I can say without a doubt that OTS was the most valuable experience of my life. It was not valuable because I learned a lot, it was valuable because I learned a lot about myself. I don’t know how common this perspective is from other OTS graduates, but I know it is true for me. I will do a separate post to summarize how OTS fits into the larger picture of my life from a religious perspective.
Here are some general tips I have for those prepping for OTS:
- Confidence – Learn to have confidence in everything you do and in every way you think. Confidence is a paradox in that in order to be confident you have to not try to be confident. You have to focus on the task at hand, learn what you need to perform the task, and concentrate on executing the task based on the gained knowledge. Once you change your perspective from being confident to smaller tasks under your immediate control, confidence will come naturally.
- Stress – OTS will be stressful. The faster you realize this the faster you will be able to cope with and respond to it in a positive way. OTS raises your baseline stress level so you know you can handle even the smallest tasks when your stress level is through the roof. During the course take time for yourself. I restored myself weekly by ignoring everything else on Sunday morning and watching my church service from home online. To cope with stress during the day I focused on getting through the next appointment, next meal, or next ‘after SMT’ period.
- Chill Out! – I majorly stressed myself out prior to arriving at OTS. I gave you a general overview of the course so you know what to expect. The course will give you everything you need in order to succeed, so all you have to do is execute. In the meantime, relax and enjoy your freedom!
- It’s Not About You – One of my flight mates thought it was possible to get through OTS without fully embracing the course or leaning on everyone around him. Had he continued on this path, he would have been dropped from the course. There were many other circumstances involved, but the bottom line is that you have to lean on everyone around you. If you are struggling, let it be known early so your flight mates have the opportunity to help you (not right before the deadline.) If you don’t they may think you don’t care and you want to go home.
- Dive Right In – The last part of confidence is learning to just dive right in and do it. You have been accepted to attend OTS, that is the hard part. You DON’T want to go home early and give up this opportunity, so close your eyes and dive right in! Challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone, make mistakes (and learn from them) and I guarantee you will come out the other side a better, more refined person.
- Don’t over-standardize – Doing so will only make your job harder. Standardize enough to not stand out or get noticed, but not so much that you get a demerit if your pencil rolls 1 millimeter. Standardization is one of the few things under your control.
- Make It Look Right From a Distance – Whatever you do, make it look right from a distance. If you are going to BS outside on the pad because it was a tough day and you have to wait for that last dude in your flight, have your HAWKs in your face so it looks right from a distance. If someone can’t march your flight but has to for whatever reason, have the drill leader fall out as well so he can coach and assist as necessary. Yes it is about having integrity and doing the right thing, but it is also about taking care of each other.
What is important at OTS? How do I prioritize my time?
Many people thought the OTS staff was purposefully trying to distract you from what was ‘really important’ as a hollow attempt to make you better. While I agree the course is challenging by design, I disagree on the motive. The point of the high stress level and distractions at OTS is not to distract you from what is really important, it is to teach you that it is all important in a unique and complex way. Here are some of the major challenges in priority order, and why I think think they are important.
- Physical Fitness – If you fail the PFB or PFA, you will go home. There are exceptions to this rule and I could explain to you what the exceptions are and how they work, but you need to have the mindset that failing a PT test it NOT an option.
- Graded Measures – Your academic scores are one of the easiest areas for OTS to assess you on. The graded measures are the papers, briefings, academic tests, etc. There is a passing score and a failing score for each, and I think a minimum cumulative average. Prioritize your time so you can provide adequate effort to your graded measures. Failure of multiple graded measures will cause you to have to fight for the opportunity to graduate from the course.
- Graded Items (but not Graded Measures) – These are items you receive a grade on but they are not technically ‘graded measures’ in accordance with the syllabus. Examples of these are your SPT or BELPS score. If you fail these items I don’t think you can be sent home, but you can receive an OTMR from your Flight Commander. I think the score for these items also went directly toward end of course awards points such as Distinguished Graduate (DG). Regardless, I am pretty sure these scores go directly toward your mid-term and end of course feedback score, which also contributes to awards and your flight ranking/stratification.
- OTMR – An OTMR is an Officer Training Memorandum for Record (I think). In of themselves, they don’t mean much. They will directly contribute to your mid or end of course ranking though. If you receive one your Flight Commander will have to remove points from your score. Receiving an OTMR can be used as ammunition against you if you are trying to fight for your opportunity to graduate like I said above. If you fail a few graded measures and you have a few OTMRs, it will all be part of your file when the commander reviews your case to stay or be dis-enrolled from the course.
- Demerits – just try to keep your demerit count low in relation to everyone else. In the end these really don’t mean much. You may get an OTMR if you have a ridiculous amount of demerits, but if you are receiving so many demerits you are probably failing in one of the above areas anyway. Just don’t be that guy that always stands out for being jacked up.
- Dorm Inspection – Again just try to pass all of your dorm inspections. The trick with the dorms is to just always have your room in inspection order. What I mean is keep everything where it is supposed to be and in the correct order, but don’t focus so much on lint rolling your carpet if you know your closet is in the wrong order. Make it look good from a distance. If you expect them to hit your desk, THEN do the intense dusting of your desk the night before. Some thing here, excessive failures or security violations means an OTMR.
- Knowledge – It matters for Phase 1 but beyond that just stay off the radar. Don’t tell anyone I told you that. Don’t get me wrong you will get chewed out and eat some demerits, but it will take quite a lot of screw ups for it to make a significant negative impact.