Busy, Busy, Busy
It has been 18 months since I commissioned, and it has been a wild ride. I have been waiting for life to calm down and be “normal” again, but I am beginning to realize that being busy is the new normal. I think this is the nature of the game. I miss the comfort of enlisted life, but at the same time I know I am becoming a more seasoned leader and am being pushed past where my previous boundaries existed. I believe the degree of success you achieve as an officer will be measured by how well you can conquer the chaos, and how well you inspire the people around you to more effectively accomplish the mission. As of now I am still trying to conquer the chaos.
Over the past 18 months I have realized I am in a 24/7/365 battle of balance. When I was in training the Air Force asked a lot from me; I had to maintain my relationships with my family while fulfilling and exceeding my responsibilities as an Airman. My Airman responsibilities evolved from being a Cadet at OTS, to being a student in tech school, to becoming an expert in my space system (we call them weapon systems). Once I mastered one duty position I was asked to master another one. After I master the second one, I will be asked to master a third.
There is a “track” we are expected to follow and there is a constant pressure to be moving upward through this track. There is more of an emphasis on my career and whether or not I am staying on track, and less of an emphasis on the mission. I honestly think this is a fundamental flaw of the system. The flaw is not the existence of the track, but the emphasis. Instead of focusing on which officer is excelling most and who is ready for the next step, we should focus on which mission related positions needs to be filled and which officer would be the best fit.
I was chatting with one of the Lieutenants in my squadron and he was asking for my advice about the track he was on. There were rumors that he was being looked at to be promoted from the basic operator job to a more advanced/technical position. In the space ops world we all start with some version of satellite operator, which is the basic level certification. Some of us operate the bus of the satellite (the brain, power, and associated guts), and some of us work with a specific payload (component responsible for the mission). For our first duty position, it is crucially important that we understand the technical aspects of our job. As a brand new operator we aren’t expected to lead, we are expected to be “weapon system experts.” Once we know how to operate our system nominally (space lingo for normally), we are expected to know how we can leverage our system to more effectively deliver combat effects downrange. Later in our career we will transition to higher levels of leadership, but this is our ONE opportunity to have a technical-operator foundation. I can’t say this enough, it is crucial for us to have this depth of technical-operator experience. This experience will be our foundation as we advance to future leadership positions. In my opinion, truly outstanding officers will be able to have a depth of technical experience in multiple systems. Remind me and I will blog about the depth and breadth debate.
The fundamental flaw of many failed leaders in our Air Force is that they fake their way through the foundation phase of their career and fallback on the tag word of leadership. I’m not saying leadership isn’t important, because it is crucial. But in my opinion the core of a good leader in our Air Force is a person who can have a genuine connection with people. This leader has to truly understand the challenges that we as Airmen face, and should have spent the years prior to being designated as “leader” figuring out how to deal with and eliminate those challenges. The only way to do this as a 13S is to spend time on the system, i.e., “in the trenches,” dealing with the challenges of being a space operator. If you as a space operator ever feel like you are a second class citizen, or everything you do isn’t important to the rest of your squadron, your leadership has forgotten where they came from or has likely never spent an extended amount of time in the trenches. Don’t be this type of leader, and always remember that the squadron should be “ops focused.”
I attempted to explain this to the Lieutenant in my squadron and his response was, “Yeah but that is a more technical job, and isn’t really leadership based.” He was missing the point, and this is something I want you guys to get. He was succumbing to the upward pull of tag word “leadership.” He was allowing the political pull to draw him away from his technical contribution to the mission. In his defense, he was an academy grad and he had spent four years of his life living and breathing political Air Force leadership.
The other thing that I have learned over the past 18 months is what I have coined “locked in experience.” It has been difficult to find my place as an officer. As a MSgt select my peers were seasoned NCOs or SNCOs. Most had families but we had all been around a while. We knew how the Air Force game worked and we had figured out how to play it well but still have a life outside of the Air Force. Now, that peer group doesn’t look at me the same. I am an officer, someone who crossed over to the dark side and there is a level of mistrust behind their eyes. Some feel threatened by me or some just naturally put up a wall. It is minute, but it is there. I’m not saying it is everyone, but this is a subtle thing I have picked up by many. Heck, maybe it is all in my head. Even if it is in my head and it is a superficial barrier, doesn’t it still exist? It is something to think about as you start your own journey.
If I can’t relate to who my peers were, maybe I can relate to who my peers are now. There are three categories of officers; academy graduates, ROTC graduates, and those who commissioned through OTS. 95% of the officers I work with are academy or ROTC graduates, which means almost all of the Lieutenants are in their mid 20’s. I am 30 so that alone creates a huge gap between us. They are just figuring out how to live life outside of college, and I have been earning stripes and fighting the fight for 11 years. They are dating or newly married, I have been married for a decade. We are in completely different stages of life.
When I first commissioned and started spending time around the other Lieutenants, it was difficult because I looked at other Lieutenants like kids. They acted similar to new A1Cs or Senior Airmen (from a NCO/SNCO perspective) but it threw me off because they were extremely intelligent and seemed better educated than I was. That may sound terrible, but remember that I started in Security Forces where the enlistment requirements were different and education wasn’t actively pursued by all. It took me a long time, probably almost 18 months, to learn that I indeed respected them. Learning how I respected them was revolutionary to my perspective as an officer. At first I thought I had to fit in with them, but over time I realized we are just on different paths. My path involved 11 years of Air Force experience, and their path provided them with surface level Air Force experience concurrent with outstanding educations. At the end of the day, we just bring different things to the table.
As we all began to traverse our paths through our new officer careers, I began to notice the very distinct differences between how we operated. Academy grads have a tendency to take an indifferent approach to tackling challenges. When faced with a task, their eyes glaze over and they try to find the easiest way to complete the task while still delivering most of what the boss is looking for. ROTC grads attack the task eagerly, but they don’t have a lot of experience so they tend to take a hands-off approach and let the NCOs do their thing. OTS grads are all over the place, it really depends on the person. Understanding an OTS graduates’ methods often requires analysis at the next level; prior and non-prior enlisted experience.
Locked in Experience
At first it was easy for me to lump myself in the OTS prior-enlisted category, but the more I did, the more I realized I didn’t fit into that category either. I am not just prior enlisted, I am a prior enlisted [essentially] SNCO. I had spent 11 years developing into the SNCO the Air Force wanted me to be. I know how to relate to Airmen “in the trenches,” I naturally try to mentor and mold young Lieutenants into outstanding future leaders, and I started playing the Air Force game while my peers were in high school (or earlier). When I commissioned, this experience was “locked in” for me and I started a new path as an officer. My experience didn’t go away, it shaped who I was when I started this officer journey. It is evident because I still try to take care of the Airmen, and try to help my fellow Lieutenants figure out the Air Force game.
There are other prior enlisted officers who crossed over as Senior Airmen or Staff Sergeants. They enjoy the Air Force life, and they have a more eager and optimistic view of the Air Force. They are good at their job and think they can change the world. When they crossed over, their SrA/SSgt experience was “locked in,” and they began their journey as officers. Their experience didn’t go away, but it is evident in how they lead their people and perform ops on the floor.
This theory can also be seen from officers who re-trained from different career fields like Misileers or prior maintainers. It also applies to ROTC and academy grads, except their “locked in” experience includes four years of Air Force academy BS or four years of civilian college with the Air Force sprinkled in. I believe this is why ROTC graduates are better rounded leaders as they begin their officer careers, because they already had to juggle life outside of the Air Force while doing the Air Force thing.
The fascinating thing is that we will never develop past where we were before. I will always be a SNCO at the heart. Prior SrA/SSgt’s will always be prior SrA/SSgt’s, and fresh ROTC/Academy graduates will have a more academic perspective. Regardless of where we started or what experience we had in the past, we all start our commissioned journey at the same time. We all commissioned at the same time, will promote at the same time, and will compete for the same jobs. As commissioned officers we will all develop together, and start being molded into the officers the Air Force wants us to be.
Tying it All Together
I bring this up in an attempt to illustrate the importance of experience. There is nothing we can do about our life prior to commissioning, but as brand new Lieutenants this is our one chance to build experience going forward. The officer track moves very quickly, probably 3-4 times faster than our enlisted counterparts. We are expected to hit the ground running and accelerate through the many years of our career. Due to the intensity of our tracks, it is crucial that we spend our time as operators developing into tactical, knowledgeable system experts. If we don’t do it now, we will never have a chance to go back and do it over again.
I received this information from a future Reservist RPA pilot. Shoot me a message with more info and I’ll add posts to this section. I broke it down by each training course and I know it looks sparse now, but I plan to populate it with more info.
General RPA Info
At the moment there are definitely a lot of opportunities as far as active guard/reserve go, for those who don’t want to move around. Deployments are generally shorter, 3-4 months, and as far as I understand it people are usually volunteering for those more than being volun-told. Generally in the career field there are few pilots left who were assigned from other aircraft to RPA’s; at this point, everyone flying RPA’s WANTS to fly RPA’s. Every RPA pilot or maintainer I have met is exceptionally fired up about the career field. They are also expanding the number of bases to include more favorable bases in places other than the desert.
What’s cool about the RPA community is (generally) the attack mission. You see your work on the news on a daily basis. You get to go home to your family at the end of the day. You make a direct impact in war, and you directly help out your guys on the ground.
RPA Flight Training (RFT)
RPA training starts after OTS with RPA [Initial] Flight Training (RFT), which is the same as Initial Flight Training (IFT) out at Pueblo, CO. If you’re active duty, you’ll likely PCS to Randolph AFB before reporting to Pueblo. The specifics on that vary from person to person. Reservists generally report directly to Pueblo and move to Randolph at a later date.
RPA Instrument Qualification (RIQ)
After Pueblo, you’ll head to Randolph for 85 days of training called RPA Instrument Qualification (RIQ), which is essentially T-6 instrument training.
RPA Fundamentals Course (RFC)
After that, you’ll stay at Randolph for another 30 days to do RPA Fundamentals Course (RFC.)
Initial Flight Qualification (IFQ)
Finally, you’ll go to Initial Flight Qualification (IFQ) at either Holloman (NM), March (CA), or Beale (CA). Creech/Nellis may be in those cards as well, but I’ll get more specifics down the line. It is rather unlikely that CA will happen; Holloman is the primary base for the MQ-9 formal training at the moment.
As a reservist, I’ll be on 3 separate sets of orders the whole time. I also got paid BAH for my current home while I was at OTS, which made a big difference.
Tips to Succeed
A Major told me that you’ll know everything you need to know skill-wise out of school to complete your mission. To become a better pilot, you have to make a conscious decision to improve, and start thinking about the next steps ahead. For example, if you make a mistake, learn from it (simply put). Another example would be, if you turn at this particular angle now, where are you going to be in 5 minutes? In a good or bad position? How can you set yourself up for a good viewing angle 5-10-15-20-60 minutes down the road with what you do now?
Hands down, the quality of life in the AF vs. Army will be light-years better IMO. A lot of it will depend on your career field because there are a lot of career fields such as Finance, Contracting, Personnel, Services, etc. which will pretty much always work Monday through Friday, 0730 – 1630. Officers may put in a little more work hours in these career fields but a lot of that is under your control. For example, if you really want to get a something done or you suck at drawing the line or with time management, some officers may stay until 1730 or 1800 (or later). IMO, this is completely avoidable in most cases.
There are other career fields where you may be prone to shift work for the first few years, but as an officer you will typically advance to the support staff. Jobs like maintenance, Security Forces, perhaps Logistics, perhaps Comm, or other ops related (non-rated) positions which support a 24/7 mission will be shift work. In general the Air Force doesn’t like to work 12 hour shifts but there are often times when it is necessary. For any given four year tour in space, our shift work guys may be working 12’s for two years and 8’s for the other two. It really depends on the overall ops tempo, what is going on in the world, and what career field. My squadron has been working 12’s for the past 8 months but after that we are switching to 8’s. Like I said it is case-by-case.
In general the rated career fields such as pilots, navigators, ABMs, etc. are going to deploy the most and have the highest ops tempo. I’m not really sure how much these officers deploy though as far as length. I think it is closer to 4-6 months with a lot of time in between vs. 6 months on/6 months off. This would be a good question for the Facebook group.
I have been to four AF bases and at every base I have worked shifts for about one year then switched to some sort of M-F job. I am probably luckier than most though, but you have to remember I was there as an enlisted Airman, not an officer. At my first base I was on flight for about two years. I was Security Forces so we as a squadron worked 24/7. My schedule was three days on where we traveled out to the missile field, and we worked 12 hours shifts. This wasn’t bad because there was no extra BS before or after the shift. When you shift started you were wearing your uniform and you were the one that responded to alarms, but your shift was basically always over at 12 hours. On the third or fourth day we traveled back to base and we were off for 3-4 days, then we did it all over again. Sometimes while we were back on base we worked from 0800-1400 for training on one day but that wasn’t bad. After my first two years doing this, I was hired for a M-F and got all of the federal holidays and a few MAJCOM down days off as well. Christmas/Thanksgiving, Memorial, Independence were all four day weekends along with a few others, and the other holidays were three day weekends. My duty hours there were 0730-1630, later on same days, earlier on others. During this period we did not deploy at all at our squadron.
At my next base I was on shift work for another two years and our schedule sucked. I was still Security Forces and our routine schedule was six days on, three days off, eight hour shifts. We had to arm up and de-arm before/after shift so the 8 hour days were more like 10 hour days. What made it bad though was whenever we had an “op” going on we switched to 12’s (really 14) and many people lost their days off. This was probably the worst schedule of my career. After those first two years I was hired for another M-F 0730-1630 job like above, but sometimes we had to support the ops so we worked the 12’s during that week. We rarely lost our weekends though so that made it better, but it was still a lot of hours. At this base about half of the people did one short deployment in the 2-4 year tour (the length of tour overseas there depended on rank).
I retrained to comm after that so I spent about six months training to be in the new career field. After training I went to another job which worked 24/7 but we did eight hour shifts. Comm was different in that our eight hour shifts were actually eight hours, so it was awesome. We worked two day shifts, two swing shifts, two mid shifts, and four days off then it rotated back again. It sounds crazy but this was my favorite schedule of my career. I did that for another 18 months or so then I was hired for another M-F job (this was a trend for me).
Now that I am a space officer we are working 12 hour shifts in my squadron, but it isn’t too bad. We work three days on, three days off, 6-6. Our shifts are basically done after the 12 hours so it is not bad at all. My typical day was to get up at 0430-0500, be at work for shift change at 0530, and work all the way until 1730. While on shift I work in an air conditioned building and the only downside is that I can’t have my phone. I use computers to communicate with satellites, downloading data and making sure they aren’t broken. During my shift if I have nothing going on there are two of us, I am free to go to gym or get lunch as long as nothing is going on. I have random tasks I have to do but I have down time where I can surf the web, work on admin stuff, or just BS. At 1730 they arrive for shift change and I am usually walking out at 1745. I usually get home around 1830 or so because I have a 30 minute commute. I do this for three days, then my three days off are typically untouched.
At my squadron we have other positions and officers, and some of them work a little more just because they like to, but most of the M-F officers still work from 0730-1630. Some of the alternative positions are 4 on three off around 0600-1530, it just depends.
I have had a lucky career so my story isn’t the best but also not the worst, so take that for what it is. We usually don’t have any trouble taking leave when we want and generally the work in the isn’t bad at all, especially if you aren’t on the flightline.
I recently saw the movie Hidden Figures and I thought it had some powerful messages and interesting references to historic space events. Instead of doing an in-depth review of the plot, I will assume you have seen the movie and just point out my observations.
The Space Race
After a few of the characters are introduced the movie opens with the American perspective of the beginning of the space race in the 1960’s. When I first saw the movie I thought it was showing the launch of the Sputnik 1, which was when the Soviet Union beat us in the race of putting the first artificial Earth satellite into orbit. After further review, I noticed they actually called it “Korabl-Sputnik 4” which was the ninth Sputnik mission which occurred in on March 9, 1961. This makes sense because the NASA administrator answered the phone as “Jim Webb,” and he didn’t take that position until February 14, 1961. If you have ever heard of the James Webb Space Telescope which is the replacement to the Hubble Space Telescope, it is the same James Webb.
Sputnik 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_1
Sputnik Missions Overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spacecraft_called_Sputnik
Korabl-Sputnik 4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korabl-Sputnik_4
James E. Webb: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_E._Webb
James Webb Space Telescope: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Webb_Space_Telescope
The movie does a great job of capturing the emotion of the space race for the people who were living during that time. They mention the fear of the Soviet Union slapping a nuclear warhead on top of one of their rockets. Now that they could put something into orbit, there really wasn’t anything that could stop them from doing so and attacking the United States. These thoughts and fears helped mold the history of our country and the development of our space program into what it is today.
Know How to Read, and Fight for What is Right
Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), one of the three main characters, demonstrates a natural talent in engineering. When she applies for the NASA Engineer Training Program, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) informs her that the rules have changed and the Engineering Training Program now requires advanced extension courses which can only be taken at all-white segregated schools. The first thing she does after she finds out is reads the regulation straight from the source to understand the exact issue preventing her from achieving her goal. This allows her to understand the possible actions she can take to fight for her right to obtain the education and apply for the position.
Understanding how to read and apply Air Force regulations is one of the most valuable skills I have obtained during my prior-enlisted service. When I was trying to retrain from Security Forces to comm, I had an assignment to another base which made me ineligible to even apply. I asked MPS (the personnel or HR department) if I had any options for turning down the assignment, and I was told that it was not possible. After reading through all of the source regulations called Air Force Instructions (AFIs), I learned although it is not possible to turn down an assignment, it is possible to turn down obtaining retainability (my remaining enlistment contract time) for an assignment. Doing so would cancel the assignment but flag my record with a code which would require me to separate at the end of my contract. Since that was my backup plan anyway I accepted those terms and the assignment was cancelled. After I was selected for retraining, that code was removed from my record and I PCS’d and started my career in my new career field.
After consulting the regulations, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) realizes the only way she could become an engineer was to petition the court to allow her to attend the all-white school. She not only knew how she needed to act, she had the courage to take action. There will be times during your career when you know something is right but there is some injustice that is preventing it from happening. For example, you may go TDY and get overpaid, then six months later the Air Force may try to take $4,000 from your paycheck. Your leadership may try to back-date an EPR so the other guy who is TDY doesn’t have to write the report but you do, even though you have only really supervised the troop for two weeks. If this happens, go straight to the regulations and see if have any ground to fight on. If you do, have the courage to take action and make it right.
I want to pause and make a very clear distinction here. My point is not for you to be insubordinate and disrespectful, my point is for you to fight for what is right but only when it is necessary. There will be times when your guys are getting screwed over and there is nothing you can do about it, but there will be other times when you can do something about it. Don’t be the guy who always causes trouble any time you are threatened, be the guy who wisely watches and listens to everything and fights only when it truly matters. Your priority should be taking care of your people or your career, and your foundation should be in the regulations. Ideally, your chain of command will have your back as well. Whatever you do, do it with dignity and respect. Once you start making waves everyone is going to notice you, so you want to be sure you do it right.
Officer Promotion – Seize the Opportunity
Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) recognized that the jobs they were doing would soon become obsolete because of computer, the IBM 7090 DPS. Instead of being beaten down and distraught, she looked for an opportunity for her and her subordinates to stay relevant. She craftily obtained key information she needed from the instruction manual and the FORTRAN book, then strategically studied and armed her subordinates with the knowledge. Also note that she didn’t just barge in and take over the IBM, she waited for the right opportunity to act.
This example captures one of the differences I noticed about being an officer. While I was enlisted there was always ‘that guy’ who always tried to do the things to get ahead, but for the most part everyone just did their jobs and advanced as they were placed. As an officer it seems like everyone is always trying to look for an opportunity to get ahead, and at first I found it really exhausting. After I realized it was happening, I was able to get a better feel for how it truly worked.
First of all, none of this should be a major concern to you. Your attitude should truly be that you just want to be really good at your job and you want to do what’s best for the mission and the unit. If something isn’t working right or something needs to be fixed because it is negatively impacting the unit, THAT is when you should act. How you execute is key:
- First, figure out who’s responsibility this thing is and give them the opportunity to make it right. If they don’t that is on them and it really isn’t your place to do anything about it. If it is something which is serious or dangerous, of course you can go to their supervisor but that is not likely the case.
- If it is no-one else’s responsibility or no-one else wants the task, that is when you can step up and seize the opportunity.
NASA.gov Text Transcript: https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm
Demand the Resources Necessary to Do Your JobI don’t know if it is because I am older now or what, but I have become more demanding with getting what I need to do my job. When Katherine couldn’t do her job because the information was redacted, she used the math to read through the lines and solve the problems anyway. When she is told she cannot attend the briefings to get the latest data, she persistently demands it from Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). When Paul continues to unfairly hold her back, she appeals to Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and is eventually allowed to attend the briefings.As commissioned officers we swear to faithfully discharge the duties of the offices we enter, NOT to just obey the orders of the officers appointed over us. Discharging the duties of your office (which can also be said as doing your job) means not only executing the mission, but ensuring you have what you need to execute your mission. When I was enlisted I was expected to execute the mission with whatever resources I was given. As an officer, it is my job to get my guys whatever they need to do their job. I have to fight for my people to have what they need. A good officer will ensure his or her people have an abundance of resources available so the only things holding them back are themselves.Make a Stand Against Unfair Treatment and Childish Games
Throughout the entire movie Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) tries to hold Katherine back. Perhaps he is jealous of her talents, or perhaps he is just trying to find security in his own position. Regardless of the reason, it is petty and unfair. Katherine is respectful and allows him to unfairly impede her success and contribution, but only up to a point. When it started to severely impede the success of the mission, she put her foot down and wouldn’t stand down.
Believe it or not I have seen this many times in my career. The competition between CGOs can be fierce so some people think that the smallest things determine the difference between a #1 stratification vs. no stratification. If you are ever treated like Katherine was in the movie, here are some things to try to remember:
As a new officer we are all extremely focused on what career field we will get, where we will be stationed, what is weapons school, how to promote, what opportunities we are missing out on, the list is literally endless. If you have just graduated, chill out. Allow the euphoria of OTS to linger while you assess your new surroundings of the operational Air Force and get to know the people around you. When you are ready for game time again, put your nose back in the books and get good at your job. Regardless of where you end up, this is all that really matters. Being good at your job will give you the credibility to stand against injustice.
Katherine’s Core Values
In the movie Katherine uses some potentially questionable methods such as using the light to read the redacted info and losing her temper. It is important to realize that there are times when the decisions we make are not black and white. I am by no means saying we should take shortcuts or sacrifice our integrity, but we need to be grounded and establish in advance what is important to us as leaders. I think the two most important things to Katherine were:
- Success of the Mission (Service Before Self)
- Dedication to Doing Her Job Well (Excellence in All We Do)
Leading Your People
My final notes are about the leadership of Katherine’s boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). I could have probably spent this entire post focusing on him alone, but instead here are the two which stood out to me from the end of the movie.
Reward Your People – Katherine worked hard for the mission under Al Harrison’s leadership, and Al knew it. At the end of the movie after Katherine had made the final calculations to essentially save the mission, Al could have plugged in the numbers and proceeded with the mission. Instead, he took time to get Katherine the clearance she needed to join them on the ops floor. By doing this Al both recognized her contribution and knew that her being there to personally experience the mission would be a tremendous reward.
Be Honest – Paul showed his true colors in this movie and it became blatantly obvious that he was trying to impede Katherine’s success at a large cost to effective mission accomplishment. As a leader, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) knew very well what was going on because he watched it happen. Instead of ignoring his behavior or subtly punishing him by not promoting him, he provides short and concise counseling in the moment. At the end of the movie he reminded Paul:
“Do you know what your job is, Paul? Find the genius among those geniuses to pull us all up. We all get to the peak together, or we don’t get there at all.” -Al Harrison, Hidden Figures (2016)
It may have been easier for Al to not say anything at all. There will be times during our career when our guys mess up and we need to mentor or correct them. Have the courage to say what you need to say. It isn’t always about punishment, sometimes we need to let reality be the teacher. But during these times we as leaders need to have that conversation, sometimes a one-way conversation, letting our subordinate know that 1) they messed up and 2) we know they messed up. And sometimes, those few words can be as powerful as any other method of discipline. Sometimes even more powerful.
Links About Historical Accuracy
- Cnet: https://www.cnet.com/news/hidden-figures-nasa-true-stories-octavia-spencer-janelle-monae-taraji-henson-kevin-costner/
- Popular Mechanics: http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/rockets/a24429/hidden-figures-real-story-nasa-women-computers
- Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-story-of-nasas-real-ldquo-hidden-figures-rdquo/
- Katherine Johnson Biography (NASA): https://www.nasa.gov/content/katherine-johnson-biography
- National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/hidden-figures-nasa-computers-women-katherine-johnson-space-science/
- Collectspace.com: http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-010517a-hidden-figures-john-glenn-mystery.html
The post I did about the 13S/1C6X1 career field Click Here along with the link included to the reddit post by SilentD provides some great information about the overview of our career field. The purpose of this post is to further explain some of the more in depth processes, vision, and intent regarding our assignments.
Breadth vs. Depth
As of the writing of this post, AFSPC leadership’s intent for a 13S’s career is to have two Operational Tours or ‘Ops Tours’ under our belt before we move on to do bigger and better things. This discussion is often closely related to the breadth vs. depth discussion, which in short is whether or not it is better to have breadth of experience (i.e., one tour at every different type of space assignment) or depth of experience (i.e., extensive experience in one or maybe two assignments within similar fields.) In other words is it better to have experience in all shreds of space (spacelift, satellite command and control, or Missile Warning) or extensive experience in just Missile Warning? Personally, I think two assignments is the sweet spot of ideal experience so I agree with AFSPC’s current direction on this. The two ops tour policy is not a hard requirement, it is more of a general goal AFPC uses as they walk us through our career paths. For example as a brand new 2d Lt I will almost certainly do two ops tours, but a Capt who cross-flowed into 13S from 62XX will probably only do one because he or she is 4-5 years further down their career.
AFPC Assignment Availability Code
In order for AFPC to maintain control of our tours and tour length, they use Assignment Availability Codes IAW AFI 36-2110. The below memorandum signed January 15, 2015 dictates that with a few exceptions 13S tour length is 36 or 48 months depending on the unit. The time doesn’t start until you are combat mission ready/mission ready (CMR/MR) so it can be up to one year until your time on station actually starts. For example here is how my timeline played out. I was extremely fortunate so consider my case the best-case scenario:
- Graduated OTS
- +2 months – casual status
- +3 months – Undergraduate Space Training (UST) at Vandenberg AFB, CA
- +2 months – casual status
- +3 months – Mission Qualification Training (MQT) at my first base
- TOTAL: 10 months after graduating OTS, finally on console doing the job
Stabilized Tour Guide
The AFI also references something called the Stabilized Tour Guide, but the link they provide does not work. This guide can be found on MyPers by searching “Stabilized Tour Guide.” While it doesn’t specifically spell out the details for 13S’s, it does provide some additional information regarding the differences between minimum and maximum stabilized tours. It is worth a glance but not crucial.
As an officer it is extremely valuable to have the information you need or know how to find it. There is an outstanding resource available to officers in almost any career field in the Air Force Portal. If you search “Assignment Team” you will likely find a page with information specific to your career field.
Here is the Air Force Portal link to the 13S Space Operations Assignment Team page. On this page you will find information regarding Professional Military Education (IDE/SDE), contact information, DO/CC board results, career milestone charts, etc. It basically contains links or information to anything which may be relevant to managing your career.
Officers are expected to manage their own career, not follow the path the Air Force set out for them. Instead of getting the next assignment by luck or AFSC slots available, you will tell AFPC where you want to go and decide for yourself what is good for your career. Ideally you will have mentors who can help you along with this process but in my opinion it is best if you can figure out 90%-95% of it out yourself, and seek mentorship for the last little bit. If you do this it is harder to be left behind by the dynamic and competitive nature of officer careers.
Here is the link:
My overall long term goal for future posts is to 1) gather real inputs from Airmen (enlisted and officer) in ANY career field who can provide the no-BS what is it like to do this job. I would love to be able to post this information on my blog to give people a good starting point for choosing the path for their career.
Secondly, I would like to dive deep into how to become a successful officer once you completely make the switch from enlisted to officer, or civilian to officer. Things like second assignments, ADP, career vectoring, PME like SOS or ACSC, promotions, politics, etc., are all topics I plan to cover in depth. Please let me know if you support this plan and I will begin making posts once I actually figure this stuff out for my own.
When I was scouring the internet for information when I applied I discovered this was not a lot of information out there about OTS, and especially about the 13S career field. I somehow dug up this posting on reddit which provided me with an outstanding breakdown of what the 13S/1C6X1 career field is like (officer/enlisted AFSC, respectively). Now that I am fully immersed in the career field, fully certified, and intimately familiar with my mission, I can now personally vouch that this is good info.
Click here for the link. Post was created by SilentD
My own personal updates to this post:
Returning to School
The information posted about always returning to Vandenberg AFB, CA after every assignment is no longer current. Initial 13S and 1C6X1 tech school is indeed at Vandenberg, but after that you will start additional training at your first duty location. I am not 100% sure about what the current 1C6 timeline is, but for 13S tech school is still only a TDY meaning you will PCS to your first base then attend “Undergraduate Space Training” at Vandenberg for around three months.
Every time you arrive at a new base (including your first assignment) you will also need to do more specific system training there. Most bases are now calling this “Initial Qualification Training.” This training will be an additional 3-9 months depending on what unit you are at or what your system is. After you are fully certified you will begin working crew.
If you finish a tour at one base and PCS to another base, you will NOT be returning to Vandenberg for more system specific training (any variant of IQT/MQT). Because you have already completed tech school or UST you can jump right in to the IQT class specific to your new base. This will teach you how to operate your new system and you will again be good to go and return to crew.
Here is one of my older posts about the 13S tech school. I need to update this.
You can download the actual file if you are part of that Facebook group. Click Here for the link.
Suggestions & Questions about Uniforms and Packing
- View this site and see how Zachary Ian packed his duffle bag (if using one of those instead of suit case); it may help: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1330569503637484/permalink/1518297878197978/
- How is everyone packing? Some are bringing one duffel of personal items and civvies and a backpack with a laptop and some personal items. Some others are bringing a suitcase, garment bag, and a backpack.
- Is everyone planning to bring the “winter months” clothing requirements? Some people are some people aren’t. Reporting instructions cite Oct-April for cold weather gear.
- Is anyone bringing a princess cut blues shirt, just in case? Some said no, but if everyone has one eventually all females are able to wear them. Note: You can get these and tuck in like the original blues shirt (with usage of garters).
- Anyone find any quick tips or hints on rolling socks and shirts? Shirts… Make sure when you turn over the bottom, do it at 3 inches, otherwise when you get to the end you will have to little or too much fabric. Read the OTS Manual…. It is specific.
- How many pairs of ABUs is everyone bringing? The consensus was 3 pairs.
- Does anyone know about how OTS feels about vibram fingers? As far as I know (and from what I know from 2903) you can wear them. I do not ever recall reading in there that you cannot. I am active duty and there are always 1 or 2 people around the base who do in PT uniform.
- Suggestions: Try to roll your shirts/socks prior to arrival. As well, it helps to zip lock like items together (for ease of packing/unpacking as well as keeping the roll “intact”.
- Suggestions: Females- When we report in on the 29th, make sure you hair is good to go. And by that I mean in bun (if it’s long enough) even though we’re going to be in civilian clothes.
- Suggestions: Sew everything on prior to coming (excluding rank). Also, clip and burn your strings. This will save you a lot of time the first few days and make more time for cleaning/homework.
Officer Training School Questions and TIPS
- Anyone hear any confirmation that OTS is going to be 2 weeks shorter or was that just a rumor? Again, this is just a rumor. The course syllabus has not changed. This may be affective for FY18 but our current class will likely do the full 29 March – 02 June 2017 period.
- Does anyone know, or heard from grads, if you can wear calf compression, knee compression type devices during PT? I’ve heard if they can’t see it under PT gear you are good.
- For those who wear steel toed boots everyday, are you planning on buying some non steel toes and breaking them in prior? If so what kind? Ordered the Nike boots. Super light and comfy but not sure how durable they are. Only wore them a few days but I have custom orthotics so I don’t usually have to break boots in. They don’t come in steel toe though so not sure how much I’ll get to wear them after OTS. I have been told the under armor are nice also. I don’t think you can go wrong with either. I got a pair of rocky C4Ts
- Since the skill badge was mentioned in the clothing list, are you having them sewn on to your ABU tops along with your name tapes and USAF tapes? Most people say yes. Remember though, if you get wings, those always go on top. Also, do not to sew on officer’s badge (unless same as enlisted) until completion of the course and/or tech school.
- Has anyone actually started to study? Some have some have not. If you are going to study anything, study the OTSMAN first. It is higher on the priority list than the HAWK.
- Do you know what documents I need to bring to OTS to enroll in join spouse? Husband is AD and I know instructions to enroll civilian spouses in DEERS says to bring marriage/birth certificates. I’m currently in DEERS if that matters. Bring copy of original marriage/birth certificates and of his ID.
- About OTS: http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/104479/officer-training-school.aspx
- Aim High Erin: http://www.aimhigherin.com
- Kellac Uniforms: https://www.kellac.com/h/home.php
- OTS Website: http://www.au.af.mil/au/holmcenter/OTS/index.asp
- Graduation Information: http://www.au.af.mil/au/holmcenter/OTS/Graduationinfo.asp
- Visit the Facebook site: 24th Training Squadron – Officer Training School
- Do you want NeverWet for your Boots? Go here: http://www.neverwet.com
From Prior Grads
- What time should I report in? 1500-ish is a good time.
- Comment: USE THE CROSSWALKS WHEN GOING TO REPORT IN!
- How much luggage may I bring? As much as you need (you do not have to carry your bags BMT style; you can roll your suitcase if needed). If possible, leave blues items in the car.
- What should I wear to report in? Khakis or nice pants, tucked in button up or collared shirt, belt, no watch or jewelry (other than a wedding band), tuck in your shoe laces.
- Comment to Prior Es: Do not stand at attention when the instructors are lining us up after check-in.
- How much civilian attire should I pack? What you arrive in will be okay for a few weeks (we won’t be wearing them) – If you have a car you might want a couple of outfits stashed there for phasing up
- The checklist says pajamas… any specific kind? They suggest sleeping in PT gear. There are times where instructors will come into the dorms and tell you to be outside in one minute and you cannot be in your civilian pajamas outside. Also, they suggested not changing into PT gear right away after the duty day (wait until all instructors are gone), because they can call you outside at any moment and you would need to put your ABUs back on in less than a minute.
- For females, can we bring things like hair dryers, curling irons, make up? Yes, and there is time to put make up on in the morning.
- Suggestion: They highly suggest bringing your own pillow with a white pillow case. I asked about a blanket and they suggested not bringing that because they don’t know where you would store it. I asked because I am ALWAYS cold. They said the AC is blasting all the time so bring a sweater to sleep in and/or the PT sweatshirt.
- Should I have cash on hand? Yes, like $20-40-ish
- Does the color of your undergarments matter? No, no one cares about your bloomers.
- Are prepositioned items provided upon arrival? If you don’t already have them, they will take you down to the BX and make you buy everything then and there. They suggest bringing those items with you (just one less thing to worry about)
- The dorm manual talks about having an attache for your computer. I’m assuming we can’t carry backpacks to put our laptops and other class items in? No, The attache must be uniform. Purchase upon arrival. The opening for large pocket is about 15″x12″. The biggest issue is weight, that thing gets really freaking heavy while marching around.
From Prior Service (who have not yet attended)
- Do I need to pack my clothes they way they will be inspected? No, plenty of time for rolling your socks there.
- Priority for graded items:
- Academics (SOBs)
- Research Papers
- Room inspection
- Drill and Ceremony
- A few suggested items:
- allergy/pain meds,
- MOLESKIN (they could not emphasize this enough),
- ABSOLUETLY NO SNACKS
From Prior Service (who have not yet attended)
- Does anyone know or have you heard anything about the weekend schedules during OTS? Expect a Schedule along these lines (week 1):
- People who have base assignments, how well do those assignments match up with your requests? Where are you going, and what was your first pick? In general, people were not getting the assignments they requested. A few got assignments that were on their list, but the majority did not.
- Did you get your assignment before your orders or did you see your assignment for the first time on your orders? I got my orders three weeks after finding out about my assignment.
Career Field Specific Questions
- (RPA specific) Any RPA guys have an assignment yet? I talked to Mr. Coleman yesterday and he said it should be soon. Some have, some don’t. We will just have to be patient on this one.
- (21A Specific) Any word on AMOC yet and if the schedule is posted for the rest of FY17? The Unit Training Manager will send you a rip once you are ready to go. The assignments POC sent an email to my gaining CC saying that they do not have slots yet for AMOC for OTS (1705) graduates.
- (21A Specific) Do you go to your first base first, and then go TDY to AMOC at Sheppard? If so about how long until you actually leave to go TDY? Yes; between 1 and 6 months after getting to your base. It just depends.
- (21A Specific) How is the command structure in Aircraft maintenance (i.e. who is over and under you)? Very few officers; Squadron commander is normally your supervisor. You may have a Capt or Major sitting as the Mnx Op’s Officer (to provide oversight just for the ops side of the house) but they won’t normally be your rater. Your position will likely be a Flight Commander or AMU OIC. You will have between 50-300 people under you.
- (21A Specific) Is it difficult as a woman in the field? And if you were in a different career field, is it hard to learn/adjust? Not hard as a woman. You have to have tough skin though; they are all normally respectful when I enter the area.
- (21A Specific) Do we get to deploy/Do we deploy a lot? We get to deploy, but it depends on your Command.
- (21A Specific) What seem to peoples favorite aircraft to work on/with? Usually your first aircraft.
- (21A Specific) Do you ever get to physically work with the aircraft or you just do the management of the people who do the work? We are not signed off to work on the aircraft but you can go out when maintainers are working on the aircraft and learn what they do and maybe climb into whatever area the work is in, but we don’t do the physical work. Just manage personnel issues, EPRs, and big picture guidance for mx practices, attend a lot of meetings in which we brief production and aircraft status.
- (21A Specific) Is AMOC difficult for those who dont have mnx backgrounds? It is an appropriate speed and if you have prior service it helps because you don’t have to learn AF stuff as well.
- (21A Specific) Do we have to deal with a lot of disciplinary things? Yes. You tend to write a bit of apaperwork (normally LORs). LOCs should be handled lower than your level and Article 15s are handled at CC level. But your First Sergeants will have lots of examples so you don’t have to start from scratch.
- (21A Specific) Do you recommend keeping anything from when you were enlisted (i.e. EPRs, resumes, etc.)? Keep what you normally would if you were doing a PCS/PCA.
- (21A Specific) Are officers in that Aircraft Mnx field mainly new accessions or do they come in through ROTC/OTS? Mainly they are new AF Accessions, so you already will have a leg up on many people…
- (21A Specific) What does a Deputy Maintenance Commander Recommend in this career field? For my situation, I’ll be in for 10 years once I get settled at my first base and she was saying I need to do a remote ASAP after that. It would be my first so it’s best to get it out of the way on your terms. For you civilians, you really need to do a remote 1 year tour in your career. Basically you are filling in a “checked box” to make Major later on. Example locations are Korea, Turkey or other places in the Gulf region. Then after that you need to figure out what you want in your career. If you wanna go far, you gotta get to bases that basically slay you and take you away from your family/deploy. Or you can be with family and set yourself up to retire as a Major.
- (21A Specific) This is a recommendation: Just had a meeting with a 21A Capt and the biggest advice that he gave was that MX officers get beat up in meetings and not to push that beating to the Airmen. There is some that will have to be trickled down but don’t take it out on them. Take it on the chin and move on. There are 3 main sections of MX, the Maintenance Ops (paperwork side), backshops (fuels, propulsion, off flightline stuff), and AMXS which is on flightline stuff. Most of what the 21A’s do is briefings about status’ and parts on order and stuff like that.
“This question is partially for Steve Rogers, but also for anyone who’s already in the USAF. Coming from the Army, I understand that junior officers in the Air Force typically don’t have as much direct leadership responsibility/opportunity as Army officers do (e.g., just about every lieutenant will be a platoon leader at some point — if I’m not mistaken, that’s very different from the Air Force model.)
It seems to me that certain AFSCs, like space, intel, and logistics, would lend themselves more easily to leadership opportunities I’m used to and that I seek. Space and intel platoons (flights?) must still need lieutenants, even if most of the AF is geared towards the flying side. Does anyone know if this is the case?”
31P Security Forces
In my opinion the closest the Air Force gets to the Army model is the Security Forces career field (3P0X1/31PX). In this career field newly commissioned officers are placed on flight almost immediately, so if you were to show up on Day 1 you may find yourself as the Flight Commander for one of the operational flights. This will of course depend on your base or your mission, but the operational flights are the Airmen who are actually doing the job of securing the base. At one of my last bases we had one flight which did law enforcement (patrols and gates) and other flights which did security. Flight sizes vary from 20-100 people so your scope/impact as a leader can vary greatly. The rank structure is also more traditional; we had 4-6 Airmen assigned to each SSgt (E-5), 4-5 SSgt’s assigned to each TSgt (E-6), and 2-3 TSgt’s supporting the MSgt (E-7). The MSgt is the “Flight Chief” and he is the top dog for all flight operations. A wise Lieutenant provides the Flight Chief with general direction and larger picture objectives and lets the Flight Chief run the flight as he sees fit.
In SF typically after you push a flight for about a year you will progress to other “back office” jobs. When I was SF our back office was also similar to the Army in that we maintained the “S” functions of 1-5 (Admin, Intel, Ops, Logistics, and Plans & Programs, respectively). A CGO would typically rotate to or through 2-3 of these jobs and the culmination of a CGO’s career would be the S-3, Ops Officer. We actually called these “Sections” so for example the S-1 would be the “Section Commander” but I suspect the names vary greatly from base-to-base. Sections 1, 2, 4 and 5 were a little different than S-3 in that they were much smaller than a flight. Typically these sections had a “Superintendent,” which at my last base was filled by a MSgt (E-7). Below the MSgt would be maybe one TSgt a few SSgt’s, and a few Airmen, again depending on the section. The S-3 was different in that our “Operations Superintendent” was a SMSgt (E-8) and all of the flights worked for the Ops Officer.
13S Space Operations
The farthest I have seen from the Army model would probably be my career field, and this has pros and cons. In my career field (13S) the enlisted to officer ratio is about 50/50 so there are many officers and enlisted sitting side by side on a computer/satellite console doing almost (if not exactly) the same job. A 13S officer’s career path would start by being “on console” which is a more which requires more technical knowledge. After an officer masters that they are given other opportunities such as mission planning, stan/eval, training, etc. Instead of a specific or more defined path, an officer will work through and master different positions until they are ready for higher leadership opportunities.
The operators which are doing the job work on “crews” instead of flights. As an officer you will start on console then may bounce around from one flight to another. The flights have similar functions as the “S” function system but they are designed by a letter while all sharing the prefix “DO.” For example our flights are aligned as follows: Operations (DOO) for all the operational crews, Training (DOT) for the flight which oversees training, and Evaluations (DOV) which oversees checklists. The Flight Commanders for these flights are typically filled by Captains, which means you will spend your first four years doing what I consider “mission” related positions before you may become a Flight Commander which oversee the completion of more support related functions (DOO, DOT, DOV). The other position which is generally filled by Captains is what many SOPS consider “Mission Commanders.” This person is ultimately in charge of all mission ops which can be super cool but may also be more technical or administrative. Sometimes “high speed” lieutenants can be Flight or Mission Commanders, but as a general rule they are typically Captains.
Other Non-Rated Career Fields
I would say the other career fields such as Intel or Logistics fall somewhere in between. In general I would classify the more administrative positions one way, and the more hands on jobs the other way. Intel or Personnel would be more administrative. A newly commissioned 2d Lt may be a Flight Commander but that flight may be in charge of producing administrative products or processing information. Leadership in these jobs would still involve inspiring, knowing, and guiding, but your office or Flight may only include a handful of NCOs or Airmen. Other hands on jobs like Maintenance or logistics are going to have a closer model to the Security Forces model I described above. Again you may be a Flight Commander right away but you probably won’t be “doing” things like your people will be. The structure may be more traditional though with more Airmen than NCOs and SNCOs.
In summary, it depends on what type of leadership you are looking for. It also depends on what type of promotion opportunities you are thinking about. As a prior cop NCO I really miss working with the diverse flight of Airmen. I also miss running exercises and having the on the ground combat mindset. The AF frames all of this stuff around the context of exercises, but SF exercises every day so it becomes a part of life. On any given day as a SSgt I would be responsible for creating an exercise scenario where bad guys were trying to steal nuclear weapons and I would watch my guys execute their combat duties, kill bad guys, and recapture the weapon. If my Flight Chief made the scenario that day I would be leading my fire-team across the field toward our objective, or directing my teams to tactically recapture the objective. I freaking miss this. It was all fake but I loved every second of it. Don’t get me wrong there is lots of bad to go with the good, but this is what I miss. The heart of true leadership is the connection I shared with my Airmen and seeing my Airmen do great things under my leadership.
In space it looks a little different. Right now my boss is a Capt and my troop is an A1C (E-3). Space tries to inject the combat mindset into our job and I personally know this is a real thing we need to do because of the space threats out there, but it is still different. If war happens in space I will not be getting in a rocket and blasting pieces of debris with lasers, I will still be on my console ensuring my satellite can still perform it’s mission. I have leadership opportunities with the people I work with but most are officers with a few NCOs or Airmen sprinkled in. We all have different jobs so instead of influencing 20-30 people to do the big mission of recapturing a weapon, my A1C partner and I influence our realm and everyone else is responsible for their own. I guess you could say it is more compartmentalized and being good at our job has a less tangible impact. My partner and I are the dudes who upload commands, the mission planners create the commands and decide when they are performed, the engineers make the commands more efficient and fix broken stuff, and my mission commander reports when it is all broken and when it will be fixed. We all have the opportunity to leverage our system to achieve a farther reaching objective, but it still feels different than entering a blacked out PAS with NVG’s or flashlights and harnessing the chaos with 5.56 rounds. I love being a 13S and I super excited about where this career field is going and how we are blazing the trail of strategy and policy in space, but as a Lieutenant it looks much different. Perhaps the biggest lesson from all of this is to love what you do no matter what your job is! That strategy has served me well.