes.

Graduation

As a conclusion to this post, I have to put the cherry on top of my Bravo-loving. We’re a bunch of goofballs. I wish I could list all the things I love about each and every individual in my flight if I had the time and could dish out details of their private lives. I am grateful that I contributed to this group, with zero drama and 100% support. I am grateful we didn’t crack the whip on each other and could courteously make corrections when necessary. I am grateful we kept up good spirits while getting through such a challenging training experience together. Finally, I am grateful to have 3 Bravos in USUHS with me, 1 Alpha, and a Bravo dentist close by at Andrews AFB. I love being surrounded by good people, and COT encouraged me that we are recruiting some amazing people as officers of the U.S. Air Force.

As always,
Peace, Love, and Bravo

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.

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!