The other day I realized it has already been one year since I left for OTS. I can’t believe it! I would love to say this past year was a cakewalk and that I leisurely strolled through the transition, but the truth is that it was one of the more challenging years of my life. This isn’t a bad thing because making major life changes always requires effort, but it definitely wasn’t easy. At the end of the day (or year in this case), I would say this year burned off a lot of impurities in my life and with who I am, and I have become a more defined, refined person.
One of the hardest parts of this past year was pulling my family through the transition with me. Moving your family from one location to another is an obvious challenge, but what I didn’t anticipate was the toll of change. After OTS instead of having a defined path ahead of me like other career fields, the 13S path was highly uncertain. Upon graduating from OTS I didn’t know when I would go to tech school (even roughly), what my operational unit would be even though I was stationed at the base, or what training would be required after tech school. There were times when I didn’t even know what to expect within a given week. I didn’t realize this until after it was over, but this year of chaos and uncertainty raised my baseline level of stress. This is probably more of a personality thing for me, but not knowing what to expect raised my stress level a few notches above my normal threshold. Add in the normal stresses of finding a place to live, training, evaluations, and debriefs, and I became an extremely stressed out version of myself. My temper was shorter, I could not focus on the task at hand as well, and every challenge in my life seemed like an insurmountable feat.
I have dealt with my fair share of stress in my previous career fields, so I was extremely grateful that my wife was particularly understanding. I think the hardest part for our family was translating the changes to my kids. My kids are still young so this isn’t something you can really talk about, it is instead something they sense. When something changes they pick up on it and react in their own way. I love my kids so I found myself spending more and more time with them in an effort to offset how much I was gone or how I was always busy. This took away more of my time to get things done, which in turn added to my stress level. This is still something I am struggling with today.
As I continued to progress through all of my training, I started to think that this would be the new norm of becoming an officer. I recall seeing seasoned CGO’s and above always walking around like they were late and never seeing their family, and I began to fear that this was already the reality for me. Since my family means so much to me, this was one of my greatest fears. There is no way I will be able to adequately explain this to you all, but the day I was finally certified on my system and finished with training, the entire weight of the past year was lifted off of my shoulders. I was finally able to breathe because I knew I had transitioned from the operational Air Force, through training (OTS, tech school, etc.) and back to the operational Air Force. It took me an entire year but I finally did it! This is when commissioning became a reality for me.
Despite the stress and the challenges, I am glad I decided to pursue a commission. My enlisted assignments were new and exciting for a short period, but I would quickly settle in to the new missions and routines. For me personally, the space career field is the perfect balance between a technical and managerial career. As Security Forces I became very good at what the Air Force calls Command and Control, which is managing a situation with lots of moving pieces from a higher vantage point. While I was comm I learned that I have a technical mind and while I do not enjoy the most technical aspects of coding or programming, I strive to learn the processes and how they fit into the bigger picture. My current assignment in space is a blend of both. We command satellites to perform their mission but we also have to understand that they are technical machines with complex logical relationships.
But it is even more than that for me. I originally thought commissioning would be a continuation of my Air Force career, but now I know that it is the beginning of my career as an officer. The experience I gained from my enlisted career directly correlates with everything I do as an officer, but I now recognize that my enlisted career is over. When I commissioned I closed out that period of my life, packaged it up into the foundation of who I am today, and am now starting a brand new career with new and exciting adventures ahead of me. I feel like I am literally starting a new life and career but this time I know where I want to go and what I want to do. It is an amazing opportunity!
My First Enlisted Assignment
My Second Enlisted Assignment
How Everything Changed
After I made that tough decision I continued to charge forward with my plan. My mind was set and I had my plan even though my separation date was still a few years out. One day while at church, out of nowhere God spoke directly to my heart and told me to apply for OTS. Any time God speaks to me it is a very complex message, but He essentially told His purpose for my life was to be an officer. He showed me in what I can only really describe as a vision that I was to lead others as an officer in the USAF. This was not just the next step in my life, but it was THE REASON I was placed on this world. The amazing thing was that all of this information and vision only took seconds for me to receive, but it was immediately something that I knew was true. It was a powerful experience.
I was very surprised at this new direction, but I went ahead and started doing research on my commissioning options. Through my research I learned the timing was just about perfect. This was in August and the deadline for the next OTS application board was the following January. This is when I started my journey toward commissioning. As I began to reflect on what God was telling me to do, I realized my experience with the above missions made for a very powerful OTS application. People from all points of my career came out of the woodwork and helped me with key parts. My application was indeed extremely powerful. My record was so powerful that I was also selected for E-7 despite it only being my first time testing. Sure enough, I was selected for OTS as well on my first try and I left for and completed OTS a few months later.
Reflecting on OTS
I have only been commissioned a short time, but I am already picking up on a need for information on officer promotions, assignments, and other subjects which most officers are typically on their own for. I plan to make different posts to newly commissioned CGOs on some of the things they should be thinking about in their first few years. In short, I plan to let this blog evolve and follow me as I progress through my own Air Force journey. I think this will ultimately improve the baseline of the Air Force’s newly commissioned officer corps, and make the Air Force a better place for all.
Regardless of my religious beliefs, I hope you all know that I genuinely care for you all. Over the years I have heard many commander’s or senior enlisted personnel say similar things, but I want you to know that it is completely true for me. I do not know my readers but I put this information out there because I want you to succeed. If you reach out to me to thank me or ask for one-on-one advice like many do, I DO remember you and make an honest effort to help you however I can. I always appreciate feedback and I love to help people out, so never hesitate to contact me. My email address is in the title of my blog. Good luck to all of you as you begin or continue your own journey!
Officer Education – It’s Cool, (and Almost Expected) to Be Educated
“You are officers, you are grownups, you ought to know!” – Eugene Roe, Band of Brothers
Ever since I was selected for OTS I found myself spending more time with officers. I am not sure if this was a deliberate or unconscious decision on my part, but regardless I started to notice minute differences between the officer and enlisted culture. One of the first things I noticed is a clear difference in education between officers and enlisted. Of course officers have a bachelor’s degree but so do a lot of enlisted, so I thought it was just a nominal difference. The more time I spent with officers, the more I realized I was wrong. Officers don’t just have an education or bachelor’s degree, they use it. I alluded to this when I talked about spending time with my classmates, but this is something I noticed time and time again with almost every officer. It didn’t matter what their field was or what we were talking about, but their education boiled into every other aspect of their life. On the enlisted side, I found a lot of enlisted members just got the degree to check the block. To be honest, this may be the reason I ended up getting my degree. I may have only completed my degree because I thought it would be a good thing to do. I can honestly say I wasn’t 100% committed to making myself better or applying everything I learned in college to making myself a better person, I just knew the degree would help me later down the road.
Now that I am an officer it is clear this method of thinking has to stop. It is not cool to be an uneducated officer. Sometimes I felt like as an enlisted member such thinking was accepted or even the norm. To take this to the next level, I now realize everything I do should be for the purpose of making myself smarter, more informed, and more educated. It doesn’t matter if it is to satisfy a mere curiosity or if it will help me with my job. I now have a desire to want to learn more and make myself better, which is something my public school education didn’t teach me in high school. It is a shame it took me almost thirty years to figure this out. Imagine how much more I would know if I would have adopted this attitude when I was a teenager.
Here is a real world observation which helped me formulate my opinion on this. After I commissioned I realized if I was in a group of 12 officers the group would likely have a solid foundation of education across almost every domain. While I was in tech school it was not abnormal to overhear conversations about Genghis Khan, engineering fundamentals, or geopolitics. I arrived at tech school with zero knowledge of orbital mechanics so I was struggling in the course, but it was review for the academy grads. I could go into detail about my major and how it related to my career field, or how my degree related to my classmates, but that is not my intent. My intent in telling you this is to emphasize that education is important. I am not saying it is important to have a degree, I am saying it is important to learn while you are completing your degree. Allow the knowledge to mold you as a person into someone who is smarter and better prepared to tackle the world of challenges ahead of you.
Another thing to think about as you prepare for your career as an officer is to focus on having a broad or diverse foundation of education. I would say my education is very focused on business and information technology. This knowledge does not necessarily help me as I start a career in Space Operations. While addressing MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University, Brig Gen Gina M. Grosso (now Lt Gen) talked about how she believed she had a foundation of intellect. At her level she often felt like she didn’t have enough time to make tough decisions but her education allowed her to have a stronger foundation to fall back on leading to better decisions. Here is the link, it is a great discussion.
Take some time to reflect on this. What is your current foundation of education or intellect? How diverse is this foundation? What type of knowledge will help you in the immediate future? As you advance through your career, what type of knowledge will likely help you a few steps down the road? Lt Gen Grosso’s advice really helped me with deciding which direction to go for my master’s.
The quote I opened with is a perfect summary of what I am trying to convey in this post. As officers, I believe we are expected to be educated on any subject we are confronted with. Eugene Roe chided Capt Winters and Lt Welsh because they did not know or adhere to the proper procedures for administering morphine. I think having a diverse foundation of education will help us all make the best decisions when confronted with any situation in the future. Our continuous challenge should be to prepare for the future by creating and building upon this foundation.
Adapting to the Officer Culture
I have been commissioned now for three months. Life as an officer has been much different than I expected. It is amazing how much of your identity is tied into your rank, especially after serving as enlisted for so many years. As I progressed from one enlisted rank to the next, I was treated differently. The differences were subtle but it was something I clearly picked up on while in the situation. It was likely so subtle that outsiders may not have even noticed it. As a prior you might have experienced this before but you may not have realized it.
In general the differences can be summed up by my perceived knowledge and experience both with my job and with the Air Force. Over the years while I was enlisted I became accustomed to what I will call a spectrum of treated behavior. This spectrum taught me how I could behave and what I could say and do based on my perceived knowledge and experience from others. The spectrum was different for every grade. Additionally, I started at one end of the spectrum and worked my way to the other end as I matured in that grade. When I sewed on the next rank, I graduated to the next spectrum. An example of all of this is how a MSgt has more freedom to stand up and fight for what is right for his people than a SSgt does. The spectrum is what teaches him how much flexibility he has to do this.
As I moved from one grade to the next, I began to realize my success in each grade directly correlated to my ability to adapt to the current spectrum and prepare for the next. In my opinion, the best Airmen (big “A” meaning all enlisted/officers in the Air Force) were the ones who were comfortable in the next grade spectrum beyond the one they were in. This is slightly different than simply preparing for the next grade because the spectrum involves how you think and act, not just your capabilities and experience.
When I was preparing myself for commissioned life I expected to be treated differently, but I was not expecting it to shake my identity. As a Master Sergeant select (or (M)Sgt, someone who is selected for promotion to Master Sergeant), my spectrum was known and I was comfortable. I was well respected among my peers and confident that I could accomplish anything with my knowledge and experience. Being a (M)Sgt also meant I was within the latter stage of the enlisted spectrum. I honestly thought the 2d Lt spectrum combined with my experience would be very similar to being a (M)Sgt. Here are some things I noticed in general which were different and caught me off guard.
I knew academically there were two types of respect, but it is different when you experience it for yourself. When I was first commissioned I was still high off the experience of OTS. Professional Military Education (PME) has a way of not only making you feel like you can change the world, but that it is your sole purpose in life; your divine calling as part of service to the Air Force. (For my non-prior readers, PME is the required Air Force training outlined for different ranks throughout your career.) I’m not saying that isn’t true because it is, but PME changed my perspective of my role in the Air Force and caused me to overestimate my influence on the world. I will talk more about this later.
When I showed up at my first base I immediately felt the difference with how I was treated. People noticed the rank on my collar and I felt like I was immediately treated like more of an adult. When I was enlisted I always felt like I was a number and treated accordingly; I sometimes felt as if I was just another drop in the bucket of someone’s to-do list. As a lieutenant people went out of their way to show their respect for me, which honestly took me a while to get used to. They showed this by saying “sir” and saluting, two things which seem very minor but make a huge difference. I can see how this type of treatment can easily get to your head. If anyone knows me or meets me in the future, please don’t let that happen to me. This is what I consider positional respect. Over time the luster of this type of respect began to wear off. I began to realize it felt hollow. In general people respected me but they were respecting my rank, not me as a person. This leads me to the second type of respect.
Career Field Background
Before I dive into this one I need to remind you all that I am in a unique career field. My career field is 13S Space Operations, and it is unique in that it is an “operator” career field but it is also non-rated. We are the career field that operates the equipment used to maintain the Air Force’s many space missions. Due to the nature of our missions our career field is kind of in between the world of non-rated officers such as Security Forces, Intel, PA, etc., and the rated operators such as the pilots, navigators, ABMs, RPAs. This creates a very unique culture. I would probably need to write an entire book about it to fully encompass how it is different.
One example of how we are different is that we operate the equipment side-by-side with our enlisted counterparts (1C6X1). Our career field is about 50/50 officer to enlisted (this is an unofficial ratio), which means we have a unique leadership role in the lives of our Airmen. Our role is much different than Security Forces or Logistics officers who are charged to lead sometimes over 100 Airmen. Such units would have around 7-8 officers per squadron. Our squadrons probably have 40-50. This is a really long explanation to say that I am one of many officers in a training pipeline. Since they can’t train us all at the same time, there is a lot of waiting involved. While we are waiting they try to gainfully employ us and call such employment “casual status.”
While I was in casual status I was tasked to assist one of the actual squadrons performing an ops mission. This allowed me to get to know many members of the unit and gave me a feel for the operational culture of my career field, which is very different than the training pipeline culture. As I did this I began to pick up on a different type of respect. When people talked to me and realized I had a diverse foundation of knowledge, they began to realize I was not your average lieutenant. I personally believe when they discovered this I had earned the other type of respect, which is what I consider earned respect. This created another dynamic because it changed who I related to. If I had started commissioned service when I enlisted I would likely be a Major now, so I found it easy to talk to Captains and Majors. I worked in AFSPC where many of the Captains and Majors in my field also worked, so I shared many of the same experiences they had but from a different perspective. Conversation came very easily, and I sensed mutual respect.
Conversely, I often found it difficult to relate to other lieutenants. I was the only OTS graduate in my unit so I didn’t share that experience with anyone. Besides, how long do you really want to reminisce about your initial accession training? Since I graduated in December I also arrived at my base 4-6 months later than the ROTC and academy grads. Due to the nature of my career field there was a huge backlog of lieutenants waiting for training, myself included. I was in a weird in-between subculture and it was often difficult for me to find my comfort zone.
Redefining My Identity
To summarize this all, I found my “place” or “identity” in the Air Force strongly depended on who was around me. When I was in casual status life was great because I was working in close proximity with seasoned and established officers. I had my own office area so most people knew me as more than just lieutenant. When I was in the training pipeline I was treated like just another lieutenant. I was another person going through the training process and it was more difficult to stand out. With my classmates in the pipeline my identity varied depending on the topic of discussion or who the discussions were with. If we were talking about career mentorship or the Air Force in general, I had a wealth of knowledge and could often easily contribute to the conversation. If the new lieutenants were talking about the academy or our class was covering topics which I had zero educational experience with, I felt like an outsider. I will have to admit because I was so used to being in a comfort zone while enlisted, randomly feeling like an outsider really messed with my self-esteem and confidence. Not serious by any means, but it was something which I did not expect to experience.
The last thing I want to mention is that my opinions and observations are my own. I am writing in the midst of processing all of these experiences so over time my perspective may change. My intent with sharing all of this with you is to help you get a raw and unedited view of what I am going through so you can begin to digest how my experiences can apply to your own life. I encourage you to share your experiences with me, both similar and different. If you would like I can even include it on my blog. Thanks for reading!
Like it or not, the information posted on this blog is already outdated. One of the things which surprised me about the officer corps is the level of flexibility an officer must have. At any given time you could be dropped into a situation with little to no information and be presented with a problem you must immediately solve. Officers are commonly called to a unit or a position which has not been formally established. An officer must always be ready. The purpose of OTS is to prepare you for these situations. The training course is structured to require you to make decisions, react to unknown variables, and enable clear thinking in the midst of chaos.
My original vision for this blog was to provide future OTS applicants with line by line instructions on how to submit an application. Due to the rapidly changing requirements, it is no longer feasible for me to do this. The farther time progresses from when I submitted, the more outdated my advice will become. That being said, some of my advice might be considered timeless. The responsibility will lie with you to discern the difference and apply it accordingly.
When I attended OTS my vision then evolved into providing current information about my experience and my perspective of the different training challenges. OTS forced me to forge some philosophical conclusions about how leadership applies to my life, and how my life can be used to benefit those around me. This blog is a product of some of those conclusions. My plan is to fully develop these conclusions for myself so I can lay them out in writing for you here.
I have several goals for this blog. From a practical sense, I hope you get useful information from my posts. I hope my posts can be used to provide you with both a perspective on what I went through or advice on specific major tasks. On a deeper level, my goal is to use my OTS experiences to explain my mindset while navigating the course. My ultimate goal in this is to help you develop leadership skills and conceptual understanding for yourself to a level beyond where I was at similar steps throughout the process. This will give your leadership development a head start and enable you to either display the understanding the selection board is looking for in your application, or be a more effective officer when you enter commissioned service.
Don’t worry, I still plan to continue posting about my experience about OTS. I also will make every attempt to keep the links and schedules updated, but will probably need your reminders. Many of you may think this is a useless post, but at least for me, it is not. I am passionate about helping others. I am also passionate about mentorship and leadership, and I truly care for you all. I want you to succeed and achieve what you have been called to achieve. I am honored at the thought of even playing a tiny role whatever your path may be. Thank you for reading and for your support. I appreciate any of your comments about this post.
I was interested in obtaining an Air Force commission since I enlisted in 2004. At the time I actually pursued the AECP program in which if selected you were promoted to SSgt to go to a college of your choosing, enroll in ROTC for 2-3 years, finish your Bachelor’s degree, and commission at the end all paid for by the USAF. I don’t really have an answer for why I never applied. I had to finish my first year of college to apply for the program and once I finished, commissioning just wasn’t a priority. I was probably just happy I made SSgt because that was a large increase in responsibility from SrA, especially in Security Forces.
It was around that same time I received an assignment to Europe. That was huge for me because it would be a fresh start at a new base as a brand new NCO. Once I arrived in Europe I had a new set of job qualifications to do (cops have a lot of training requirements), and this ate up the first year of my assignment. After that I focused on finishing my degree and again, commissioning just wasn’t a priority. We also had our first child over there so life just got busy and I never applied.
While in Europe I was picked up for retraining into IT. IT was my passion at the time so the thought of staying in for a few more years to let the Air Force train me to be a System Administrator (3D0X2) was a no-brainer. I PCS’d, did the retraining thing, got into my job, and saw a different side of the Air Force. Instead of standing on a flightline and supporting a mission I rarely saw, I directly supported comm for multiple operations centers and users of a strategic computer system. I was part of a big mission and it was my first exposure to the operations (Ops) side of the Air Force. Seeing this world from the inside is actually why I ended up choosing the Space Ops career field.
The down side of the 3D0X2 career field was the level of administrative responsibility I had. In Security Forces as a SrA I was essentially an NCOIC of several different squadron level programs, and I won MAJCOM awards for how I ran them. As a Security Forces SSgt I managed the security program for the entire wing while also running several other programs as additional duties. To contrast, at my comm unit SNCOs ran all of the squadron level programs. NCOs normally fulfilled flight level pieces of the overall squadron puzzle. In order for me to even obtain to the administrative responsibility I had as a SrA, I would need to sew on MSgt in comm. In order to jump beyond where I was at as a SSgt, I would need to make SMSgt in comm. In short, I felt like the Air Force was holding me back. My solution was to separate. I was being recruited by the private sector and DoD contractors, so all I had to do was finish my contract with the AF. I was prepared to separate at 14 years to do the job I wanted to do and have the level of responsibility I desired.