Week 9 – Graduation Week!
During graduation week all of the sudden it began to sink in that we were about to actually become officers. It was a very emotional week for me, but it would be impossible for me to explain it. I think I will just leave it at that because you will forge your own memories and have your own experiences. The main thing I want to say is to cherish every moment of that final week because you will probably remember it for the rest of your life.
This was a very fun and relaxed day. There are videos of this course on YouTube so I won’t spend too much time talking about it. In addition to the ropes course, there was a climbing wall and what they called walking the toothpick. Actually I have no idea what they called it but that’s what it felt like.
The environment itself was very relaxed and joyful. Being up high will teach you a lot about yourself, but trust the gear and the OTS staff. They know what they are doing there and they will make sure nothing goes wrong. It was a memorable experience for me. I dominated the toothpick! The staff told me to finish it with my eyes closed.
Drill Comp, Mini-Mac
There really isn’t much to say about either of these. Our drill comp involved flight open ranks and questions. Each flight combined into a super flight which was marched around for squadron points. I think it all contributed to the honor flight/honor squadron awards.
Mini-Mac was a PT competition which again contributed points toward honor flight. It involved a running relay and a pushup, burpie, and pull-up competition. There may have been more but both events were low stress/low threat. At this point we had dominated everything thrown at us so what more was another open ranks, drill comp, and PT competition?
Family Arrival/Graduation Events
Most families started coming into town around Wednesday, but again this is a personal preference. Our class hit Phase 4 so we had privileges to actually leave base and spend time with our families, and we didn’t have to march everywhere. It was really weird not being restricted by so many rules. The main thing with your family is not to do anything stupid. Don’t get in a fight with your classmates, don’t drink and drive, and make it back to the dorm on time. This is not the week to mess up.
On Wednesday we practiced for parade and our commissioning ceremony. All of the commissioning ceremonies were conducted by flight at four to five different locations around the base. Since there were so many of us, each location had four or five time blocks for each ceremony. This meant if the 0800 ceremony ran late it affected every other ceremony after it. In the morning we practiced parade, and in the afternoon we ran through the commissioning ceremony. Wednesday night I met my wife and kids off base and we had dinner and hanged out at the hotel for until I had to head back.
The first event of Thursday morning was a formal welcome by the OTS commandant. This was something both cadets and family members attended and it was a generic “hey your kids or spouses are awesome, and here is a general overview of what they have been doing for the past two months.” We were told it was optional for families and since I had small children my wife and kids did not attend. Immediately following the welcome, we had an OTS open house. Each cadet was essentially free to give families a tour of whatever they wanted to see except the DFAC. I think it was off limits because there were still other courses using it and they didn’t want to impede operations.
Right before lunch we had the formal wing awards. This is where all of the awards from the syllabus were announced. It lasted about an hour and it was a fairly generic military awards ceremony. Basically the commandant spoke, the awards were announced, everyone clapped and accepted the award, and it was all over. Afterward we were free to have lunch with our families but keep in mind EVERYONE would be going to lunch so the BX will be packed and the line to get back on base will be huge. If I could do it again I would have had my wife bring a sack lunch for all of us including the kids and we would have ate at a quiet corner of a park or something.
They busied us with outprocessing briefings in afternoon so we had to pull ourselves from our families to sit in Boyd and fill out a bunch of paperwork. The final retreat ceremony was at around 3pm and families were welcome to come. Again my kiddos were tired so my family skipped it.
The final event of the day was the Dining Out! A Dining Out is a formal military event which is basically a ball. It was the equivalent of a civilian “white tie” event so the staff and cadets were in mess dress and the guests were in dinner gowns are tuxedos. In all honesty there were a lot of guests in suits so I think in most cases men are good as long as they wear a tie. The event had a social hour, dinner, guest speaker, and dessert. Our event did a grog bowl which was entertaining. Due to the size of our class (over 200) most people could only bring one guest but some could bring two. It was appropriate to bring your spouse, parents, siblings, really whoever. It is a unique experience and my wife and I had a good time. I think the event was done around 9pm and curfew wasn’t until midnight, so I got to hang out with my family afterwards!
Graduation Day Commissioning Ceremony!
We woke up and we couldn’t believe it was graduation day! It was such a great feeling. We were all anxious but we made it to our graduation event locations with no problems. They told us all guests had to ride buses but people had guests who could not walk or had special needs so they just found a parking lot close by. Once everyone was there it was just a matter of waiting our turn for actual event. Most ceremonies went late so be flexible with the schedule and kiddos.
My flight had 14 people and we actually kept things on schedule. When the event started our flight commander said a few words about our flight and started the ceremony. We commissioned in order of rank of the commissioner. For example, if someone had a Colonel and everyone else had a Captain commissioning them, the person with the Colonel would go first. The ceremony itself started with the oath, rank was pinned on, some people did the traditional first salute, and up came the next person. It was very straight forward. One challenge our flight had was pictures. Lighting is always a challenge in auditoriums, so I encourage families to think ahead if it matters to them. One person took all of the photos for our flight and that worked well. I would encourage the photographer to have a professional-style flash but again only if it matters to anyone.
Technically the official oath you take is the one on the form you sign (I can’t remember the form number), so the ceremony really is for us. Air National Guard – our Guard cadets administered their State Guard oath at the commissioning ceremony and the federal oath at parade. This is something you will want to prep for if you are Guard because it wasn’t like all cadets were required to constantly practice the Guard oaths of random states so it caught all of the Guard cadets in my flight off guard (pardon the pun).
After the oath was administered you could have anyone you wanted come up to pin on the rank. I had my wife and kids pin on one side and a long-time mentor pin on the other. The typical practice is to pin on the rank only without frogs then fix it later.
Like I said the optional portion was the first salute. The were not picky with this but I am a very traditional person so I had respect for the people who saluted an Active Duty individual in the proper uniform. I saluted my first enlisted supervisor and it was extremely meaningful for me. After everyone was commissioned we ran over to the parade grounds for parade.
This was the final event of the day! Get on YouTube and look up the graduation parade because it will probably be the exact same ceremony. One thing to think about is there are a lot of active duty enlisted and prior enlisted people in the audience who will be watching how sharp the “officers” do it. That being said, be sure you take the time to go out of your way to practice for parade. We were not given a lot of time so our ceremony wasn’t as sharp as it could have been. The ceremony itself was maybe 20 minutes long? Afterward we were released back into the wild!
The last thing we really had to do was grab our outprocessing paperwork and depart. Our paperwork contained a frame-able OTS commissioning certificate and a sealed packet with our orders and other miscellaneous outprocessing paperwork. Be sure you keep this folder with you because it is the only official proof that you are truly a commissioned officer until the following week when the system is updated. If you show up at a gate your ID card will say E-5 or above and a sharp Security Forces Airmen may challenge you for impersonating an officer.
It was possible for us to have our dorms completely packed up before the ceremony but I wasn’t in any huge hurry. I spent time with my friends and family, grabbed my folder, and my family and I took leave en route to driving to my next base. I actually stayed in Montgomery that night so we wouldn’t have to stress about driving and rushing to our destination city. It was easier with the kiddos.