Air Force Journey

Sharing my journey through Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) and beyond.

OTS Weeks 2015

Week 3 – Peer Reviews, Flight Dynamics, & 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 dis-enrollment.  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.

Feedback to Superiors

Providing feedback to superiors 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.

12 Comments

  1. Another great post! A few questions for you. I've read that alterations for the abu's and blues before going to OTS helps. What alterations are needed? Should I bring all my prior enlisted stuff (in my car)? Is there wifi in the dorms and do I need a laptop for more than just papers? I have an old laptop that is only good for word and excel. Will that work? Is a small printer a must? I've read both that you get to use your cell phone the first day and that you don't get to keep it. Which is true? I'm fine without it but I want to tell my wife and kids what to expect. I thought I had about 7 months before ots but now I'm told I go in a couple months. Thanks.

  2. Alterations on ABUs help you look sharper but they won't necessarily make your life easier. Everyone alters differently so it honestly depends on what you personally want to do. I personally have all ABU blouse pockets sewn down with buttons removed, and have the pleats removed from my ABU pants. I personally stay away from velcro. For OTS the blouse should be fine but I wouldn't recommend messing with the cargo pockets because you use them quite often in training. You can order pre-altered ABUs from kellac.com. The uniforms themselves look sharper as well. Prior E stuff can be useful for your field uniform as long as they are “somewhat” serviceable. Yes you have wifi in the dorms and it works quite well most of the time. The only other software that is useful is the forms viewer on AF epubs which can open XFDL files (Air Force forms). I will say people with the mac version of MS word had a really hard time formatting forms because the formatting never carried over right. Small printer is not required but can be useful because I was lazy and didn't like walking to the day room. The day room printer also ran out of toner for a few weeks. I had my cell phone on nights starting from Day 1 but the policy could always change. Ask people how had their phones taken away how long ago they went to OTS. Also there is a BIG difference between policies of 24 TRS vs. Det 12. Hit me up if that doesn't answer your questions! Good luck I hated the prior to OTS countdown.

  3. Love these posts. Hopefully prior to ots countdown isn't worse than waiting for the board/waiting for board results. April 15 can't come fast enough!

  4. I'm still enjoying keeping up with your blog. Keep the posts coming!

  5. Thanks for the comment! Either way it is great to finally receive that commission. Everything prior to that is anticipation.

  6. Leslie S.

    As always I enjoy your posts and can't thank you enough for all the help and info through out this whole thing. April 15 seems like forever away. I'm just sitting on pins and needles hoping my package gets through the quality check ok.

  7. Every step is excruciating! It seems like forever away because it is forever away! I'm sure the quality check will be fine, I think it is more designed to catch the big issues such as missed waivers or disqualification factors like not really finishing your degree. Just try to stay busy and April will be here in a flash.

  8. Sir,

    I had a random question since you mentioned “serviceable” items in the field. I will be going to the 24th as well, and have one new set of ABU boots broken in and ready to go. I was planning on using my old boots (pretty beat up) for the field exercises since I plan on throwing them out shortly thereafter. Will the staff call me out on badly beat up boots during the field exercises and obstacle courses?

    … Just trying to figure out if I should purchase another set of boots. They are pretty expensive to purchase just for the purposes of going through an obstacle course. haha

  9. I recommend using the old ones. When we were during field exercises, especially AEF, we were not scrutinized like that. Many of the staff recommend having designated uniforms (and boots) for the field so you didn't jack up all of your other sets. It rained for most of our field exercises so we were all covered in mud anyways.

  10. Anonymous

    The peer review exercises sound like they can be either a lot of fun or like really really awkward. I can just imagine going up there in the spotlight: “He's not as funny as he pretends to be. He kind of creeps me out. He smells like an ethnic restaurant.”

  11. I think it is awkward for everyone. I also don't know about fun per se, but it is a great learning experience both about how it feels to take feedback and how other people perceive you. Most of the feedback for my flight was actually really good. Our feedback was along the lines of 'I think you did a really good job at LRC or in your leadership position but you really need to work on marching the flight' or 'I think you could work on professionalism or sometimes you get frazzled by the instructors but you have a great command voice and you have the type of personality that people want to naturally follow'.

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