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Posts from the ‘OTS Weeks’ Category

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!

3
Feb

Week 4 – Informative Briefing

Informative Briefing

Everyone freaks out about the briefings.  Don’t do it!  It really does make it much harder.  The people who majorly stressed out about the briefings are the same people who struggled with passing.  They were so worried about filling it with the best information that they forgot about getting all of the points for the small things such as verbal references, quotes, or slide layout.  The people who did the best at the briefings were the ones who quite literally just threw it together.  They did the research, kept the sources to the minimum (three for me), and put it all on a slide.  Once you KNOW your material the delivery just happens.  Don’t recite your briefing over and over in your head because it will then be recited from memory which you could fail for.  Your briefing needs to be prepared but not memorized.  This is not a ceremony, it is you researching a topic and telling your chalk-mates about what you learned.  Have fun with the briefing!  It will make the entire experience better for everyone.

Our informative briefing was scheduled for the first thing on Monday morning, which was great because it gave us the weekend to prepare.  About a week prior to the briefing we had a class called Informative Briefing Requirements which laid out everything we needed to know about the briefing.  One of the biggest things for us was that we were not with our normal flight for the briefings, we were in a different group called a chalk.  Our chalks had a few people from every squadron which was great because we got to know some of our other class mates.  The Cadet Wing (CW) MSG/CC was tasked with putting the chalks together.  Being in a chalk also meant most of the chalk was with a different Flight Commander.  This was also great because it allowed us to get to know some of the other staff.

The briefing is not very much different than the briefing I had to do for Airman Leadership School (ALS).  ALS is a course Senior Airman (E-4) have to go through in order to sew on Staff Sergeant (E-5).  Bear in mind I went through ALS in 2008 so things may have changed since then.  In general you will choose a topic that you want to inform your audience about.  There were a list of canned topics but we were also able to choose our own.  The execution and grading of the briefings varied drastically from Flt/CC to Flt/CC.  Every Flt/CC was different and did things a little differently, but some things were the same for all.  Everyone had to use the same OTS Form to grade the briefing, and everyone did an informative briefing IAW the course curriculum.

If you have to do a briefing about the domains in a country, there is strategy involved with choosing your domains.  You want to pick domains that you can find information about (but not too much information), and domains which can all be tied together.  One of the biggest things people struggle with is transitioning from one topic (or domain) to another during the briefing.  Don’t pick the same domains that everyone else picks.  Pick the ones that interest you because you will speak much better about topics you are interested about.  The briefing should not sound like Ferris Bueller’s teacher, but should sound like you just discovered these awesome things about your country and MUST tell your friends about it.  The not too much information part is key as well.  If you have too much information, you will be tempted to talk for too long.  There are only a few automatic failures, but going under or over your time limit is one of them.  I think every chalk had someone who was close to failing, or failed because of the time limit.  You will only need 1-2 facts about each domain to fill in the speech.

As far as the rest of your briefing, everything you need to know is on the grading sheet (OTS Form 6 and the AU Style Guide.  The style guide is kind of like the Tongue and Quill, which is the go-to reference EVERYONE uses for Air Force correspondence (and other topics).  The biggest thing here is to pay attention.  In order to receive max points you have to know the requirements.

Final Thoughts

  • The briefing must be 5-9 minutes.
  • DON’T OVER-PREPARE.  Do your research, put your slides together, and deliver your speech.
  • My research was 100% online.
  • My sources were news sources, CIA factbook, encyclopedia.  They will tell you this 100 times but Wikipedia is off limits.
  • If you shoot for 1-2 facts per source, 1-2 slides per source, 1 slide intro, 1 slide conclusion, you will probably be right around 7 minutes.
  • Be mindful of verbal pauses such as “um, so, okay.”  Lots of people lost points for these.
  • The briefing is part of your GPA, but the Advocacy Briefing is worth more than the Informative Briefing.
  • Most failures were due to busting the time limit.
  • Our chalk probably lost 10 points per person on average because we didn’t standardize our slides!  This is one of the few times in OTS when standardization actually matters.  We all sat in a room to standardize together but another option is to have one person go through all of the slides prior to submission.  10 points was huge since I think 80 was passing.
15
Jan

Week 3 – Peer Reviews, Flight Dynamics, and My Perspective – Feedback

Peer Reviews
 
Toward the end of week 3 (remember week 0 was the first five days) we had something called peer evaluations or peer feedback.  I am sure every flight received different variations of instruction, but our flight was told to compile a list of strengths and weaknesses for each of our fellow flight members.  The strengths and weaknesses were discussed as a flight with all flight members present.  Each cadet took turns being in the spotlight and we all went through our list out loud for all to hear.  This was very awkward for us all, priors and non-priors alike.  The one thing I like about how our flight did this is that we all kept our feedback constructive and professional.  Some of the other flights were extremely brutal and used this as an opportunity to rip into each other.  My advice for this is to be thoughtful but don’t be afraid to share your observations.  The only way you will make each other better is if you are honest with each other.  If you are receiving feedback, don’t take it personally.  Take notes so you can truly understand what you need to work on and honestly ask yourself how you can improve.  Another aspect of the feedback you will receive is perception.  I learned a lot about myself because I was told by others how my various actions were perceived during training.
 
As a private exercise we were also told to rank all of our flight members from best to worst.  Our flight sent this list directly to our Flt/CC and we never really heard anything back.  I think it ultimately tied into how we were stratified by our Flt/CC which I will talk about when I get to the mid-course feedback.  I found it extremely difficult to stratify my peers.  I will have to work on this because I know at some point I will have to stratify my subordinates.  I will have to determine what criteria I will use to rank others and how to fairly implement it.  There is no easy answer but stratifications are an important aspect of providing honest and valuable feedback.
 
Flight Dynamics
 
You will need to learn how to work with your flight because these are the people you will be living with on a daily basis.  The peer reviews broke down a lot of barriers with our flight.  After we finished the exercise we were much more comfortable with providing feedback to help each other improve.  OTS injects another aspect into flight dynamics with something they called morale reports.  As part of this exercise we were required to identify the best and worst cadets for the week and why.  I was never comfortable with this because it felt like I was snitching on my flight mates.  I also found that recording my thoughts reinforced the positive and negative opinions I had of my flight mates.  I think my take away for this was to be honest and straight forward with your opinions.  If you think someone is pulling your flight down, let the person know so your feelings do not leak into your other subconscious actions.  Your subconscious actions can do a lot of damage to the success of your flight or of an individual.
 
As you are identifying the worst flight mates for the week it is important to remember there is a difference between someone who doesn’t want to be at OTS and someone who is simply struggling with the course.  You should make the distinction very clear in your morale report.  If you give the impression that a person is not trying it will be perceived that they do not want to be at OTS.  If they later fail a graded measure, that information can be used against them when they are going up for review for disenrollment.  Instead, I tried to always clearly state that a person was struggling with something and explain my plan to help that person out.  This still met the intent of the assignment by informing the staff of potential problems, but it reinforced a positive development opportunity instead of a negative opinion.

My Perspective – Feedback
 
I appreciated the peer reviews because it required us to provide and receive feedback.  Feedback is not popular.  If feedback is not required it will probably not happen.  If this is the case I think it is detrimental to personal development.  I learned a lot of things about feedback in OTS.  Since I was a prior enlisted supervisor I was already familiar with providing feedback to subordinates in the formal and informal settings.  Something very valuable I learned during OTS was how to provide feedback to peers and superiors.  Peer feedback is an art because you have to do in a way which is not condescending or will not put the person on defensive.  People do not like being corrected.  You have to be in touch with the people around you because this is the only way you will know how to approach a situation.  Sometimes you need to be direct but other times you have subtly use comments or ask questions to help a person understand something from a different perspective.  While it is easier to say or do nothing, I personally believe providing feedback ultimately helps others.  The trick is to determine the correct approach based on the person and the situation.
 
Superior feedback is something I have never heard anyone talk about.  In the enlisted force it is more common for the troops to complain about or to leaders about a problem, not provide them with constructive feedback.  This is not ideal because it creates a culture of negativity.  A positive example of this is to tell your supervisor if there is something that can be improved and your recommendation on how to improve it.  During OTS do not be afraid to tell the staff if something can be improved.  Don’t focus on things which are by course design or something you can fixed at the cadet level, but think about things within the realm of responsibility of the staff.  If the reporting instructions are terrible, make them right and send your draft to the staff.  If you don’t agree with an OTS procedure, re-write the regulation.  If something doesn’t exist but it could greatly help the course, produce the product and send it to the person who is responsible.  I believe this is a trait of a good officer.  A good officer should be able to see how things could be improved in all directions (subordinates, peers, and superiors) and have the credibility, tact, and experience to make it better.  Stay within your lane, but don’t be afraid to step up and fix something that is broken.  Again, don’t stomp on those around you but make genuine efforts to make improvements.  Most people will sense your authenticity and appreciate your efforts.