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!

Friendships
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!

Homecoming 
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!

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