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Posts from the ‘OTS Weeks’ Category

17
Oct

OTS Advice – June 2017 Grad

This was posted in one of the OTS class Facebook groups.  Posted with permission.  I could be wrong but this sounds like a Det 12 experience to me.


First Day

Check-in was from 1200-1600.  I arrived at 1430.  Show up with your laces and shirt tucked in.  The MTIs and the Squadron Commanders were all there to “greet” us.  They were pretty intense.  Just remember your customs and courtesies and to move with a sense of urgency.  Different MTIs grabbed groups of people and started instructing them outside the dorms on the basics of customs/courtesies and marching.  Then, we went inside to grab our welcome packets, which had our room assignments on them.  Once I got my packet, I went outside, grabbed my luggage and went to my room.  After dropping off my stuff, we formed up on the other side of the dorms to march over to the OTS shoppette.  From that point on, you will always have your HAWK and OTSMAN on you at all times.  So while we were waiting for enough people to form up outside, we were standing there reading our OTSMAN.  Then, we marched over to the shoppette, where everyone grabbed any uniform items they didn’t bring, toiletries, and items on the pre-positioned list.  Take your time in there because otherwise you will be standing outside for a long time waiting for everyone in your group to be done.  Then we marched back to the dorms, where the MTIs did not give us any direction on what to do besides go to our rooms, so people sat in their rooms doing nothing for hours and hours waiting for some kind of instruction.  What you should do is unpack your luggage and start setting up your room according to the dorm manual.  You will have an MRE to eat in your dorm for dinner, and you should be allowed a 15 minute phone call to let people know your address and that you are fine.  It is a long day of waiting around not knowing what to do or what’s coming next.  Then, the MTIs should hold a meeting with the whole class before lights out that evening.

First Week

The whole first week was a lot of standing around, getting yelled at, and learning how to march.  My feet had never hurt so bad in my life.  Everybody’s feet were killing them.  Make sure you have Dr. Scholl’s inserts in your boots, and make sure you wear comfortable shoes the first day in your civvies.

The second day, we immediately started wearing ABUs.  As priors, you will have to help your roommate get dressed because most likely, they have no idea what they are doing.  They woke us up at 0430 on the dot by yelling and banging on doors.  It’s not as crazy as BMT, and they won’t make you do push-ups/sit-ups/etc. or yell in your face.  They also will not embarrass you or single you out.  You will know who is in your flight right away because your rooms are all next to each other.  There are 16 people to a flight, 4 flights per squadron, 4 squadrons per wing (the wing is the whole class).  It will be a mix of priors/non-priors, ANG, and Reserve.  You will be with your Flight all the time, so make good relationships with those people.  You will also have to stratify each other, and report the top 3 and bottom 3 flight members to your Flight CC every week (I was not a fan of this).

Our first week was TFIT, which they got rid of now.  TFIT consisted of learning to march and proper procedures for everything at OTS.  Now that will just be integrated into TFOT, so you will be learning all of that at the same time you are starting classes and in-processing.  We didn’t meet our Flight Commanders until TFOT started the next week.  However, you might be meeting them right away now.  Your Flight Commander will be yours for the duration of your time at OTS and he/she will most likely be a Captain, possibly a 1st Lt.  He/She will be instructing you in your Flight Room, and you will have combined lectures with your whole class in the auditoriums as well.

Lights On is at 0430 everyday, no earlier than that.  If you need to wake up a little early, do it quietly and with the lights off.  Lights Out is at 2300 every night, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay up that late.  You can go to bed whenever you want.  You will have late nights a lot in the beginning trying to get prepared and everything, but it will lighten up and get easier as time goes on.  It’s really hard to stay awake during lectures, so a lot of people had cough drops and mints to help keep them awake.

Following Weeks

The first couple weeks are pretty rough, but it starts getting so much better by week 3. The staff stops yelling at you, and they go to just being stern when needed.  Then, as your class phases up throughout the course, they will start being nice to you.  But you have to always remember to not get complacent and not start slacking.  Our class phased up earlier than most because we were able to be professional and self-sufficient with our cadet chain-of-command.  They won’t phase you up if they have to constantly babysit and correct you.

Physical Training

We took our first PT test during the second week.  This is a baseline test.  It doesn’t count as your official score, but there was talk about letting it count, so people don’t have to worry about getting injured later and getting sent home for injuries.  So it is possible that this test may officially count for you.  We didn’t have any PT up to this test, so make sure you come prepared to pass.  There were a few people sent home because of failures on the baseline test.  Throughout the course, there is not much PT, and the PT is very short and weak.  Don’t expect to be physically challenged.  There were many people who complained about not having enough PT and getting out of shape there.  Well, I have to disagree with that.  I got into the best shape of my life there because I worked out every evening.  By the end of the course, I increased my PT score by 7 points and had my best run time yet.  Don’t rely on their PT program.  Make time for yourself to workout in the evenings.  You will have access to everything on the OTS campus once you get Phase I, which is pretty quickly.  There is a gym, a quarter-mile track, the “paper clip” track (this is a 1.5 mile track in the shape of a paper clip, and this is the track you will test on), and volleyball courts outside.  There will be a few early formation runs that are 2-3 miles long, but you stop along the way to do exercises.  The longest run was 6 miles, but again you make a lot of stops along the way to do exercises (this was the prop & wings run, which you do about halfway throughout the course).

Leadership Exercises and Challenges

My favorite parts of OTS were all the leadership exercises and challenges:  BELPS, LRC, EMLEX, AEF.  I also really enjoyed combatives.  We did combatives for a week first thing in the morning somewhere in the middle of the course.  I would have liked to have a lot more of it.  BELPS was out in the woods with different leadership challenges for each person in the group.  It was fun, and it was basically a precursor to LRC.  LRC is graded, and you do it toward the end of the course.  It consists of leadership challenges for each person in the group as well.  There are a lot of challenges with pools of water.  I got soaked, but not everybody does.  I fell in the water.  It was pretty funny.  EMLEX is an emergency exercise meant more for the ANG members.  It is only fun if you are one of the role-players, who play local victims of the disaster.  AEF was 3 days out in the woods.  Everybody has a job out there, except for the people who get to play Elysians (the locals).  There were about 20 of us picked by OTS leadership to be Elysians.  As Elysians, we really didn’t have any rules, and got to just have fun running wild and messing with both sides (everyone else was split into two teams according to Squadrons, and they had to run FOBs and had missions and whatnot).

Academics

There are two academic tests throughout the course.  They are multiple choice, and the second one is not comprehensive; it just covers the second half of academics.  Whoever the academic leader is in your Flight should be helping with study guides, practice tests, games, etc. to help everyone in the flight pass.  You will also have two papers and two briefings.  Your briefings will mirror your papers.  One is an informative briefing/background paper on a country or an aircraft, and one is an advocacy briefing/persuasive paper on a topic that has to do with the Air Force.  You will also be tested on the whole OTSMAN and aircraft in the HAWK (this test doesn’t count toward your academic grade, it just goes toward consideration for DG – same goes for your PT scores and your dorm inspection).  The official graded dorm inspection is toward the end of the course, but keep your dorm inspection-ready at all times because the MTIs and your Flight CC will randomly check your rooms throughout the course.

Leadership Positions

The other graded part of your time there is your graded leadership position.  Every person will get one sooner or later.  Each flight member will have an additional duty, however, it only counts as a graded position if you are the Wing POC for that additional duty.  The only additional duty position that is graded in your flight is the War-gaming/Intel POC.  This person has to give a briefing each week to the flight on important news for that week.  They also have to lead the simulated war-gaming exercise, which is a few hours one day toward the end of the course on laptops in a classroom.  They were also talking about making the Academic POC a graded leadership position because it takes a lot of work and a lot of time.  This was my additional duty.  I made study plans, study guides, practice tests, trivia games, had to make sure everybody was good to go for the tests, made sure study time was used efficiently, etc.

The other positions consisted of:

  • Drill & Ceremonies POC – helps the flight with marching, prepping for drill/ceremonies, holds tryouts and chooses people for key personnel positions for the graduation ceremony.
  • Grad Week POC – compiles information on grad week guests and DVs for the flight, helps coordinate commissioning ceremony.
  • Awards Banquet POC – part of planning committee for the awards banquet.
  • EMLEX POC – helps coordinate EMLEX.
  • BELPS POC – helps coordinate BELPS.
  • LRC POC – helps coordinate LRC.
  • UDM – conducts pre-deployment training and pre-BELPS training, which includes teaching navigation, pace-counting, maneuvers, challenging procedures; also preps flight for AEF and conducts a bag-drop to make sure everyone has what they need for the “deployment.”
  • Safety POC – reports any mishaps/injuries or safety issues in the flight.
  • PTL – helps lead flight PT; may also be appointed a Squadron PTL, who leads their Squadron at Wing PT; helps people who are struggling.
  • Mail POC – gets mail from the distribution center each week and delivers mail to their flight members.
  • Logistics POC – makes sure everyone has what they need as far as mandatory items that you will need for various things/events throughout the course; gets MREs for everyone; passes out and keeps accountability of hard and soft cadet ranks for flight members
  • Chaplain POC – coordinates with the Chaplain on morale events (weekly coffee socials and anything they would like to get the class to do together).
  • Computer POC – handles computer issues in the classroom.
  • Audio/Visual POC – takes pictures and videos throughout the course to compile for our class video at the end of the course.

The graded leadership positions that count, besides Wargaming/Intel POC and Wing POC for any of the additional duties, are the cadet leadership positions like Flight CC, Squadron CC, Group CC, Wing CC, and a couple other positions up there.  The only time you will volunteer for a position like this might be the first week.  After that, the OTS officers will choose the leaders for each week.  They will most likely choose someone they trust to set a good tone in the beginning.  Then, they might proceed to choose people who really need to be thrown into a leadership position in order to come out of their shell or people who are just struggling in different areas.  If you don’t get one of these leadership positions, you will get one at EMLEX or AEF in order to fulfill your graded leadership position obligation.

Dining Facility

Dining Facility – This was probably the worst part of each day.  It’s definitely not as bad as BMT though.  There’s no snake pit and they don’t hover over you and yell at you.  You also get 10 minutes to eat.  However, you do have to stand at attention and sidestep through the line, but you can grab whatever you want, and there are tons of desserts if you’re into that.  You will not be able to grab coffee or consume caffeine at all until you are in Phase II.  There are specific procedures for how to sit down, eat, and clean up/leave the table, so just read the OTSMAN on that.  It will make sense once you actually do it in person.  As far as the food, I thought it was terrible.  Some people actually enjoyed it.  I really think it contributed to my weight loss at OTS because I just really did not like the food, so I did not eat that much until we got Phase III and were allowed off the OTS campus on weekends (Phase IV is when you can go off base in civvies and you can leave the OTS campus after dinner on weekdays – if you get this phase, it will most likely be during the last week. It depends on your class. Our class got it earlier than that. Other classes never even got it.)

Advice

  • Always do the right thing.  They are watching even if you think they aren’t around.  Sometimes they pop out of nowhere.  There are also cameras everywhere.
  • Do not stress out or be super nervous going into this.  You will do great, and it is WAY easier and different than I was anticipating.  There is a reason you were selected, and those qualities are what’s going to get you through it.  Just think of it as another PME.
  • Make friends with your flight members.  Do things together (volleyball, bowling, going out to eat).
  • Study for your tests and pay attention to detail when doing your papers/briefings.  It’s not fun if you fail one of those, have to redo it, and meet with OTS leadership about it.
  • Remember that at the end of it, you all are going to be 2d Lts.  Cadet rank is not real.  Treat others with dignity and respect.
  • Get to know the OTS staff, including the MTIs.  You’re stuck with them for 8 weeks, and they are people too.
  • Don’t try to go for DG or any other awards.  Be yourself, and just worry about graduating.
  • Help out your roommate.  If your roommate is failing, then you are failing as a roommate.  However, do not carry others through the course.  There is a point where personal accountability and individual effort is important.
  • Participate.  As priors, you have a lot of experience, often more experience than your Flight CCs, so share what you know and help the non-priors in your class.
  • Don’t be overbearing or micromanaging.  Do your best to be a great leader, but remember that your classmates are adults, and everyone there is smart and is there for a reason.
  • Take risks.  There is a lot of gray area in the OTSMAN and throughout OTS.  There is a reason for that.  They expect good leaders to take risks and make decisions.
  • Be creative and think outside the box.  There are different ways to do things and you will not be told how to do everything at OTS.
  • Go with the flow.  The MTIs and Flight CCs might contradict themselves or each other.  It’s okay.  This is what happens in a training environment, and what matters is how you handle those situations.
19
Jul

TFOT Course Change Rumors

This may be old news by now, but a reader sent me this a few weeks ago.  He was a 17-05 graduate who wanted to share what he had heard regarding the TFOT course changes.
Class 17-07 and 17-08, I am eagerly awaiting to hear of any major changes!

  • No more TFIT – just the 8-week TFOT course.  The indoctrination phase will be shortened to only a couple days.  They will rely on the prior enlisted members to help the non-priors get up to speed.
  • There are now about 40 hours of CBTs to replace the courses that were removed from the syllabus.  Completing the CBTs is a prerequisite to attending TFOT.  The good news:  incoming cadets can test out of many of these CBTs.  This should save prior enlisted members a lot of time.  (Admin note:  I have heard the testing out tests are no joke, so take them seriously!  – airforceotsguy)
  • There will actually be two more classroom days.  I believe this will be achieved by moving things around in the schedule and by removing some of the non-classroom material.  For example, my class 17-05 had 5 days of Combatives, while class 17-06 had 3 days; I can’t verify this will be the case for all future classes, but my assumption is this will be the types of changes made.  Additionally, we had a lot of free time (OPS APT) at the end of our course.  I think some of those days could be restructured to provide more classroom time.  Again, this is speculation on my part.
  • There will be substantially more Graded Leadership Positions (GLPs).  We had 2 GLPs when I went through, but I’ve heard the new curriculum will call for somewhere around 4-6.  I’m not sure where all of them are coming from, but I believe some of the additional duties will become GLPs.  For example, there was discussion of the Academic Monitor becoming a GLP because they do a lot of work and that responsibility continues throughout the course.
9
Apr

Week 9 – Graduation Week!

During graduation week all of the sudden it began to sink in that we were about to actually become officers.  It was a very emotional week for me, but it would be impossible for me to explain it.  I think I will just leave it at that because you will forge your own memories and have your own experiences.  The main thing I want to say is to cherish every moment of that final week because you will probably remember it for the rest of your life.

Ropes Course

This was a very fun and relaxed day.  There are videos of this course on YouTube so I won’t spend too much time talking about it.  In addition to the ropes course, there was a climbing wall and what they called walking the toothpick.  Actually I have no idea what they called it but that’s what it felt like.

The environment itself was very relaxed and joyful.  Being up high will teach you a lot about yourself, but trust the gear and the OTS staff.  They know what they are doing there and they will make sure nothing goes wrong.  It was a memorable experience for me.  I dominated the toothpick!  The staff told me to finish it with my eyes closed.

Drill Comp, Mini-Mac

There really isn’t much to say about either of these.  Our drill comp involved flight open ranks and questions.  Each flight combined into a super flight which was marched around for squadron points.  I think it all contributed to the honor flight/honor squadron awards.

Mini-Mac was a PT competition which again contributed points toward honor flight.  It involved a running relay and a pushup, burpie, and pull-up competition.  There may have been more but both events were low stress/low threat.  At this point we had dominated everything thrown at us so what more was another open ranks, drill comp, and PT competition?

Family Arrival/Graduation Events

Most families started coming into town around Wednesday, but again this is a personal preference.  Our class hit Phase 4 so we had privileges to actually leave base and spend time with our families, and we didn’t have to march everywhere.  It was really weird not being restricted by so many rules.  The main thing with your family is not to do anything stupid.  Don’t get in a fight with your classmates, don’t drink and drive, and make it back to the dorm on time.  This is not the week to mess up.

Wednesday

On Wednesday we practiced for parade and our commissioning ceremony.  All of the commissioning ceremonies were conducted by flight at four to five different locations around the base.  Since there were so many of us, each location had four or five time blocks for each ceremony.  This meant if the 0800 ceremony ran late it affected every other ceremony after it.  In the morning we practiced parade, and in the afternoon we ran through the commissioning ceremony.  Wednesday night I met my wife and kids off base and we had dinner and hanged out at the hotel for until I had to head back.

Thursday

The first event of Thursday morning was a formal welcome by the OTS commandant.  This was something both cadets and family members attended and it was a generic “hey your kids or spouses are awesome, and here is a general overview of what they have been doing for the past two months.”  We were told it was optional for families and since I had small children my wife and kids did not attend.  Immediately following the welcome, we had an OTS open house.  Each cadet was essentially free to give families a tour of whatever they wanted to see except the DFAC.  I think it was off limits because there were still other courses using it and they didn’t want to impede operations.

Right before lunch we had the formal wing awards.  This is where all of the awards from the syllabus were announced.  It lasted about an hour and it was a fairly generic military awards ceremony.  Basically the commandant spoke, the awards were announced, everyone clapped and accepted the award, and it was all over.  Afterward we were free to have lunch with our families but keep in mind EVERYONE would be going to lunch so the BX will be packed and the line to get back on base will be huge.  If I could do it again I would have had my wife bring a sack lunch for all of us including the kids and we would have ate at a quiet corner of a park or something.

They busied us with outprocessing briefings in afternoon so we had to pull ourselves from our families to sit in Boyd and fill out a bunch of paperwork.  The final retreat ceremony was at around 3pm and families were welcome to come.  Again my kiddos were tired so my family skipped it.

The final event of the day was the Dining Out!  A Dining Out is a formal military event which is basically a ball.  It was the equivalent of a civilian “white tie” event so the staff and cadets were in mess dress and the guests were in dinner gowns are tuxedos.  In all honesty there were a lot of guests in suits so I think in most cases men are good as long as they wear a tie.  The event had a social hour, dinner, guest speaker, and dessert.  Our event did a grog bowl which was entertaining.  Due to the size of our class (over 200) most people could only bring one guest but some could bring two.  It was appropriate to bring your spouse, parents, siblings, really whoever.  It is a unique experience and my wife and I had a good time.  I think the event was done around 9pm and curfew wasn’t until midnight, so I got to hang out with my family afterwards!

Graduation Day Commissioning Ceremony!

We woke up and we couldn’t believe it was graduation day!  It was such a great feeling.  We were all anxious but we made it to our graduation event locations with no problems.  They told us all guests had to ride buses but people had guests who could not walk or had special needs so they just found a parking lot close by.  Once everyone was there it was just a matter of waiting our turn for actual event.  Most ceremonies went late so be flexible with the schedule and kiddos.

My flight had 14 people and we actually kept things on schedule.  When the event started our flight commander said a few words about our flight and started the ceremony.  We commissioned in order of rank of the commissioner.  For example, if someone had a Colonel and everyone else had a Captain commissioning them, the person with the Colonel would go first.  The ceremony itself started with the oath, rank was pinned on, some people did the traditional first salute, and up came the next person.  It was very straight forward.  One challenge our flight had was pictures.  Lighting is always a challenge in auditoriums, so I encourage families to think ahead if it matters to them.  One person took all of the photos for our flight and that worked well.  I would encourage the photographer to have a professional-style flash but again only if it matters to anyone.

Technically the official oath you take is the one on the form you sign (I can’t remember the form number), so the ceremony really is for us.  Air National Guard – our Guard cadets administered their State Guard oath at the commissioning ceremony and the federal oath at parade.  This is something you will want to prep for if you are Guard because it wasn’t like all cadets were required to constantly practice the Guard oaths of random states so it caught all of the Guard cadets in my flight off guard (pardon the pun).

After the oath was administered you could have anyone you wanted come up to pin on the rank.  I had my wife and kids pin on one side and a long-time mentor pin on the other.  The typical practice is to pin on the rank only without frogs then fix it later.

Like I said the optional portion was the first salute.  The were not picky with this but I am a very traditional person so I had respect for the people who saluted an Active Duty individual in the proper uniform.  I saluted my first enlisted supervisor and it was extremely meaningful for me.  After everyone was commissioned we ran over to the parade grounds for parade.

Graduation Parade!

This was the final event of the day!  Get on YouTube and look up the graduation parade because it will probably be the exact same ceremony.  One thing to think about is there are a lot of active duty enlisted and prior enlisted people in the audience who will be watching how sharp the “officers” do it.  That being said, be sure you take the time to go out of your way to practice for parade.  We were not given a lot of time so our ceremony wasn’t as sharp as it could have been.  The ceremony itself was maybe 20 minutes long?  Afterward we were released back into the wild!

The last thing we really had to do was grab our outprocessing paperwork and depart.  Our paperwork contained a frame-able OTS commissioning certificate and a sealed packet with our orders and other miscellaneous outprocessing paperwork.  Be sure you keep this folder with you because it is the only official proof that you are truly a commissioned officer until the following week when the system is updated.  If you show up at a gate your ID card will say E-5 or above and a sharp Security Forces Airmen may challenge you for impersonating an officer.

It was possible for us to have our dorms completely packed up before the ceremony but I wasn’t in any huge hurry.  I spent time with my friends and family, grabbed my folder, and my family and I took leave en route to driving to my next base.  I actually stayed in Montgomery that night so we wouldn’t have to stress about driving and rushing to our destination city.  It was easier with the kiddos.

27
Mar

Week 8 – PFA, Career Day, AEF, Assault Course

Physical Fitness Assessment

For many of us the PFA was the final major graded obstacle between us and graduation!  We did it first thing Monday morning and I made it through with no problems.  If you refer back to my PT posts this is the test that counted and was uploaded to the AF fitness database so I wanted to make it count.  The only difference with the process is that we did height/weight measurements the same day then we went out to the track and did the test.  Another difference was that the class was divided into two major groups.  One group did it early morning and the other did it late morning.  I think they did this due to the large number of people testing and to decrease congestion on the track.

Career Day

Career day was a day where a seasoned officer from your career field (usually a Capt/Maj) came to talk to us in one of our flight rooms or auditorium depending on how many people were in your career field.  There were only a handful in my career field and and we actually had three mentors.  It was interesting but not life-changing.  I am a leech for information so most of what they said were things I had heard before.  If you want career advice for the 13S career field (or any career field in general), continue to follow my blog.  I plan to cover most if not all of the things they did.  I think we had two hours blocked off for the career day and it was very relaxed so there was nothing to stress about.

AEF Week

AEF was one of the few events of OTS I knew something about prior to my arrival.  I was pretty nervous about it for really no reason at all – I think I just didn’t really feel like getting dirty again.  We had several briefings about AEF on Monday.  The briefings consisted of safety, mission, overview, etc.  After we finished SMT for the day we packed up and got on a bus in the evening to ship out to AEF.  I think it took about an hour to get out there.

AEF week itself consisted of full day Tuesday and Wednesday, then half a day Thursday.  Thursday afternoon we spent time cleaning up the camp and we were sent on buses back to the OTS complex on Thursday afternoon.  The camp itself consisted of deployment tents with cots, an equipment building, and a public shower/bathroom building.  We had way more amenities than enlisted Security Forces so I really had nothing to complain about.  The showers were hot mostly and we had running water for hygiene.  From my perspective it was great.

The basic day consisted of getting up and eating an MRE, getting your equipment, and walking out or setting up camp.  Once you made it to camp it was game-time so you were back in whatever scenario they gave us.  Our scenario spanned the three days so it was an evolving story line.  They gave us different missions during the scenario and we all had paintball masks for safety.  They had limited paintball guns so they passed them out depending on who needed them most.  After the day was over we walked back to the normal camp and cleaned up then ate hot chow in the equipment barn.  The DFAC had hot food in trucks and I thought it was delicious.

I was an idiot when I packed for AEF so I didn’t have my hygiene bag, I just threw it all in ziplocks.  My hygiene bag definitely would have came in handy because we were in tents.  We all had our cell phones in our tents and there were plenty of plug-ins to go around.  The only other thing I would have brought it I had it was my own personal paintball mask.  The ones they have fogged up really bad and that REALLY sucked when you were trying to perform a mission.

Assault Course

The assault course was a blast!  I was really nervous about it but there was no need to be.  We basically jogged through several obstacles and cleared them as a team of two.  The course ended with the rope over the water which I am sure you have seen videos of.  I had a good time.

18
Mar

Week 7 – Wargames, Commandant Inspection, SPT #2, Final Briefings!

Wargames

Wargames is essentially a computer game which simulates all of the different Air Force capabilities in a computerized environment.  I thought it was similar to the game Command and Conquer but with realistic weapon systems (fancy AF word for aircraft).  There may be other versions out there but the one we trained on just had all of the main aircraft (B-1, B-52, F-16, F-15, F-22, KC-135, etc).  The idea is to familiarize us all with the Air Force weapon system capabilities in a simulated war environment.
The simulator is located off of the OTS campus but within marching distance.  During the week each flight had a designated time to use the simulator to play the wargame.  Each flight had our own room and we played against a computer.  My flight divided the different missions (counter air, offensive air, refueling, bombing, etc) by flight member.  The simulation took several hours and it was very laid back.  We were able to bring snacks (and even encouraged to do so by the staff!)  The main motivation with doing well was the honor flight competition.  I don’t know the specifics, but I know the wargames contributed to part of the score.

Commandant Inspection

The commandant inspection was basically a giant open ranks on the bomb run/parade grounds.  The commandant had a few words to speak (it was fairly informal but he was still at a podium) and then the entire cadet wing followed the appropriate protocol to conduct a wing-wide open ranks inspection.  Cadet leadership conducted the open ranks inspection and the commandant randomly walked through the formations to ask random cadets questions.  I will not spoil the fun by telling you what he asked.  Afterward we marched back to the dorm and continued our day.  The actual inspection was actually the weekend prior to graduation week but I have already typed this so oh well.

SPT #2

This one was basically the same as SPT #1!  Know your stuff and you’ll do fine.  At this point in training there wasn’t much else to do than study for the SPT so I didn’t feel very pressured by this test.

Final Briefings (TMO, Peer Evaluation #2, Random Classes)

The rest of our time was filled by miscellaneous classes and mandatory briefings.  The briefings of note were TMO and another peer evaluation.  TMO is the organization which helps you move your stuff from wherever it is to wherever you are going, so this is one you will actually want to pay attention to.  Basically every time the military moves you the government will pay to move your stuff as well.  There are three basic ways to do this.
  1. The government does it all and contractors show up at your house to pack up your stuff and move it from point A-B.  They will actually take your furniture apart, pack it up in boxes, and put it back together.  The entire process takes a few months to get from almost any base to any base in the world.  They are fairly efficient.
  2. You can hire your own contractor to the same as above.  Honestly it is all ensured so I typically just have the government do it all.
  3. You can move yourself.  You may save some money this way but it is a lot of work.
My main tip for moving is to record all of the serial numbers of your valuables and take video of everything you own before they show up.  Once they move you if anything is broken or missing you have to file a claim and they pay you replacement value!  Do your claims ASAP because there is a time limit.  My other main advice for moving is be sure you think about it early.  It is a complicated process and everyone’s situation is different.
Be sure you plan everything out and ask every question so you don’t put yourself in a difficult situation.  An example of a difficult situation would be your mom having to tell the movers what you want to take with you as they pack your bedroom because you are in training and aren’t there.  This involves you telling your mom what you want, a power of attorney, just one more thing to deal with, etc.
28
Feb

Week 6 – CWT 2, LRC, and the Major Accident Response Exercise (MARE)

Week 6 Overview

 
Week 6 was the week when I finally started to feel like we were on the downward slope to graduation.  Our Consolidated Written Test (CWT) 2 was first thing on Monday morning and it was really no different than CWT 1 except that it contained different information.  I think everyone’s scores from CWT 1 to CWT 2 were about the same.  Being done with both CWTs meant we were almost done with all of our graded measurements, although I remember the major graduation requirement of the Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA) and leadership position still looming on the horizon for some.
Being done with the CWT also meant we no longer had any major academic classes.  There were a few here and there that reinforced what we had learned earlier in the course but the majority of our time was spent doing initial out-processing appointments such as drafting and reviewing our DD-214 (Separation from Active Duty form), assignments briefing, or briefings which outlined upcoming events such as the MARE.  To further reinforce that we were approaching the end, we had a picture day.  We took an official photo in Service Dress with 2d Lt pinned on our shoulders.  We also took our flight photos which included everyone in our flight including our Flight Commander.  Like everything else these days, this was an opportunity for a business to make some money.  If you wanted a printed flight photo I think it was $10.  If you wanted your printed flight photo and digital official photo on a CD with the copyright I think it was $30.  The price seemed a bit steep to me but it was convenient and I was only going to attend OTS once, so I went for the $30.  I will mention that Public Affairs on any Air Force Base will take an official photo of you for free if you need it for a biography or won an award.
Leadership Reaction Course (LRC)
 
I believe I mentioned in my previous post that LRC is basically a combination of Project X and BELPS.  LRC is the evaluation process you completed at BELPS in the Project X complex/scenarios.  I thought it was much easier because the scenario was more clearly defined and there were no arbitrary rules such as taking cover for mortar attacks.  Most people did better at LRC than during BELPS so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.  If you think you are close to the failing line just be sure to share your concerns with your flight mates.  They will be more than willing to help you out.  Check out my Project X post for more information about the specifics of the scenarios.  The score you receive for LRC will tie directly into your end of course feedback and overall academic grade, which I will discuss in a separate post.
Major Accident Response Exercise (MARE)
 
The MARE was similar to the base MARE exercises many prior service personnel may have experienced.  In general a MARE involves a major accident such as an aircraft crash where there are a lot of casualties.  Sometimes the closest base will be tasked to respond and the response is what was simulated by OTS.  The Cadet MSG/CC was tasked with breaking the entire cadet wing into chalks for the MARE.  All of the chalks performed a function such as security or medical and people who needed leadership positions fulfilled their graded leadership roles.  They tried to have the ANG personnel fulfill these positions because they are the ones who are more likely to respond to a MARE in their career.
During any major emergency response the most important thing is communication.  It is absolutely crucial that the leadership at the top has the ability to communicate with the teams on the ground.  Due to the limited training of everyone involved, lack of communication will likely be a problem for the MARE.  The biggest thing is to know your mission, do your best to keep your leadership advised, and respond accordingly.
A lot of the chalks were tasked with being actors for the exercise.  They were tasked to play dead or injured bodies at the exercise site, and many people got shivers when they rolled up hearing all of the screaming and chaos.  This is a valuable lesson to learn from the training.  It is always interesting to learn how you react to certain situations.
I don’t really have a lot of advice for the MARE except to treat it realistically, have a good time, and learn what you can.  The MARE will have no value if everyone treats it like a game.  Try to immerse yourself in the situation so people can receive realistic training.
The MARE lasted an entire afternoon and it was near the OTS complex (walking distance.)  People received assorted props such as flak vests or weapons, radios, or props associated with the chaotic scenario depending on their role.  The site had actual debris scattered everywhere so I thought it was fairly realistic.  After the MARE we went straight to retreat.
27
Feb

Week 5 – BELPS (Part 2 of 2)

Basic Expeditionary Leadership Problems (BELPS)

The final main event of Week 5 was BELPS.  BELPS was another leadership training scenario outlined in the syllabus.  Here is the info from our syllabus:

Objective:  Apply concepts of leadership, followership, problem solving methods, communication, team building, and motivation techniques in a small group under time constraints.  Cadets will also assess their role in the group and how they react to group dynamics.  Each cadet will have an opportunity to lead a team in a problem solving session and therefore flight size may impact scheduled hours.
 
Description:  The BELPS evaluation is a problem solving, scenario-based exercise designed to evaluate the cadet’s leadership in a field environment.  This evaluation is the first opportunity for the cadet to receive feedback regarding strengths/weaknesses in the area of field leadership and is designed to provide the cadet with a ‘benchmark’ regarding areas of improvement.
As for the practical description of the above, our Flt/CC tasked our FDO to make a schedule of all Flight personnel which rotated us as leader, time keeper, observers, and participants.  The leader was in charge of the participants, the observers were safeties for the scenarios and also helped enforce the rules, and the time keeper held the stop watch and enforced the time penalties.  At the beginning of each scenario the leader was handed a card with a problem to solve.  An example of a problem was to move from one marker to another on the grass by using directions for navigation by compass.  Some limiting factors could have been to not make noise or members not being able to see.  Although the objective is to complete the scenario, it is more important to effectively lead your time through the objective.  The grading sheet only awarded one point for mission success but the rest of the points were on different aspects of leadership.
We completed BELPS out in a field on base about a 10 minute bus ride from the campus.  Since everyone was required to be the leader BELPS stretched over two days.  At the beginning of the day we headed to the field first thing in the morning and we rotated through all of the different scenarios.  Our Flt/CC was our grader for every scenario which I really appreciated.  A scenario would involve organizing in the unofficial BELPS/LRC/Project X formation which identified basic spots for everyone to stand.  We would be given the pre-brief and at the horn we would start the scenario.  After the scenario the leader would receive a debrief and a score from the grading form, and we would all reset for the next scenario.  The score was unofficial for BELPS but it gave us a good idea of what we needed to do for our official score the following week for Leadership Reaction Course (LRC).  The scoring method is exactly the same.

Practically Applying the OODA Loop

  • Observe – Something that really helped me with BELPS and LRC (Leadership Readiness Course/Week 6) was practically applying the OODA loop in my head.  The OODA loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.  When you are waiting for your scenario card you have no idea what to expect.  When thrown into a scenario I can become a jumpy person and I can blindly charge forward without properly assessing my surroundings.  To prevent me from doing this I would Observe by stopping and literally reading the card to myself.  I have a hard time comprehending what I read out-loud under pressure so reading it to myself really helped me.  I would then give my group a brief summary of our mission, objectives, and LIMFACs (limiting factors).  I would then direct my team to Observe our surroundings and take inventory of anything we were given for the scenario.
  • Orient – During the Orient stage I oriented my team and resources into how we fit into the scenario and how we could most efficiently and effectively accomplish the mission.  I brainstormed with my team about how we could apply the resources we were given to accomplishing our mission.  I asked my team for general strengths and weaknesses for different tasks which may come up during the scenario.  I transitioned into the Decide stage by re-stating our mission and asking my team for inputs or recommendations on how we proceed.
  • Decide – Once I received all of the inputs I had to force myself to make a decision.  I used all of the information given to me thus far to decide on a basic plan.  I tried to establish smaller objectives such as getting to the first rally point in X minutes or moving injured personnel by Y minutes.  Don’t be afraid to make a decision even if you have no idea what to do.  Use your best judgement and make the call with confidence.
  • Act – It is finally time to act.  Now that you have walked your through the previous three steps the Act stage will feel much smoother.  Take note that Act isn’t necessarily the final stage in your scenario.  At different times you may be given new information or challenges so you may have to start the process over again.  The main thing is to be confident in your decisions and make sure you are leading your team in a forward direction.  Your forward direction may be as simple as stopping and reassessing your plan to make sure you are on track.

LIMFACs (Limiting Factors)

  • Time is a big factor because you will always be fighting the clock, but don’t let this stress you out.  Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.  If you fail to plan you will either not efficiently execute at the beginning which will consume time or you will receive penalties (which eat a ton of time).  Conversely if you make a solid plan then reassess as necessary you will make more efficient use of time.
  • Tactics – this one is hard because it is dependent on what your evaluator is looking for.  Be smart with tactics.  Always move with a sense of urgency but also consider your time constraints.  Only low crawl if you have to because it eats a ton of time.
  • Penalties – similar to Project X if you break a rule you will receive a penalty.  Don’t get flustered.  During the penalty reconsider if your original plan is working.  Don’t just keep moving forward to eat more penalties and hope you will make it through.
  • Bad leaders/bad participants – you know who they are.  You guys are a team so help each other out however you can.  If your leader is making a bad decision ask your leader, ‘sir I really think we should do it this way because xyz, what do you think?’  Don’t disrespect your leader, but don’t let your leader drive you off a cliff.  If your leader has no idea what to do, help them out.  At the same time, for the participants everyone is good at something.  Take advantage of your teams strengths.

Tips for Success

  • It is absolutely essential that your entire team knows what is going on at all times.  State your mission and LIMFACs clearly at the beginning of the scenario and make sure everyone understands their role.  This is a very easy way to show the grader that you are keeping control of the situation.
  • You will be required to delegate throughout the scenario.  Get creative with your delegations but be sure you are holding people accountable.  Designate a time hack to help you keep track of how much time you have left in the scenario.  If you have to move an object from point A to point B designate a person to make sure it is moved safely (even if it is the person who is carrying the object).  Designate a person to establish security of your team and keep your team safe while moving.
  • Talk to yourself to clearly tell the evaluator what you are doing.  For example I would say “Cadet Smith, I am delegating you the authority of security.  It will be your job to make sure we are all facing outward and moving tactically, do you understand?”  This makes sure you get credit for all of the things you are doing by pointing out your actions to the evaluator.
  • Maintain control of your team.  If you delegate your authority make sure you are checking in with them on how well they are accomplishing their role.  If your team is doing what you don’t want them to do yet tell them to stop then clearly define what you want them to do to reassert your authority.  If someone is giving you inputs but you don’t need them anymore politely tell them you have considered all variables and at this time you believe you need to just start moving forward.
  • If you are moving along and your plan is being executed just like you planned, tell your team their execution is flawless.  If your compass guy is always right on point tell him he is doing a great job with the compass.  Don’t just randomly tell your team they are doing a great job because that is considered cheer leading.
  • Participants – Don’t play dumb.  Just because your leader is in charge doesn’t mean you are a nobody.  Don’t make decisions, but say ‘hey leader I think this may work.’  At first my flight thought we had to play dumb and it made the leaders job impossible because he or she both didn’t know what to do and couldn’t use the talents of his or her team.  This one is really important.
  • Get flustered but don’t show it.  Everyone will be flustered, but you will be expected not to show it.  You must look confident at all times.  If you get flustered you will lose credibility in the eyes of your team.

Application to Reality

I found these exercises to have extremely valuable application to the real world.  It doesn’t matter what you are in charge of, the lessons I learned and re-stated above can apply to anything.  Leading people in the real world involves having confidence in yourself, knowing your mission, and knowing what resources (including people) you have at your disposal.  It involves holding your people accountable if they are not complying with your directions.  Throughout OTS continuously consider how you can apply lessons learned during the course to life after OTS.
21
Feb

Week 5 – Summary, M-9 Firing (Part 1 of 2)

Week 5 Summary

Week 5 was a busy week mostly because our class was divided by squadron.  There were a lot of events which were not large enough to support the entire class at once (such as M-9 firing) so the entire week each student squadron rotated from one event to the next.  I know the course director was still adjusting to the needs of having a large class so this may play out differently for future classes.

The most predicable of the entire week were the academic classes.  This was the final week of classes which led to the culmination of CWT 2 which was the following Monday.  Most of the class was divided doing their own event in the morning but we were back together for the afternoon.  One specific benefit I remember with this is getting coffee in the morning because we were in the flight room then closing out the day in the auditorium.

M-9 Firing

One of the other main events for the week was M-9 firing.  This will probably not be as new to the prior service but I remember the non-priors being quite nervous, especially those who had never handled a pistol before.  We fired the M-9 Beretta 9mm pistol which is the standard pistol in the Air Force inventory.  Here is a link to the Wikipedia page for those who are not familiar with it.  We “fired” the official Air Force course which meant if we qualified we could officially carry and be issued an M-9.  This doesn’t have much practical use for most because the majority will not carry an M-9, and those who will carry one will have the opportunity to re-fire in tech school.  In a practical sense, firing the official course meant those who made expert could wear the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon.

Detailed course information can be found in AFMAN 36-2227v1, Combat Arms Training Program Individual Use Weapons, starting at paragraph 2.9.  Here is the Air Force ePublishing link:  click here.

In general you are given 90 rounds and fire 45 for practice and 45 for qualification.  You fire three or six rounds in varying positions at 8, 15, and 25 meters, while also reloading at different times.  Here are the qualification standards from the above AFMAN.  I also put a picture of the target template below.  The actual target has either a chalk circle or a pencil circle drawn on it (chalk for practice, pencil for qualification).

2.11.2. Standards:

2.11.2.1. Qualified: 35 hits on target (77.7%)

2.11.2.2. Expert: 41 hits (91.1%) on target with at least 25 hits within the 10-inch (vital area) circle (81.3%) and 6 hits within the 6-inch (head) circle (46%). NOTE: A triple-number score is annotated when any score 41 or higher has been achieved (examples: “41/25/8”,“44/30/10”, etc.)  The first number is the amount of hits on the entire target, the second number is the total number of hits inside the 10-inch vital area and the third number is the total number of hits within the 6-inch head area of the target. A score of “41/20/3” would indicate a qualified score.

Here is a picture of the target template from the above AFMAN.

Order of Events

The range is on base so we took a 10 minute bus ride to the range.  We showed up first thing in the morning and a Security Forces CATM instructor taught us the M-9 nomenclature and firing fundamentals, which took most of the morning.  It was very laid back in relation to OTS so enjoy it.  They also had a snack bar in the back so a lot of people enjoyed that too.  Be sure you pay attention and still remain respectful though.  Both will help you out.  Oh, and don’t fall asleep.  Infractions for my class resulted in someone having to recite the Airman’s Creed (at least it was without the yelling).

They divided us until three relays and we rotated through the course.  Those who weren’t eating were either cleaning weapons or eating lunch.  My squadron got through the course fairly quickly.  Be sure you move to and from your target quickly because seconds add up with three relays.  Once we were all done we got back on a bus and went back to the OTS complex for the remainder of our scheduled day.  I think we got back to the complex around noon so it was a half-day event.

Tips for Success

  • Seriously, take your time.  There is technically a time limit but it is not enforced.  My first shot took literally five seconds due to the longer trigger pull for double action (they will explain that in your class).
  • To get expert you have to pay attention to the circles.  The catch is you can’t see the pencil circle during the qualification round so use the practice round to memorize where the circle is in relation to the edges of the target.
  • Do some shooting prior to OTS if you can.  It seriously helped me (I got expert).  I fired a larger caliber handgun prior to OTS so the M-9 felt like a water pistol.
  • Qualifying on the M-9 isn’t a graduation requirement so relax and have a good time.
14
Feb

Week 4 – SPT 1, Combatives, and LANES

Student Publication Test (SPT) 1

I showed up at OTS with a brief understanding of the academic requirements and I knew I had to march, but I had no idea about the others things such as Project X, LRC, BELPS, etc.  SPT fell into this I had no idea category.  Our syllabus told us there would be two SPT tests, and it described them as “Cadets are tested on their knowledge of the OTSMAN 36-2604 and HAWK aircraft knowledge.  There are two tests.  Minimum passing score is 80 percent.”  This really is all you really need to know, but because I love you guys I will go into more details.

Our SPT was administered en masse like our CWT.  I think our test was 50 questions, 40 multiple choice from the OTSMAN and 10 from the HAWK.  We were given an answer sheet and the questions were put up on a PowerPoint slide.  As they flashed from slide to slide we read the questions and wrote down our answer.  In order to ace the OTSMAN portion, we needed to know every line of the OTSMAN.  Keep in mind there are two SPT tests so it may benefit you to think about which questions are more relevant to the point you are in with training.  Either way, the questions were from very in the weeds parts of the OTSMAN so we really had to know our stuff.  For the HAWK portion they flashed a picture from the HAWK air and space craft section and we had to write down either the alphanumeric designation or the name/nickname.  For example, if they showed a picture of a F-15 the responses they would accept were “F-15” or “Eagle”.  For us if we wrote “F-15 Talon” or “F-16 Eagle” it was wrong, so only write down what you know.  The satellites, missiles, and helicopters were all fair game as well so know the entire section.  We passed our answer sheets to a person next to us and knew our scores before we left.  I think those who failed received an OTMR.  From what I gathered, the main impact of the OTMR was the student ranking in the middle and end of the course.

Academics, Combatives, and LANES

The rest of the week was filled with more classes which would be testable for CWT 2, Combatives, and Lanes.  Like I said before I had a blast sparring during Combatives.  We were divided into weight classes and they made us do exercises which would exhaust us.  Then we would pick a partner and spar.  On the last day we were all in giant circles and three sets of partners would have little mini death matches.  Have fun but don’t get hurt.

LANES was essentially an introductory course to field tactics.  Our class was divided into four groups and we cycled through stations.  In the Land Navigation taught us how to get our pace count and how to use a compass.  Small Unit Tactics was about the low crawl, high crawl, and some patrolling formations the AF adapted from the Army.  Tactical comm was about hand and arm signals, and Patient transport was about how to move a dead or injured comrade from Point A to B.  It was essentially a course designed to teach us tactics which we would be expected to use the following week during BELPS.  We did ours in the field next to the volleyball courts so we all got soaked because the grass was wet from the rain.  It was also fun trying to clean the dorms after we were all covered in grass clippings.

13
Feb

Week 4 – Background Paper

Week 4 – Background Paper

The background paper outline should mirror your briefing outline exactly.  When I was tackling the paper/briefing task I spent the majority of my time doing my research.  Like I said keep your sources short and only use each source to make a point.  Once you make your point, move on to your next point with your next source.  This is the best way to keep the length of your briefing or paper where it needs to be.  Instead of having one/two slides per source, you will have one paragraph per source.  Once you add in a paragraph for the intro/conclusion you will have five paragraphs.  When I put mine together I may have been able to split a paragraph into two paragraphs, but I chose to keep them as one to clearly define when I was addressing my next point.  I recommend you do the same.

Some people started with the paper and then did the slides, and others did the slides then did the paper.  Because of the nature of PowerPoint, I chose the latter because it helped me collect my thoughts.  I did my research on my first point and put the main idea on the first slide.  After I got most of my ideas on the first slide, I would do my research on the next point and draft the second slide.  I did the same for the third then I begin adding in the pictures and making all three of the slides “pretty.”  This method prevented me from having to make an outline because my outline was in the slides.  I tell you this because once I finished my three slides, I had everything I needed to knock out the paper.  I had the research in my head so all I needed to do is put all of my points on paper in paragraph format.  Since I am a fairly quick writer I did just that.  I actually knocked out my paper in about 30 minutes and scored high 90’s but I don’t recommend that approach.  I mis-prioritized my time but thankfully it didn’t effect me more than a few points from my overall grade.  I essentially knocked out my three paragraphs then I went back and added in the intro and conclusion.  I did my in-text citations as I went so I didn’t have to go back and add them later.  Luckily when I was done I was at about 1.5 pages.

The requirements for the paper are defined on OTS Form 9.  The majority of what is on the Form 9 are requirements from the Tongue and Quill and the AU Style Guide.  The Tongue and Quill is also known as “Air Force Handbook (AFH) 33-337” and can be found on AF ePubs here.  I just found the AU Style Guide on Google.  I lost the majority of my points for the paper and briefing from requirements out of the Style Guide.  I was unable to adequately read the style guide due to my leadership position, so I winged it.  Again, luckily it didn’t effect my score more than a few points.  Off the top of my head, I didn’t format my superscripts correctly for my references in relation to the period, I didn’t use the correct abbreviation for USAF or US Air Force (I still can’t remember how the guide wanted it), and I put my identification line all pages instead of the first page only.

We had to upload the paper into Blackboard the night before so the system could do the plagiarism check with SafeAssign.  My college did not use Blackboard or SafeAssign, so I had no idea what it was.  If you are like me, it is an automated process which compares the text in your paper with some sort of probably massive online database.  It will then highlight text which may have been plagiarized and tell you what percentage may not be authentic.  The process takes 15 minutes or so, but all I needed to know that night was that when I uploaded my paper it time-stamped it with the time the system accepted the upload, not the time SafeAssign was complete.  This was great for me because I uploaded with only three minutes to spare.  Since we uploaded to Blackboard no hard-copy was required for us, but we did have to turn in our OTS Form 9’s right before we started our briefing, right along with our OTS Form 6.  It took our instructor about a week to grade our stuff.

Final Thoughts

A background paper is NOT a fully researched academic article.  You of course have to do research and talk intelligently about a topic, but the purpose of the exercise is “Can you write a background paper?”, not “Can you write an academic article which gives me all the information I want to know about this topic?”  It is honestly more about following instructions that producing a quality product.  The people who got caught up in providing the best info or having the best academic sources were the ones who had trouble.  Start your paper by learning the requirements established by the Tongue and Quill and Style Guide.  Read every line of the OTS Form 9, and knock out your paper.  After you get your first draft, go through every line of the Form 9 again and correct as necessary.  Since you are reading this blog I assume you have time, so I recommend you start with Chapter 16 of the Tongue and Quill.  After that read the AU Style Guide so you don’t end up like I did!