Preparing for OTS was difficult for me because I had a lot of mental barriers I had to overcome. In a way, I applied for OTS against my will. There is a part of me which wanted to separate from the Air Force and pursue a civilian life, but another part of me knew applying was what I was supposed to do. The part of me which wanted to separate is the same part which resisted the Air Force way of life, and in turn, resisted preparation for OTS. This will probably not make sense to you unless I explain the spiritual aspect of my life.
My strategy for OTS preparation was to do everything in my power to prepare in advance. I knew OTS would be extremely busy so I wanted to be as prepared as possible. The areas I wanted to focus on were memorization of HAWK/OTSMAN knowledge, PT test prep, packing list/uniforms, and support equipment (computers, printers, notebooks, etc.) When it came to execution of my strategy, I completely failed. I didn’t seriously study the HAWK or OTSMAN until I was in the car on the way to OTS. I didn’t prep for my PT test because I didn’t want to accept the reality that I would soon be stuck in the AETC training environment. I had most of my uniform items but they were not de-stringed or dry cleaned, and I purchased much of my support equipment on my trip to OTS. This caused me to be extremely stressed prior to arrival and during the initial weeks, which was not ideal.
On a side note, I refused to begin rolling t-shirts or socks prior to arrival. For this type of preparation I trusted that the OTS program would give me enough time to figure this stuff out. In the end I was right, but this may not be the right approach for everyone. For the bare minimum I recommend you have brief familiarization with rolling but you should have plenty of time to figure it out before it really matters.
TFIT was tough for me because I had to first accept the reality that I was actually doing what I didn’t want to do (become an officer), and catch up in the areas I knew I hadn’t prepared for. Despite my initial shortfalls, I was able to recover quickly. Here are some of the lessons I learned during the TFIT portion of my training.
Airman Battle Uniform
- The “Uniforms/Clothing/Equipment Requirements or Restrictions” portion of the reporting instructions was about 90% accurate. I followed the list as closely as possible with a few caveats. I will run through them below.
- ABUs: I brought three uniforms with name tapes and prior service AFSC badges sewn on. Two uniforms had the buttons like normal, and one had the blouse pockets sewn down. If I could do it again, all three uniform blouses would have had the pockets sewn down. Having pockets sewn and AFSC badges displayed were 100% not an issue. At OTS you are scrutinized on your ability to comply with instructions, not by what version of uniform you have. As long as it complies with AFI 36-2903, you are good to go. You can purchase uniforms online with name tapes and AFSC badges sewn on, and customized pockets at Kellac (link here). They arrive in the mail completely ready to wear. NOTE: Normally I wear ABU pants without pleats on the cargo pockets, but for OTS I left them stock. I used my cargo pockets all the time so I do not recommend doing anything which impedes your ability to store items.
- I brought one regular pair of ABU boots and one old ratty pair. Since I was at OTS during the fall, we commonly dealt with rain. Once my “regular” pair got wet they smelled terrible. I personally recommend two pairs of boots if you are prior service and you have them. If not, bring one and decide after you get here.
- I brought my prior service desert sand shirts and it was not a problem. As long as they are in fairly good shape you should be able to roll them with no problem.
- I brought my old ABU hat and had no problems.
- I brought a Gen II sage green fleece and I had no problems. Be sure to bring the velcro name tapes as well. You will not need the enlisted rank. I ordered my fleece from Kellac.
- Watch cap and gloves were required for us during the fall months. We had to have at least one pair of black gloves (for PT), but some people have sage green as well.
- Lightweight: Don’t bring one with the embroidered Air Force symbol because it is almost guaranteed you will have to purchase a new one. You may be able to squeak by with an embroidered one, but it will probably be difficult.
- Service Coat: If you can, have this completely tailored and ready to go. You can purchase and have it tailored when you get here, but it is a PAIN to pick it up. You do not really have free time to do this kind of stuff the initial few weeks of training. If you have to do it here, you have to have one day to purchase it and have it marked for altering, then another day to pick it up.
- Blues Pants: There is a ton of confusion out there on these items. There are two types of blues pants, (55% polyester/45% wool) and (100% polyester). I was issued four pairs of the 55/45 poly/wool blend in basic training in 2004. In more recent years, trainees were issued the 100% polyester. Regardless of what you have, in Service Dress (pants and service jacket) you MUST WEAR the wool ones with the jacket. The polyester ones will not match so you cannot wear them. Due to this, the requirements list we received on day 1 said we had to have one pair of poly/wool blend and two pairs of polyester. I was required to purchase two pairs of polyester pants which I was not happy about, and I will tell you soon if both pairs were required. Again, I recommend having these pants tailored and good to go prior to arrival.
- Insignia, belt and buckle, flight cap, tie, under shirts, ribbons, and garters. These are all quick purchase items so you should be good to either bring or purchase at OTS.
- Standard blue and metallic name tags: I recommend bringing them if you can, but it isn’t a huge deal. It will be a while until you have to wear them, but it will be one less thing you have to worry about picking up later from the shoppette. If you have to order here you will order them on the initial purchase date, and pick them up at a later date after they are ready.
- Shoes: Bring low quarters which comply with AFI 36-2903. Most people wore corfams but some people brought the old school ones you polish. You can purchase these quickly at the OTS shoppette.
- Mess Dress: This can be a huge pain to deal with at OTS because there are a lot of items to purchase, it can be time consuming to ensure you have the right accouterments, and it will have to get tailored. If you can, have it squared away before you arrive and leave all mess dress related items in your car. If you can’t, just know you will have to take time to purchase everything, get it tailored and dry cleaned, and be ready to go for dining in/out. You can rent through a place which comes to the dorms, but the process can involve long lines and take up precious time. Most officers will end up wearing their mess dress later in their career so if you rent here at OTS you may be throwing $80 down drain. If you rent, I think you still have to purchase the mini medals yourself.
- You can probably purchase this at OTS with no problems. That way you can try it on because the sizes are all over the place. The older swishy uniform is completely fine to bring but you will annoy your flight mates.
- Socks. I cannot stand crew socks, but I bought three pairs for display. I figured out a way to roll the ankle socks and can probably do a YouTube video for you if you want. I have yet to know if they meet the inspection requirements yet.
- Running shoes. Bring something that fit and that are comfortable. I recommend two pairs because if you run in the rain it is great to have a dry pair to fall back on to wear after duty hours.
Female Uniform Items
- If you have questions, ask me questions and I will do my best to answer.
- At first the staff said the princess cut shirts were unauthorized to wear, but in the end the rule was basically you had to wear the regular shirts when blues was the Uniform of the Day (UOD), but if blues were optional (when exercising privileges) you could wear whatever you wanted.
- Bring your old duffle bag if you have it or you may have to buy a new one. Some people may be able to get away with not buying one at all but it will depend on how much the staff is paying attention.
- Buy new underwear because it folds easier. I can probably do an underwear folding YouTube video if you really want one but it is fairly straight forward.
- A white towel and wash cloth will be pre-positioned for you, and you will purchase it. I brought another one as an extra which was helpful at first.
- If you are picky about shampoo or shaving cream, etc., bring what you like. You can purchase items at the shoppette but they have more limited options, and it will be a few days until you go there.
- I only used shower shoes the first few days until I was able to clean my shower to my own personal standards.
- Shoe polishing supplies: you only need this if you have polish-able low quarters.
- Soap dish & cover: If you use bar soap bring a cover, otherwise the bottle body wash should be fine.
- Sewing kit: Knowing how to sew buttons back on is extremely useful, so have the supplies to do so if necessary. I messed up because I bought a small sewing kit but it didn’t have white thread, so I had to purchase a new one at OTS to sew on a blues shirt button which fell off.
- Bug spray, sunscreen, pens, laundry soap, stain remover (oxyclean or tide pens), shoe inserts, hair pins: Bring what you need. I highly recommend bringing stain remover or purchasing when you get here. I bought bug spray and sunscreen but never used it, but I don’t burn easy and was at OTS during the fall months.
- Wrist watch: absolutely bring a watch. Your schedule will be dictated down to the minute. Synchronize it to the USNO master clock PRIOR TO ARRIVAL. Link here.
- Pajamas: You have to be in an authorized uniform in the dorms. After hours you can wear whatever, but once you wake up you won’t have much time to change so you might as well PT gear to bed.
Random Stuff I’m Glad I Brought
- A small package of pledge wipes. After I cleaned my floor in my closet I would run over it with a pledge wipe and it smelled lemony fresh and it made it kind of slippery. It yelled “clean!” to me. These are also useful for the chrome fixtures and the desk/drawers.
- A squeegee. Your shower is supposed to be dry so using the squeegee made life so much easier and almost eliminated the need for a separate towel.
- Travel scissors you can store in your pocket to cut strings.
- A lighter to burn off the short strings. Don’t use a lighter on your blues.
- Microfiber rags for cleaning. It made dusting and cleaning the mirrors much easier.
- Lysol disinfectant wipes. Perfect for the bathroom.
- Cheap laser black/white printer. I brought a Brother HL-2270DW and it made life much easier.
Things I Wish I Knew Prior to Arrival
- Do your best to relax on the morning of arrival. Eat a good meal and make sure you have everything ready to go. I was a nervous wreck on this day and I was scrambling around all over town running last minute errands. I do not recommend this. I showed up around 2pm and it seemed about right. I was able to eat at the DFAC around 5-6pm.
- I brought around $400 cash which seemed about right. I used cash to order food in the dorms when you have the privilege, buying squadron coins (ours was around $25), buying a gift for my Flight Commander, paying for the dining out ($40 per person), and whatever else came up. You may have extra but it is always good to have cash on hand because at first it is very difficult to get to an ATM. BRING SMALL BILLS. When you get privileges you will want dollar bills for the soda/snack machines.
- When you show up, wear something professional which shows the staff you look the part as an officer or a gentleman/lady. I do not recommend wearing t-shirts, but I also do not recommend you wear a button up shirt and tie with dress shoes. IMO they key is to find the balance between comfort and professionalism. I wore khaki cargo shorts and a polo, and IMO it was the right choice. I was able to stay cool in the warm weather, and the cargo pockets were extremely useful. As for shoes, I highly recommend wearing your PT shoes for comfort sake. You will be on your feet quite a bit so you will want something that keeps your feet comfortable. Have your shirt tucked in prior to arrival, wear a belt, and have your shoe laces tucked into your shoes. Otherwise this will probably be the first thing they tell you to do and you will probably have to scramble to make it happen (especially if you have to dig for a belt).
- You will be marching on day 1. Even if you are a prior service I recommend reviewing the D&C (AFMAN 36-2203). You will want to review how to do column left/column right, right, left, about face, and column of files from the left/right. Be sure you know how to execute these movements both as a flight/squadron member and as a element leader or guidon bearer. I really struggled with this at first because I hadn’t marched in around 11 years. The AFMAN is available to the public here. If the link doesn’t work go to “Air Force epubs” and search for “36-2203”. Also be sure you know and understand the definitions and how to employ proper Dress, Cover, Interval, and Distance (DCID).
- Bring enough civilian clothes to last three or four days. The bare minimum I recommend is an extra pair of cargo shorts and two extra shirts. We showed up Tuesday, went to AAFES on Thursday, and wore ABUs on Friday. It was a relief for me when we put our ABUs on because I ran out of civilian clothes.
- Show up with a pen and small notebook in your pocket ready to go. It will be useful.
- There are two types of staff: commissioned staff (Flight/Student Squadron Commanders/squadron leadership) and Military Training Instructors (MTIs). During TFIT, they will all be very direct with you (yell) at you. Once you reach Phase 2, the commissioned staff will transition to a mentor-ship role. MTIs are MTIs.
- I recommend having a few of the basics memorized such as the Airman’s Creed, Air Force Mission, and Core Values, but it isn’t a huge deal. The Squadron Commander asked many people these three things and it you can either make a good or bad initial impression.
- There is no dry cleaning on base. This blew my mind. There was one company which did service directly at the dorms but you commonly had to wait in lines. Once you get off base privileges this will get a lot easier.
- When I arrived I thought I had to bring in ALL of my stuff. I recommend doing it, but if you can’t, you will have to prioritize. Here are my thoughts on the priority:
- Bring in all of your required items.
- Leave your mess dress in the car.
- I recommend bringing in your blues, but leave it in the car if you can’t carry it all. We had the ability to go to our cars in the evening for the first week or so.
- Bringing your printer in will be helpful, but like I said you may have car access for the first few days.
- Be sure you know the reporting procedures before you arrive, because it is different than basic training. Also be sure you know how to stand at attention. When someone asks you a question you have stand at attention and say “Sir/Ma’am” then respond. The only time you need to use the reporting statement is if you want to ask a question. The proper statement is “Sir/Ma’am, Cadet [Name] reports,” then you ask your question. This is all in the OTSMAN.
- I recommend memorizing the following knowledge prior to arrival.
- Airman’s Creed, Honor Code, Air Force Core Values, Air Force Mission, OTS Mission, Chain of Command by position and corresponding name for POTUS, SECDEF, SECAF, CSAF, CMSAF, AETC Commander, AU Commander, Holm Center Commander, and OTS Commandant (can be found on the OTS web site), military phonetic alphabet, oath of office, Air Force song, code of conduct).