A graduate from class 17-03 (Det 12) sent me the following updates about OTS. He made a few really good points that I never thought about spelling out specifically in the past:
- Military Pay: If you are a civilian it may take a while for your pay to start kicking in. It is easy to think this is an issue with the OTS staff but changes to military pay in general take a long time. If all goes well for an active duty person, you can see changes to your military pay in as little as three weeks, but for anyone it can take up to several months. I think one of the main reasons for this is because it has to first make it through AF-level personnel then it has to be submitted to DFAS which manages the pay for the entire DoD.
- Tip #1: If your pay is messed up or you aren’t getting paid at all, SPEAK UP. All leadership (OTS staff, operational AF, AETC training, etc.) acknowledges that not getting paid is a major, real issue. If you bring it up they will move mountains to help you out.
- Tip #2: Double check everything. Cross reference your base pay, BAS, and BAH with separate sources online. I’ll do a specific post on this later with links and a brief explanation of a pay statement (LES).
- Tip #3: If something doesn’t look right and you get paid a bunch of money you don’t think you are entitled to, DON’T SPEND THE MONEY! Once DFAS figures out the mistake they can straight up stop paying you until the debt is paid.
- PCS’ing to Your First Base: After you get orders (AF Form 899) it will include what is called a Report No Later Than Date (RNLTD). This date will almost always be a few days after OTS graduation, so you need to plan for things to move fast after you graduate. The DoD basically takes your graduation date then gives you “travel days” based on the number of miles it takes to drive to your first base. The calculation is something like 350 to 400 miles per day. If it takes you two days/600 miles to get to your first base, you will be authorized to take two travel days where the AF will pay you a little bit per mile and for lodging.
- In the operational Air Force they give you a RNLTD a month or two past when you will actually take leave. Finance calculates these travel days first then any extra days you take to get from A to B are charged as leave.
- Your RNLTD CAN BE CHANGED. You have to get approval from your gaining unit so you will have to dig and dig for phone numbers and ask someone at that unit. The process when I was there was for your Flight Commander to sign a memo request, your gaining unit to approve the memo, then the 24 TRS/CC or Det 12/CC to finally approve it. Once they approve it you give it back to personnel and they amend your orders in 3-4 days (at the fastest). Check with personnel on the specific process when you are there.
- In summary, unless you have everything in your car and you are ready to drive straight to your next base, if you want to take leave you may have to request a RNLTD extension.
- Finally, Your Gaining Base will not know you are coming: We are an electronic Air Force and everything personnel related is tracked in a database. This includes PCSing, your personnel records, assignments, etc. Because OTS is off cycle to the rest of the AF, and because they can’t load an officer assignment for an enlisted dude, your orders are cut by hand and manually produced on the AF Form 899.
- You as an OTS grad will bypass this normal electronic process, so you have to reach out and bridge this gap yourself.
- It is crucial you keep copies of your orders because unlike later in your career, you cannot log back in and just re-print them.
- Try to established the relationship with your first base as early as possible. Units are supposed to give you a sponsor to help you with your move. They will provide local info, tips, contacts for setting stuff up, getting you a temporary address, etc. Ask for them to assign you a sponsor because they won’t know you are coming.
Comments from the grad:
– They’re doing pretty different stuff between Det 12 and TRS 24 right now. In fact, the 24th is being unofficially called a “guinea pig” experiment right now as they’re cramming all of the material into even fewer weeks, but still keeping cadets for the standard amount of total time. For example, I believe last week they had their CWT #2, SPT #2, PFA, and a briefing all in the course of a standard week. So it seems like they’re trying to determine whether OTS can be further condensed. Also, we (Det 12) only had 4ish people sent home total, and they had already had 15 sent home by the time we graduated, and they still had a few weeks left.
– Our Det 12 class was the first one (according to staff) that was put 4 to a dorm room. It was pretty packed but we got used to it. Interestingly, this was also one of the first (or perhaps the only) class to have zero self eliminations. The staff is trying to figure out if there’s a connection between the two, but I don’t know what the future implications of this will be.
– I’d say around 20% of our class never received pay while at OTS. This might not be something to tell incoming students so that they don’t worry about it, but OTS has acknowledged that their finance department is in need of change.
– They’re getting rid of the ropes course this year. Bummer, because it’s really fun.
– AEF was only two days for us, as our class was too big. Two squadrons went out for Monday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, the other two for Wed afternoon through Fri afternoon.
– Maybe just give a little note to non-priors especially that there is a very good chance they’ll be PCSing to their next duty station immediately after OTS. This is primarily for those cadets who might otherwise fly to OTS – I would have driven with my household goods from the Northwest for OTS if I had known that I would have a report date of 12 March after graduating 10 March.
– They’re getting rideof TFIT in the next yearish – I think you already knew this. [NOTE, this has been confirmed to start for class 17-07 (click here)].
– They’re looking at the possibility of offering online lessons prior to OTS so that there is less classroom/reading time and more application. I’m a big fan of this concept, but it’s not official yet and might not happen for some time, if at all. Leadership seemed to be on board with the idea of it though.
– Don’t hide stuff in laundry bags. They loved to check those.
Follow up comments from a recent 24 TRS grad:
I’m in 17-04, so I wanted to clarify and comment on the points from the 17-03 grad.
I have received this question a few times so I figured I may as well do a post on it. In most cases, you should know where you will be going after OTS fairly early. As a 13S I knew my next base well before I even left for OTS. Any time you permanently leave a base during your career it is called a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Most, if not all, will PCS from Maxwell after training.
Prior Active Duty
Non-Prior Active Duty
Report No Later Than Date (RNLTD)
- A fixed amount per mile calculated by the DoD from your departing to arriving base (something like $0.60).
- Lodging for the allotted travel days you are authorized.
- Per-diem for the allotted travel days you are authorized.
The Perks of PCSing
- While you are traveling on orders hotels are only authorized to charge you a maximum rate if they have availability. This is calculated by county/zip code and you can find the maximum rate here. The reason I tell you this is because it doesn’t matter how nice the hotel is, that is the maximum rate they can charge you for that location. I took advantage of this benefit by staying in Hilton’s while I traveled from Maxwell to my first base. To get the most out of this, I also used my hotel rewards number so I got credit for the stay. When you book the reservation just be sure to ask for the ‘military’ or ‘government’ rate. The price difference was about $60 for most of the hotels I stayed in, so it was a considerable benefit.
- You can choose how you want to do this for the days you are traveling which will be charged as leave. When I PCS’d to my first base as an officer I actually used my hotel points so the price was basically the same when compared to the government rate. After I thought about it for a while I realized even though you are taking leave en route you are still traveling on official government orders. The rate you negotiate with the hotel is up to the discretion of the hotel so if you inform them you are on government orders and taking leave en route maybe they will give you the government rate anyways. Just be honest with them and have them make the decision, maybe it will save you $60. They are honestly probably just happy to have your business because if they don’t give you a decent rate maybe they will lose your business.
- The last thing I will mention is one more entitlement I may have missed out on if I wasn’t paying attention. Because OTS was a TDY en route instead of a PCS I also had the benefit of the government paying for whatever luggage I took to and from OTS. In order to set this up I had to go to the JPPSO office prior to leaving my last base. They gave me some paperwork told me once I arrived at my next base to just turn in the paperwork to their JPPSO office. Basically prior to packing my car I filled the gas tank and had to get my vehicle weighed at a certified scale. After I packed I did the same thing, then I was to drive to OTS. I had to do the same thing after OTS prior to leaving Maxwell. I was paid an amount per pound because I had to haul the weight with me during my travel. I will note that the amount authorized was different for a TSgt than a 2d Lt, but not by much.
I received the following comment on a post and I thought it would be beneficial for all to hear.
“Being that you have been active duty for a while, what things do you look for when deciding what your base choices would be? For example, my wife and I thought that proximity to family, quality, etc would be important.”
This is a really tough question to answer because it really depends on what your priorities are, what career field you are in (or going in to), and what you want to do with your career. I will start by talking through some of the things I thought about over the years. I will separate this by enlisted vs. officer because the process or approach taken should be treated very differently for each.
My Enlisted Base Experience
When you first enlist you write down eight base choices available for your career field, but that is basically the extent of your personal influence on the situation. Once you submit your eight choices you are at the mercy of the available quotas outlined by AFPC. The basic criteria of these choices are PCS timeline, quotas (slots available) and rank. I submitted my eight choices for my first base but I ended up getting a base that wasn’t on my list. If you are enlisted there are ways you can get a pretty good idea of the manning at each of the bases you are interested in and that can help you with getting the assignment you want. I didn’t figure this out until several years into my career.
Since my first base chose me (instead of the other way around), I didn’t really think about where I wanted to go. Once I got there, I began to realize there are a few factors which directly relate to your quality of life at that base. Here are a few I learned from my earlier assignments.
- Mission – Do some research on the missions available in your career field, and the overall morale associated with those missions. For example, in the Security Forces world there is a general dislike of the “nuke” or ICBM world due to the strict security requirements associated with the mission. Strict requirements means more challenges, and more challenges means less resources and manpower. Try to tap into the “general” missions first for example ICBM, fighter, bomber, research, space, etc. That will help you narrow down the bases.
- Overseas vs. stateside – Seriously, you want to go overseas. If you are younger you may desire to be closer to family. Once you join the military it becomes necessary to start your own life though, and the sooner you do the better off you will be. Everyone should do overseas tours early because it opens your eyes to the literal world around you, your parents are still young, and your kids or marriage is young (if you have them). Once you have more roots and a family you can do your time stateside and take care of your parents.
- City size – This matters to a lot of people, but the trick is that some people don’t know what they prefer until they leave what they had. I lived in a very small area close to a medium sized city and moved to a base with a medium sized city, so my first transition was easy. Later in my career I moved to a fairly large city and realized I preferred that instead. Be cognizant of this but I wouldn’t use it as a determining factor.
- Family (parents and siblings) – Despite what I said about cutting ties, I absolutely love my family. Being halfway across the US is tough, but I also had to accept I was in the military. You will have to decide this one for yourself. Think about factors such as driving time, airline ticket expenses, etc. If you are serious about a base actually calculate the airline cost because some bases may seem fairly close but be small enough that they require a regional flight on both ends which racks up the price.
- Church – This can be very important to some people. It can be very frustrating to be stuck at a base that doesn’t have a church which meets your religious or spiritual needs. If it is important enough to you, you will want to do the research.
- Local Hobbies – What do you like to do, and what does your future base have to offer? If you know a location is similar you may be in good shape, but if your hobbies are drastically different from a base you may struggle. A lot of this is about attitude though. Having a positive attitude and being open to trying new things can completely change your experience.
- Crime, neighborhoods, parks – I wanted my family to have a healthy and safe environment around my house, so this began to play a role. Look up the crime rates and try to get a feel for the different cities you are looking at.
- Commute – What is the typical commute to and from work, and where do most people live? For example at one base I loved my 45 minute commute because it was a quiet and peaceful drive. At my next base I absolutely hated my 25 minute commute because it was gridlock every day. This one will likely vary throughout your career.
- Medical support – We decided to have our baby off base so the quality of local hospitals played a role in where we wanted to live. This is more of a decision for finding a part of town you want to live in, not finding a city you want to PCS to (since most cities have good off-base medical).
- Military culture – Some cities by bases love the military population for various reasons. Some cities hate the military population because of the trouble it can bring. Additionally, the culture of the city itself can be different based on the makeup of the population. If the city has the only university in that region of your state, the city culture may be college with a military population present. If a city has multiple bases in city limits, the entire city could feel like a military base. Keep in mind bases from other branches can have a different effect on the culture of the city.
- Schools – Think about how old your kids are and what grades they will be in for your assignment, and try to gauge the quality of the skills based on what you want for your kids.
- Know the assignment process. You may think it is all to chance but you should know how it is up to chance, and what part of the process is under your control (it is more than you think.) Know the regulations, and make sure you understand the timelines and AFPC processes. Knowledge really is power with assignments. Keep in mind there is a normal career field process and a separate process called “Special Duties.” Special duties are different jobs which you can do outside of your career field. This can open up a few more options for people with limited assignment options.
- Once you know the process, do the research and make your decision. You should be making an informed decision based on what is important to you. Once you submit your choices just let the chips fall. The Air Force is going to do what it is going to do, and fighting it will only make your life more difficult.
- Embrace your next assignment. Get into what is fun to locally do there, don’t gripe about not being able to do what you used to do. Every base will have things you like and things you don’t like. Learn to accept the base for what it is, and focus on the things about the base you do like. Most of all, enjoy your time there.
- Again, always have a positive attitude. If your hobby isn’t available there, find a new one. If there are literally no hobbies, go back to school. You can always grow and develop, and each base can define your life in a positive way.
- Although the above process and priorities aren’t much different for an officer’s first assignment, the process changes more and more as you progress through your career. In short, your career progression plays a larger role in where you go as you progress. An officer is expected to have a certain degree of experience within his or her career field. If you have done a job already, it would be bad to do the same job at a different base. On the flip side, you don’t want to be a floater with no depth of experience. I wouldn’t worry about this at first but just know that things change as you progress through your officer career.
- Instead of the enlisted process of ‘submit your preferences and see what happens,’ each officer has a career counselor (I can’t remember the correct name). When you are hot for an assignment you submit an in-depth assignment preference profile and your counselor will contact to personally work your assignment. The assignment preference profile is called Airman Development Plan (ADP). You are of course limited by available openings, but you have to know the general gist of how you want the next chapter of your career to fit into your total career. This isn’t as important for your second assignment, but becomes extremely important as you progress.
- This probably goes without saying, but the higher your rank, the less say you have on where can you go (lots of Lt slots but very few General slots). Additionally, saying no to assignments can close doors in your career that can never be re-opened. If you say no to an assignment you could be saying no to O-6 even though it is years down the road. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS until you are well into your career and have an idea what you want to do with your life. I tell you this to point out that you have to begin to think about other factors as an officer. Regardless of what you do, stay true to your own personal values. Don’t sacrifice your family for an assignment which may help your career. Make every assignment decision with your family and not on your own.