There is a cloud of confusion surrounding the 13S Space Operations tech school for many different reasons. One of these reasons is because it is a brand new course and AETC and AFSPC are still in the process of defining and refining the overall vision for the course. Due to this, many people do not like giving out information about the course because it is always changing. While this may be ideal in some situations, it is not ideal for prospective students who simply like to have a basic awareness of what to expect.
My objective for this post is to provide this awareness but keep it at the basic level so it (hopefully) stays relevant. I will highlight the subjects which would have mattered most to me as a prospective student such as lodging, schedule, PT, etc. I am sanitizing out some of the key details.
Undergraduate Space Training (UST) – You may hear people refer to the course with several different names. The schoolhouse staff informed us the official name for the course was recently changed to Officer Undergraduate Space Training (a.k.a. UST or OUST). The enlisted version of the course is called EUST but in general people just call both courses UST. For a short period of time the course was also called Officer (or Enlisted) Space Operator (OSO/ESO) course. I heard this was a transitional name because they were converting from the old course to the new course.
Space 100 – You may also hear people refer to the course as Space 100. I have been taught there are three different levels of Space training. Similar to how enlisted have ALS, NCOA, and SNCOA and how officers have SOS and ACSC, space professionals attend Space 100, Space 200, and Space 300. While the former are considered Air Force Professional Military Education (PME), the latter are considered technical space training. Both are required as space professionals advance through their careers. To summarize, Space 100 is tech school while Space 200 and 300 are advanced courses you attend at Peterson AFB in Colorado.
Initial Qualification Training (IQT) – Another name that you may hear is IQT, or Initial Qualification Training. From what I have gathered from the old system all space professionals used to attend UST/Space 100 as tech school and then IQT at Vandenberg. IQT used to be a technical overview course of the applicable base/weapon systems. Every time you PCS’d to a new base, you went back to Vandenberg to complete the new bases’ version of IQT at Vandenberg. As you can imagine sending space professionals TDY to Vandenberg every few years can get extremely expensive so eliminating this was something AFSPC considered when they changed to the current system. Some bases have eliminated the term IQT while others have adopted it as the initial base-level training, a.k.a. MQT.
Mission Qualification Training (MQT) – MQT what most bases are calling the course you will attend after UST at your gaining base. As I understand the old system you would attend IQT at Vandenberg then MQT at your gaining base. Now IQT/MQT is conducted by your gaining base.
Summary – I am probably the only one who cared to learn all of that, but it really helped me understand why things are the way they are. To summarize, as of last month the 13S Space Operations Officer tech school is considered “UST,” and it is at Vandenberg AFB, CA. After UST you will complete local training at your gaining base, and most units call this training MQT.
I’m not going to put the official tech school course length on here, but it is just under four months. The last time I looked at the AFI regarding PCS vs. TDY for courses, courses 20 weeks or longer were considered a PCS while courses under 20 weeks were a TDY. The official course length is conveniently just under 20 weeks which was probably another cost-saving technique. In my opinion, the entire training process would have been much easier if tech school was a PCS instead of a TDY.
Although the official course length is what it is, many classes have been graduating early. There is no official answer on this because it was entirely dependent on each individual class which went through the course. The squadron policy on this allowed classes to more or less complete the course on their own timeline under the direction of their instructor(s). Most classes graduated in around three months.
The tech school staff called the course a ‘language’ course, and I completely agree. Instead of digging deep into every aspect of the space field, the course taught us just enough to be familiar with every aspect of the field. It taught us the ‘language’ of the career field so we could fully integrate into our mission at our first base. Due to this, academic success for most of the course was based on memorization.
The one exception I would add to this is regarding the orbital mechanics blocks. These blocks were review for the academy grads but were new for everyone else. We didn’t dive very deep into the concepts, but many would have found a review of concepts or basic math skills extremely helpful. We did not have to do any math, but we had to be able to recognize formulas or understand concepts. I was extremely worried about this section prior to tech school but in the end I did fine. It was more intimidating than anything else. Shoot me an email if you are really concerned and I’ll give you more details on what we covered.
I received an email from my instructor prior to arrival at the course which contained basic reporting instructions and some information about the local area. If you have AF Portal (I believe .mil access is required), you can access the reporting instructions online at the Education and Training Course Announcements site (ETCA). Log in and click AETC. Search “space” and you should be able to find it. As of June 2016 it is under “Officer Space Operator” (I know, this contradicts what I told you).
All of my classmates were billeted on base which is where you want to be. There were two general types of rooms for the officer students. One was closer to the dining facility and a little smaller than the others, and the other type was farther away past the hospital. IMO the better ones were past the hospital because they were a bit roomier and most have a back yard. The drive to the closest towns are 15/20 minutes so you don’t want to be billeted off base if you can help it. Regardless, you have no control over where you are going to stay. You will make the reservation through the Air Force Inns at Vandenberg (Google it for contact info) and they will give you your room when you arrive.
In general, the facilities were a little bit run down. Report any problems with your room but avoid moving if you can help it. If you move rooms you may have to move off base for a few days and it is a huge pain. My room had a queen bed, desk, dining table, bathroom/shower, small fridge, microwave, and small coffee pot, but NO KITCHENETTE. The idea is that you eat at the dining facility or make food with your microwave. There are BBQ grills outside some of the lodging rooms so that is available as an option.
I often get asked if families are allowed to stay in your room with you in lodging, and the official answer is no. By default students are placed in “Visitor’s Quarters” or “Visiting Airman Quarters” at a rate of $60 per night. These quarters are the ones I refer to above and families are not allowed to stay in them with you.
If you want to bring your family along I know of two options.
1) Stay in TLF instead of VQ/VAQ at a rate of $63 per night. If you do this the government will reimburse you $60 per night but you are responsible for the extra $3. The problem with this is that you may not be able to reserve TLF prior to your arrival, especially if you are going to class during PCS season. During peak season TLF’s are reserved in only three day increments, and you can’t reserve them farther than three days out. You basically have to call and reserve your three days and every three days call back to see if you can extend another three days. This worked for some for short durations/family visits during tech school but is not ideal for the entire time.
TLF’s have all of the above and a kitchen, full fridge, and separate bedrooms. At Vandenberg there is a large and small version of the TLFs. I think the large has three bedrooms and I assume the small has two. Your families are allowed to stay in TLF with you and having the kitchen obviously allows you to cook.
2) The second option is to actually rent a place off base. I have heard of people renting apartments and paying any extra out of pocket so they have the consistent place to stay with their family throughout the training. If you want to do this be sure you talk to the DTS person at your unit. You should get reimbursed up to $60 per day if you take this option, but it may be more complicated in DTS. The advantage of this is having your family with you, the disadvantage is having to drive to base every day and dealing with leases prior to the course and move out inspections after graduation.
Be ready to work an eight hour day with one hour lunch. The standard Air Force duty day is 0730-1630 with a one hour lunch between the hours of 1100-1300, and our day was similar. Sometimes we were released a little early for official functions on Friday, PT, retreat, etc., and sometimes we were also given longer lunches.
In general we had about 14 blocks of training. Each block consisted of a workbook with PowerPoint slides/lectures, Progress Checks (PCs/mini tests) for each objective, and a block test. They were talking about getting rid of the PCs. Block tests were multiple choice and 20-24 questions, and it took 1/2 week to 2 weeks to get through a block (depending on the block and the class).
The main dining facility is the Breakers dining facility. It is not a DFAC but is run by a contractor, so the prices are a little higher than normal. The food is okay but I elected to eat in my room most of the time. Other options on base included a Subway, a Mexican place, Burger King, and the commissary deli.
Physical Training (PT)
I did PT twice per week. One day was squadron PT in uniform and the other was flight PT in civilian clothes. They also allowed classes to do class PT on the flight PT days. We did a lot of running while I was there. The distances and location varied, but plan on running anywhere from 2-6 miles depending on the day. We ran on the gym track, in the woods, by the beach, and around the gym road. It was okay if you were slow and it was clear we could walk or cut the course short if we needed to, but we were encouraged to push ourselves. On other days we would do calisthenics, abs circuit, relay circuit, or sometimes a sports day. Most of the time our workout was 40-60 minutes. I liked how they ran the PT program there.
One day per month we were required to attend the Group retreat ceremony. It was right next to the schoolhouse at the end of the duty day and the uniform was ABUs. The ceremony lasted a total of about ten minutes. One day per month the Uniform of the Day (UOD/entire duty day) was blues, any combination. Once or twice per month there was a mentoring opportunity at the club with either base or squadron leadership (they called it First or Third Friday, I can’t remember which). Periodically there will be mandatory briefings about the career field, weapons school, mentorship from the DO, etc. These briefings were conducted during lunch or during the school day. You DO NOT need your mess dress but you will need your Service Dress (pants and jacket) for graduation. Lastly, some of the tours require business casual civilian clothes.
Defense Travel System (DTS)
Instead of getting paper TDY orders like the old days, your orders will be drafted and approved in an online system called DTS, accessible through AF Portal. I’ll let someone else walk you through the details of the actual system, but here are some important things to remember:
Be sure your Government Travel Card (GTC), address, and other information is all current before signing your orders. This could prevent you from getting paid properly.
Be sure you can log in to your online commercial GTC web site (https://home.cards.citidirect.com/CommercialCard/Cards.html?classic=2). You need this because DTS often loads money as a credit onto your card instead of into your bank account. If you have your online account set up all you have to do is log in and transfer the money to your bank account.
Set up “partial payments” in DTS. Partial payments means DTS will pay you what you are entitled for lodging and per-diem periodically throughout training. If you don’t get partial payments, they may make you pay your hotel bill out of pocket (which is $900 every two weeks).