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!
EDIT 8 JUN 15: Effective 17 Mar 15 AFRS removed the STEM requirement for 13S Space Ops.
There is a lot of confusion out there about STEM degrees and what the exact requirements are. The bottom line is from my experience you can join the 13S Space Operations career field without meeting the specific or exact requirements outlined both in the STEM degree criteria sheet and Attachment 7 of the BOT Guide. I personally believe anyone has a shot at the 13S career field. Technical background or good scores may help, but I think at the end of the day it is up to where assignments puts you.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees are defined by the Air Force by a random form I found online which circulates the forums every now and then. It seems like an official Air Force document and I obtained it from a .mil domain, but it is not accompanied by official Air Force letterhead and it has no detailed description. Here is the link. If you want to find it for yourself search “AFD-131212-041” and it should pop up. If the file disappears, I have the PDF so leave a comment and I can send it to you.
Document from www.rs.af.mil
Copy/pasted in the forum
If you look at the top of the document, it states “Degree title name has to be exactly as here.” My degree is in Management/Computer Information Systems and initially I was concerned because the name is not listed exactly in the AFD. It included “Computer Information Systems” and “Management Information Systems”, but not the exact wording of my degree.
Attachment 7 states the following for 13S Space Operations:
“STEM degree (Science, Technical, Engineering, Math) or 1 semester of calculus and 1 semester in physics/astronautics.” I thought perhaps since the title doesn’t match I would meet the calculus and physics/astronautics requirement, but I do not. In the end, I decided to submit anyway and I was picked up for 13S.
Some may argue the “/” in my degree means either/or and that’s why I qualified, but I have heard of several other 13Ss who were picked up for the 15OT02 board who had degrees completely out of the STEM fields.
My personal opinion is a few years ago a general officer made a STEM degree a requirement to weed out people who had no business being in the career field. Since then the “requirement” has loosened over time and the your assignment is literally determined by the assignment NCO/officer who selects the AFSCs as they are going through the board list. If your degree is close, you have a technical background, or you have good scores you may have a better shot, but at the end of the day it is up to assignments. This may of course change over time but I don’t think it will change much unless there is a drastic change in the career field.