Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Air Force Marathon & MAJCOM Challenge 2016

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,

"Running for the MAJCOM, 
running for the MAJCOM,
running for the MAJCOM, 

I chanted that phrase over and over in my head every four steps as I slogged along the muggy and rolling course of the Air Force Marathon this past weekend. First four steps, "Running for the MAJCOM..." four more steps... "Running for the MAJCOM," four more steps, "Running for the MAJCOM..." and finally, "HOOAH! HOOAH!" What felt like an eternity was really just a little over three hours--and what seemed like my worst race ever really wasn't that bad after all. In fact, for 35th place overall out of 2045 runners, 2nd overall military female and 4th overall female with a time of 3:22:26... shoot, I'll take it!

As you may have already concluded, this post is my "race day recap" of the 2016 Air Force Marathon. I competed in the Air Force Half Marathon last year, and I was thrilled to be invited back for another go at the course... but this time the full marathon. Last year, I ran several half marathons and two back-to-back full marathons so I was eager to again test out my legs on another race to see what they could do. Unlike last year (the year of the races with 9 races total), this was only my second race this year. I wasn't able to sign up and train for as many races due to being gone at Officer Training School, so I feel like I've literally been training for this race all year long (I followed this plan + strength training 5x/week). Needless to say, I was ready for it (read: ready for it to be over!).

I've mentioned this over and over, but I'd like to state again that it is such an honor for me to represent the 124th Fighter Wing - Idaho Air National Guard, the Air National Guard, and the State of Idaho when I do these races. I can't reiterate enough how much I truly love running for a cause that's greater than myself. It makes all of the endless hours and miles of training worth it. Anyway, I just wanted that to be super clear... I love what I do and that I get to do it on behalf of an amazing organization!

So let's kick off this recap, shall we? 

I flew out to Dayton, Ohio on Thursday. Last year, I flew in on Friday and it all felt pretty rushed with everything we had to do, so this time around I was hoping that coming in late Thursday would at least give me an entire day to chill--mentally and physically--prior to the race. It was a good choice! I ended up taking my very first Uber ride ever to the hotel and got a night of super-restful sleep.

I woke up Friday morning and went for a light jog around the hotel, stopping to pick up a couple groceries before heading back and lifting arms for a little bit. I didn't want to do anything heavy... just wanted to get the blood flowing. I met up with the team at the Expo later that afternoon, and we all exchanged introductions and picked up our bibs. I was really excited about our team. Half of us were returning participants from last year's team and the other half was filled with fresh faces. Everyone seemed very competitive--I knew it was going to be a good team!

We all gathered for the pasta dinner that evening, loading up on our pre-race carbs, enjoying one-too-many desserts, and enjoying a guest presentation from 3-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi (say that three times fast!). My favorite part of the pasta dinner was meeting long-time online pen pal and fellow blogger, Erin from Aim High Erin. See more about our long-overdue meeting below!

After the pasta dinner, I returned to my room to ready my things for the next day. I had some pre-race jitters but did my best to stay calm and tried to tuck in early. I was up the next morning at 4:00 am, making my standard oatmeal breakfast before the buses picked us up to head to the event.

The buses--by the way--were about an hour and a half late picking us up, so much so that the race start time was pushed back by 30 minutes. Talk about a hasty start! We had enough time once we arrived at the race to drop our bags, tie our shoes, go to the bathroom (and fast!), take a quick team photo and run to the start line before the race began. It was no joke! The good news is that I didn't have much time to sit around and get nervous! Before I knew it, I was off and running and there was no turning back.

My strategy for the race was to not go out too quickly. I often go out faster than my race pace and tend to get burned out toward the end... so I did not want to do that this time! I imagined that I wanted to finish around 3:15:00, so I knew that my first several miles needed to be 7:27 or slower. I ended up managing an average of 7:17 for the first 11 or so and felt really good... until that moment when I didn't feel so really good. If you've done a marathon, you know that point in time. From miles 11-20, my time just slowly started inching slower by about 5-seconds per mile, until I was at the point where I was unable to maintain a sub-7-minute mile. I felt particularly challenged when the 3:15 pacer ran past me around mile 21 and seemed like he was just on a roll... I knew there was no way I could stick with him. And that darned mile 24... it gets me every time! It was on that dreaded mile 24 when the girl who won 1st place military female passed me. I cheered her as she passed and told myself, "Just finish the race... the place doesn't matter. JUST FINISH!"

And just finish I did. It took all my strength to muster out those last couple miles, but the cheering crowd and anticipation of the finish that I remembered from the year before was helping me eke it out and finish strong. I came across the finish at 3:22:26, 7-minutes slower than my goal time--but a strong finish nevertheless. I high-fived our public affairs guy and gave the Chief who organizes our team the biggest, sweatiest hug. I was the last runner from our team to finish (the half marathoners finished about an hour before the full runners), and it was like our entire team sighed the biggest, "Aaahhhhhhhhhhhh," of relief--we had done it.

In case you're wondering, the course is a challenging one. It's filled with rolling hills--the ones that take you by surprise--and the humidity in Ohio can sometimes just be unbearable. By the end of the race, it was about 85 degrees, 75% humidity, and as though we had been rained on or I had jumped in a pool... my uniform was flinging sweat with every stride, it was suctioned to my body--absolutely soaked--and my shoes were sloshing with every step. Boy, was I glad to be done!

After the race and awards (which two of our team members won--see below!), some of us gathered for some delicious post-race grub (I'm talking the creamiest, fattiest, post-race-no-guilt-felt-what-so-ever kind of grub), followed by "buckets of froyo" with my blog-buddy Erin. It was the end to a truly wonderful weekend.

See photos of the Air Force Marathon weekend below... captions under each tell the story!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Our 2016 Air National Guard MAJCOM Challenge Team at the pre-race pasta dinner. Four of us ran the full marathon (me, the guy in the red shirt, and the two in the back upper left) and the rest ran the half. The only people not pictured are our fearless leader, Chief, and this year's honorary runner, a half marathon alternate.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Enjoying the amazing pasta dinner.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
It was absolutely surreal and so incredible to finally hug and meet Erin Carpenter from Aim High Erin in person for the first time. Three years ago, when considering joining the Air National Guard, I googled and found Erin's blog. I reached out to her and we have been friends ever since. She helped me virtually pack for Basic Training, she wrote me a letter while I was at BMT, I have watched her little baby grow into a three-year-old, we each encouraged each other as we both commissioned and became officers, we have since both mentored new and prospective Airmen through both of our blogs and social media outlets, we literally have followed parallel career paths in the Air Force (me Air Guard, her Reserves), and--at the Air Force Marathon Pasta Dinner--we met. FINALLY. Saturday, we both pinned on our bibs and ran the full 26.2 miles of the Air Force Marathon, me with the Air Guard team and her with her dad for her very first full marathon. 

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Race day! Checking out the finisher medal hardware.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
The team was suited up and ready to go. Our blue uniforms and black shorts were sharp. (Neon is a must, next year, Chief!).

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Left: our guys getting ready for the half marathon (which started 30 minutes after the full). Right: praying before the full marathon. I always pray before and during my race... it fuels me and keeps me going more than any Gu gel pack or Gatorade!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
And they're off... the men and women of the Air Force Half Marathon were on their way. I had been running for about 40-minutes by this time.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Coming in to the finish at the end of the full marathon. My time was officially clocked at a 3:22:26. I finished as the 2nd place overall female and 4th place overall female. Oddly enough, I was also I was bib #35 and came in 35th place overall out of 2042 marathon runners. Imagine that! I may not have won a trophy this time, but finishing my race and feeling strong at the end was better than any award. The trip in itself is the reward!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Giving our Chief, the master coordinator for the whole Air Guard team, a giant, sweaty hug at the end. He ran the half and had an excellent time and was waiting for me as I crossed the finish. We did it!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
The final team picture after the race. Do you see the two trophies my teammates are boasting? One of our female half marathoners, Emily, won 1st place overall female in the half, and one of our male racers won 1st place military male in the half marathon. All four of our full marathoners came in the top 20 of our race, and five of our six half marathoners finished in the top 25 in their race. Congratulations to everyone and the great races that were run by all!

Overall, wow... what a race. What a course! Everyone says it's hard, but until you're out there in the sweltering heat, the thick and humid air, and climbing the rolling hills that aren't-really-hills-but-when-you're-on-mile-21-and-it-sure-feels-like-a-hill kind of hill... that's when you find out what you're made of.

Running with the Air National Guard team for the MAJCOM Challenge makes me push myself that much more. It's not just ME who I'm running for... it's my team of 10 service members from across the nation, the Chief who tirelessly organizes us, the race coordinator who takes such good care of our team, my base supporting me back in my home state of Idaho, my amazing husband and family who have to put up with endless hours of training, and every single other person who has given me a high five or word of encouragement along the way. I'd like to call it grit. And marathons... they give you that grit. They make you strong. Fierce. A warrior. And they also make you very, very sore. So here's to the 20th annual Air Force Marathon. I may not have had my best race, but I had a race nonetheless and an experience of a lifetime. In fact, I also may not have won any awards or trophies this time around, but this race wasn't about that. It was about the team, the honor to represent my state and Air Guard unit, and just making it across the finish. And I did it. HOOAH!

PS> Air Force Public Affairs published our team's story in an article... read it here! I'll also update this blog post when the MAJCOM Challenge results are officially posted. Cross your fingers... we just may have won it... you never know!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hood to Coast Relay 2016

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly

For the second year in a row, my sister invited me to be a member of her team "Foot Patrol: Running with Sole" at the Hood to Coast Relay. As with last year's race, it fell on my birthday weekend, but this year was different... not only was it my 30th Birthday--hooah!--but instead of my birthday being the day before the race, this time we got to finish on my birthday! In addition, my brother was also invited to join so it truly was such a fun experience.

Stew and I got to Portland on Thursday, the day before the race. We bummed around Portland, exploring the food trucks and downtown sights. We met up with the team at Paragon for a pre-race dinner, and it was so nice getting to know our entire team and the amazing volunteers who came to support us. We enjoyed delicious food (Paragon's Brussels sprouts are amazing!) and some fine wine before tucking in early in anticipation of all the sleep we wouldn't be getting over the next couple days.

We woke up early Friday morning and rounded up all of Van 1, heading up to Mount Hood to kick off the race. Last year, I was in Van 2, and this year we thought we'd give Van 1 a go... and we sure were glad we did (more on that later).

We got up to the start line and our team began running at 10:15 am, with Karl--The Stache--braving the first leg's downhill slope. I was our van's fifth runner (the number one difficulty out of 12 and longest of all the legs at 19-miles total) so I had a bit of time before I began my leg. I cheered on my sister as she ran her leg (she killed it despite the heat!), not looking forward to mine as temperatures were creeping into the high 90's.

When I received the bracelet, I braced myself for my 5.95-mile leg which was pretty much straight uphill, a slow and steady climb without a break. While my leg did feel like it went up, up, up, I was able to maintain a decent pace of 8:05/mile. It wasn't what I wanted, but for a "very hard" uphill leg, I accepted it! I finished and was so glad to be done with it... boy, it was hot!

After our van finished our first legs, we went back to one of our runner's homes in Portland and took quick showers. We shoveled down some Subway and tried to rest, though we were all anticipating our night legs. At about 7:15, we headed back out to downtown Portland for our next exchange. Our van retook the bracelet just as it was getting dark, and we were all pretty jazzed up for the cooler weather and our night legs.

I got the bracelet around 11:30, stepping off on my 7.77-mile leg (leg 17) with a little bit of pain in my calves and a slower pace than I had hoped for. I ended up coming in to the finish with a 7:20/mile pace, passing several teams along the way. As I came in to the exchange, my sister realized that the clock had passed midnight and it was now officially my 30th Birthday! She, along with the rest of our team, began singing "Happy Birthday," and by the time I handed the bracelet off to her, the entire exchange was singing along... about 100 people total helping me ring in the big three-zero. It was an unforgettable experience and one that I'll cherish for a long time!

After our second legs, we stopped off at a hotel along the way for another quick shower and about an hour of downtime. That hour couldn't have gone by quicker, and before we knew it, we were on the road again to Astoria for our next big exchange.

My last leg (leg 29) was another "very hard" uphill leg, coming in at 6.05-miles. This one was a very steep uphill for the first four miles and then a very steep downhill for the last two miles. My goal was to maintain a comfortable, easy pace on the uphill and then just kill it on the downhill... and I did just that! I kept my pace around 8:00-8:30/mile on the uphill, and sped it up to about 6:30/mile on the downhill. I cruised right in through the end of my leg and passed off to my sister, who ran her last leg in the Barefoot Refresh Spritzer Can suit. She is a rockstar, I tell you what!

When my sister was finished, our van was done... hooah! We were stoked! We knew our other van still had several hours before they'd be finished, so we drove to Seaside to snag some Bloody Mary's and celebrate being finished with our legs! The bloody's were good, so good, and sitting around the table watching the beach and all the runners finish while we sipped our drinks only further reiterated why we'd be Van 1'ers for life!

Our second van got to the beach around 3:15 pm, and we all joined our final runner with a last sprint to the finish line. We ended up finishing in 28 hours, 53 minutes and 55 seconds, team #205 overall out of 1200. Our goal had been to finish under 29 hours so hallelujah... we had done it! We also set a goal of 700 road kills and totally smashed that with over 850. I had set a personal goal for 81 and nailed that goal right on the head with a final tally of 81, so I was stoked about that as well. What a way to turn 30, right?

We ended up relaxing at the Barefoot tent for the rest of the afternoon and bummed around Seaside that evening, playing pool, dancing to Whitney Houston, and closing down one of the local bars with a family dance session that would give any awkwardly-dancing family a run for their money. It was truly one of the very best birthdays I've ever had, and one of the most fun races I've ever run!

Now after all that ranting, see photos of the race below:

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
Van 1 up at the Mount Hood start line, ready for our first runner to take off! 

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
Sisters up at Mount Hood

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
We prepped our van for lots of road kill tallies... our van alone had 350+!

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
After my first leg (leg 5), a "very hard" uphill leg of 5.95 miles in the 90+ degree heat. Very hard it was!

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
Foam rolling those sore calves after my first leg.

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
We met up with my brother, who was in Van 2, at our nighttime exchanges between legs 12-13. Check out all the people trying to catch a bit of sleep! 

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
The awesome Barefoot Wine & Bubbly display at the HTC after party.

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
Post-race family picture! Stew had the most roadkills of any dude, I had the most of any girl as well as the #1 hardest ranked leg (legs 5, 17, 29), and Marn killed her legs, finishing her last one while wearing the Barefoot Refresh can! Props, Marn, props.

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
The team splurged on some delicious cupcakes to help me celebrate my 30th Birthday... how sweet!

Hood to Coast Relay, Team Foot Patrol, HTC16, Barefoot Wine and Bubbly
Our final team photo... team Foot Patrol: Running with Sole, you guys are the BEST!

It's hard to explain how much I love relays and how fun they are. When you tell someone you're going to go run a 200-mile relay with 11 other crazies and it's going to take you almost 30 hours--most people look at you like you're insane. What they don't realize is how supportive everyone is, how fun it is to all cram together in a sweaty, dirty van and live off of protein bars and bananas, and what a memorable experience it all is. And the best part is that it's different each and every year. I hope I'm able to join this team on their HTC adventures for as long as they'll have me.

Thanks again to Marnie & Team Foot Patrol for inviting me to be on your team this year. You gave me a weekend for the memory books and helped me ring in my big three-zero in the best way possible. I am so grateful for everything and hope to join you again next year.

Way to go, Foot Patrol... we ran with sole to annihilate each of our goals! 

Monday, August 29, 2016


Aunie Sauce Birthday, 30th Birthday

Holy moly, I'm 30. I've entered a new decade of adulthood and still feel like a kid. Shoot, as long as I still feel like a kid and still get carded (am I right?!), I suppose the years just don't even matter at this point. But thirty... that just sounds cool. So I'm determined to make 30 my best year yet.

Following suit with last year's celebration, I again spent my birthday weekend in Oregon running the Hood to Coast Relay. The difference was that last year I traveled to the race on my birthday and celebrated with our pre-race carb-loading meal, whereas this year my birthday fell on the final day of our race... so I got to ring in the big three-zero in style at the after party—talk about a huge celebration! It was also awesome because not only did I get to be on my sister's HTC team, but they were short a team member so my brother was also able to run with us. It made my birthday even that much more special.

On Wednesday prior to leaving for Oregon, my mom, her boyfriend and my brother had me and Daniel over for a very low-key birthday dinner. It was so nice to be able to relax with my fam! Daniel helped me pack for the trip that evening, surprising me with a Garmin Forerunner... something that had been on my wish list for years and years. I have always wanted a GPS-enabled watch to help with my running training (I usually just run based on feel, never knowing what my times are until post-race), so that was such a sweet present to get... and perfect timing, too—right before Hood to Coast and just three weeks before the Air Force Marathon!

So I turned 30 on Saturday. It was very cool because I was actually running my 2nd 7.7-mile leg when the clock struck midnight, so I literally ran straight into my thirties. As I ran up to the exchange between our 17th & 18th legs, my sister began singing "Happy Birthday" and by the time I handed off our bracelet to her, the entire exchange (about 100 people) was all singing me across the finish. It was a very neat moment and a memory I'll cherish for a long time. After we finished the race, I enjoyed a Bloody Mary with my team and spent the afternoon at the after party on the beach—eating delicious food and digging our feet into the Seaside sand. That evening, the team restaurant-hopped around Seaside, finishing with a three-hour dance party with my brother and sister and our awesomely-awkward moves. We killed it well past the hours of my birthday, closing the place down with our Whitney Houston family dancing session. I am so grateful that I was able to spend my special day with my brother and sister... it was a birthday for the books.

Here's to a new decade and just taking life as it comes. I learn time and time again that life doesn't always go as planned (ahem, still not a mom, still awaiting more military training, etc, etc, etc) but that is all part of the process. Things might not go as hoped or desired, but as long as I'm taking each day as it comes and enjoying every minute, that's all that really matters. So this year I plan on doing just that... forgetting about the spin of everything else and just truly taking time to be present and happy.

30... that just sounds good... and it feels pretty darn good, too.

Past birthday posts: twenty-six │ twenty-seven │ twenty-eight │ twenty-nine

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Washington Summer Trip 2016

Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce

We couldn't miss spending the 4th of July at my lifetime favorite getaway spot, Whidbey Island--we just couldn't! So Daniel and I packed up our things and headed West to spend some quality time with my family and the place my heart calls home. We sure moved a lot over the years, but Whidbey was where I grew up each summer... and the memories we've made there over the last 30 years are what keep me coming back. That and the family, the beach, the food, the agates, the fun times, etc. You get the picture.

Every year, the 4th is a special time for our family. It's the one time that almost all of the family ends up getting together down on the beach and it's like a big reunion. Some years everyone is there, and other years it's just a few of us. Either way the fourth is a Stone Family reunion.

We ended up spending the first half of our trip on Whidbey Island with my mom's parents and her siblings. Even though we only see them about once a year, it always feels like we pick up right where we left off. We also traveled the island, eating at our favorite pizza spot, Village Pizzeria, tried some new places in Coupeville (Kapaws Iskreme in Coupeville is our new go-to!), went for several beach walks, and shared lots of stories around the table.

The second half of our trip was spent in Seattle with my sister, her husband, and my dad's mom. We really enjoy spending time with Grandma because it's very quality one-on-one time. We especially love to hear her old stories from when she first came to America! One of my favorite experiences from this trip was sitting around the table at my sister's house, sipping on cider and playing Heads Up! with her and her husband. We really got into it! I wish we lived closer so we could have more fun times like that.

See pictures from our amazing trip to the Puget Sound below.

Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce, 4th of July Maxwelton Day Parade
Hanging out with my sister and her new pup Tony at the Maxwelton Day parade. Our family goes all out when it comes to dressing for the 4th. We're like a red, white and blue party. 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce, 4th of July Maxwelton Day Parade buttons
My Nanny has attended every Maxwelton Day parade for years and years and years. She has the most parade buttons of anyone up there! 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce
Taking a beach walk with my mom and sister. Hunting for agates is our all-time favorite pastime.
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce
We're wondering how my brother got so tall. Goodness gracious! 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce
The Driflot side of the family. Some old, some new... all a big, happy family! 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce
Enjoying cups of cupcakes topped with whipped cream while we sat by the fire watching the sun set. The fireworks were about to begin! 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce
Family jumping photo at our favorite backyard on all of Whidbey. The memories made there will last a lifetime! 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce, Agate Hunting, Searching for Agates, Whidbey Island Agates
Daniel and I had a pretty darn good agate haul after our walk over at Ebey Beach. Our agate collection is growing! 
Seattle, Aunie Sauce, Ray's Boathouse
Enjoying some fine Seattle seafood with my Grandma at Ray's Boathouse. I'm so grateful for her! 
Whidbey Island, Maxwelton Beach, Aunie Sauce
Those smiles can only mean one thing... happy. together. family.

To be honest, I don't know if it's Whidbey that makes my heart so full or the time spent with family. But the combination of the two--that's what truly does it. They say there's no place like home. For us, there's no place like Whidbey.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Air Force Officer Training School

Officer Training School, Air Force OTS

Life-changing moment: I am officially a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force and Idaho Air National Guard! I received my commission on 17 June 2016 after spending eight weeks at Officer Training School.

School was much more mentally challenging than I had anticipated, though it was a very humbling and confidence-building experience. I was given so many options to test my leadership styles and formed some great friendships along the way. And at the very end of that seemingly endless 8-week tunnel, I emerged with a new perspective and a couple shiny new butter bars on my lapels... what a good feeling that was!

I've included a couple of my photos through my journey at Officer Training School below, with a little breakdown of each aspect of the program. I'm so grateful for all of the opportunities the Air National Guard has given me. This is just one of many!

Classroom Instruction and Graded Measurements
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS
Bits and pieces of our classroom instruction. Top left: our school house. Top right & bottom left: classroom instruction. Bottom right: lined up out on the "corral" memorizing our HAWKs.
Officer Training School, Air Force OTSOTS Class 16-07 lined up outside the Tuskegee Airman National Museum on one of our field trips

The first several weeks of OTS were primarily spent in the classroom. We had several classes per day, ranging from Air Force history to supervisory and leadership courses. We also had graded measurements that were due every couple of days. They were either papers, briefings or tests. We spent much of our time in the classroom or auditorium for lectures, and it was a nice relief to get out of the classroom when given the chance! On the first few weekends, we took field trips to places like the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum and the Enlisted Heritage Museum. We even spent one Saturday doing a community service project for the Habitat for Humanity.

Physical Training
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS, Air Force PT, Air Force OTS Physical Training
Top: warming up for morning PT (I'm in the middle facing the camera). Bottom left: Phantom Squadron after the Prop & Wings Run. Bottom right: push-ups during the Prop & Wings Run.

Of course you can imagine that I loved the physical training aspect of OTS. I was selected as my flight's fitness officer, so I was able to give my input into the PT program that we administered to our cadets. At OTS, PT is a student-run program, so the level of intensity you experience will be dependent on how rough & tough your PTL's (physical training leaders) are. We did PT as a group about two to three days a week, and then I would do PT on my own every day as well. I think there were only 3-4 days while I was at OTS that I wasn't able to hit my own PT session, and I used that time each day as a mind reset—taking 60-minutes to clear my thoughts and de-stress from the happenings of the day. I wouldn't say that I always had time for that much extra PT, though I made it my personal goal to make that time each day.

One of the best things I did (for my mental and physical fitness) was run a half marathon around the base each Sunday with a buddy I met at the Air Force Marathon last year. We had very open schedules on Sunday, so he and I met up every morning after breakfast for a nice long run around the base. It was two hours of hot, sweaty bliss each week that I never missed!

Field Training
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Combatives
Top left and bottom right: qualifying (and earning Expert!) with the M9. Top right: me marching the Phantom Squadron to the ropes course. Bottom left: combatives training.
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS High Ropes Course
Top left and right: snapshots from the Confidence course. Bottom: High Ropes course. 
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS AEF, OTS Air & Space Expeditionary Force
Top left: the culmination of AEF—the Assault Course. Top right and bottom left: my flight at AEF. Bottom right: The OPS tent at AEF.

For me, the most enjoyable moments at OTS came from the field training. We had several days spent in the field, whether they were at BELPS (Basic Expeditionary Leadership Problems), Project X, LRC (Leadership Reactionary Course), EMLEX (Emergency Management Leadership Exercise), the Ropes, Confidence and Assault Courses, and AEF (Air & Space Expeditionary Forces mock-deployment training).

While all of that may look like a big bunch of military acronyms, it basically breaks down to the fact that when we were doing those exercises, we were not in the classroom and were instead out in the field, working together as teams to problem solve and test our leadership abilities.

For things like Project X and LRC, we were divided into teams and given 20-minutes to solve a problem in a small, confined obstacle. We were presented with scenarios like how to get six people and supplies up and over a wall with only a board, three poles and only certain places where we could step, walk, and move. Those field trainings were really fun because we each got to lead a team on an obstacle and they were very physically demanding.

BELPS was a lot like LRC but was instead out in the Alabama forest. We were using land navigation tools to trek through the forest in search of our azimuths and the final objective with a team of people and a time limit. We encountered water moccasins, turtles, giant spiders, and ankle-biting chiggers along the way!

The Ropes and Confidence courses were also fun. We put our bodies and minds to the test by donning harnesses and scaling ropes and obstacles as tall as buildings. Some people had a really hard time with the course because of how tall the platforms were, but I thought it was so fun! We also did a small Confidence Course—which was essentially an obstacle course—while we waited for folks to finish up with the Ropes portion. I loved that as well, though I enjoyed eating my MRE afterward just a little bit more! I love MRE's!

The best field training was AEF, where we did a three-day mock-deployment and lived in tents, ran missions through the forest, and were fully done up in battle gear. That was three days of fun for me... the field conditions and real-life leadership training was fast-paced and I was able to practically apply all that we'd been learning in the classroom in our mission scenarios. Being in the field—no matter where I'm at—gives me such a feeling of exhilaration!

Dining Out
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Dining Out
Top left: dressed up with my guy at the dining out. Middle: filling a cup from the grog. Right: fellow flight-mates at the Dining Out.

On the second to last day at OTS, we attended a formal Dining Out. Many of our classmates had prepared and worked hard for the entire 8-weeks to put on this grand event, and it was very enjoyable! My favorite part was listening to the toasts at the grog. I was one of the first people to call someone up to the grog, and I picked my wingman Schaffy because it was her birthday! What I intended was to get her up to the grog for a celebratory drink, but I was also called out for bringing her up but not joining her in her birthday toast as her wingman. So we drank from the grog together and enjoyed flushed cheeks and a little bit of a buzz as a result!

The Dining Out was also super fun because Daniel got to join me. He had just flown in for my graduation the night prior, so we both got to get all dressed up together for this fancy event. It was so awesome to introduce him to my classmates and the commissioned staff. I look forward to many more events like this with him in the future!

Graduation and Commissioning
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Graduation
Top left: the "Top Female PT" fitness award, which I received for finishing OTS with a 100% on my PT test and the fastest female 1.5-mile run time of 8:28. Top right: On the parade grounds after our final parade. Middle and bottom: Graduation parade.
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Graduation
Flight 4-14's official photo. I loved my flight!
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Commissioning
Left: taking the oath and receiving my commission. Middle: getting pinned by my husband. Right: receiving my first salute from my husband, TSgt Rowe.

After the eight long weeks (which actually went by fairly quickly as I look back on it) had finally passed, it was time for us to take the oath, commission and graduate. Finally! On the day before we commissioned, they had an awards ceremony for the OTS cadets and our families. I ended up taking home the award for "Top PT Female" after earning the highest overall fitness test average and the fastest run time out of our class of 225 cadets. I was thrilled to set a new personal best record during my last PT test by taking off nine seconds from my 1.5-mile run and coming in at 8:28. It was an honor to receive that award!

On the Friday of our graduation, we commissioned first thing that morning. I was given the oath by our Squadron Commander, and I was then pinned by my husband. He was so proud! My husband, also a Technical Sergeant, gave me my first salute. I coined him with a silver dollar, and that experience was so memorable and special for me. I was so grateful for Daniel's support along this entire journey, and to culminate it with that formal tradition was so meaningful... especially to do it with my husband!

What a surreal feeling it was... to finally be a Second Lieutenant. I couldn't have been happier!

Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Detachment 12
Top: my flight at our Memorial Day barbeque. Bottom left: our first time off base—we went to Lek's Railroad Thai in Montgomery. Bottom right: on the bus to BELPS, our first field training experience.
Officer Training School, Air Force OTS Detachment 12
Photos week-by-week with my roomie and OTS wingman for life, Schaffy. Left: casual in the dorms. Middle left: dressed up in blues for a visit to the Enlisted Heritage Museum. Middle right: playing around on Memorial Day. Right: after earning our butter bars... we did it!

One of the things that truly surprised me about OTS was the friendships and bonds that I formed with my flight mates. My roommate was amazing... she and I laughed, sang, prayed, cried, and shared so many memories together. I couldn't have gotten through it without her. And my flight? Oh man, my flight was amazing. In addition, since I had been our Student Squadron Commander, I really got to know our entire 61-member Phantom Squadron, and I had such a good time getting to know and build friendships with each of them. Our entire group really bonded over the 8-weeks and it was such a crazy feeling to leave OTS knowing I'd probably get to see them again in the future... but missing them already just the same!

Officer Training School, Air Force OTS
My mom and Daniel's family met me with hugs and tears of congratulations at the airport. I was totally surprised! My mother-in-law made me the sweetest sign... I was so grateful for all their support while I was away!

Since I got to fly home the day after graduation, Daniel ended up being on the same flights as me. We actually sat in totally different areas of the plane on each of our three flights home, but hanging out and grabbing food during lay-overs was a lot of fun. When we arrived home at the Boise airport, I thought we would just grab my bags and go. Boy, was I wrong! My mom and almost all of Daniel's family surprised me at the gate, waving signs, crying, and all coming in for a giant group hug. I hadn't anticipated how emotional I'd get when I saw them, and I'd had absolutely no idea they would be there, so to say that it was a special moment would be an understatement. I had been so grateful for their support every step of the way, so to see them all there waiting for me as I stepped off the plane was just the icing on top of that OTS cake.

As a final end to this long (yet actually short OTS recap), below is the OTS Class 16-07 video. It gives you a snapshot into the life of an OTS cadet and chronicles our 8-weeks of training. I'm in there three times... see if you can spot me!

OTS Class 16-07 Video

To now be a Second Lieutenant and to return home with butter bars is so much more than just some shiny new bars and a new rank. I'm going into a brand new part-time career field (I still work full-time at the hospital) and taking on a lot of new responsibilities. I still have many weeks of training left to go, but that will all come in time. For now, I'm just so grateful for the whole OTS experience and to finally have that training over and done with! It was a humbling, gratifying, educational, and mind-blowing experience. Truly. I don't ever want to do anything like it again, but I'm so thankful that I was selected to go through it.

This is just the beginning of my career as an officer in the Air National Guard, and I'm looking forward to every new experience, new training, new travel destination, and new day. When I enlisted two years ago and made it a goal to aim high, I never could have imagined just how high... and I'm on the way there now. One day at a time—here we go!