Monday, October 2, 2017

My Interview Process to Become an Officer in the Idaho Air National Guard

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

I will begin this post by stating that my interview process for being selected as a Security Forces Officer with the Idaho Air National Guard (IDANG) is probably going to be vastly—if not 100% different—than any other officer selection procedure I've ever seen. So be advised... most other individuals selected for commission will most likely not experience these same things!


It all started off when I was a new Airman First Class (A1C) and had recently returned from Personnel Tech School. I knew that I wanted to commission and become an officer, so I was waiting for job openings so I could apply. The way it works in the IDANG is that there has to be an open officer position that you qualify for before you can put in to apply for it. And then, after you apply, you typically interview among 5-20 of your ANG colleagues and, of course—may the best candidate win!

In May, 2015, my chance came. I saw an announcement for an open officer position within the Security Forces Squadron (SFS). I was immediately interested, though a few people were quick to throw out hesitation because being a "cop" was so unlike me in almost every way. But to me, that didn't matter. I thought it sounded legit and it sounded so cool to have the chance to learn an entirely different career than what I had graduated with (B.S. in Health Promotion) and my new enlisted career of human resources. I put in my application and let the waiting game begin.

In June, 2015 I received information (a WARNO) from the SFS Commander, detailing our interview process which was to take place in August. I knew right away that this interview was going to be different than most because there were reporting instructions, a packing list, physical fitness requirements, a detailed itinerary for the first day of interviews (which was a ruck), and information for the second day (which was the formal board interview). I was stoked at the chance to be able to prove myself not only personally with the interview, but physically with the ruck. That sounded hardcore and I was all about it. It also helped that I was in the peak of my training for that year's USAF Half Marathon, so I took the challenge to prep head-on and added rucking/hiking to my training.

When August rolled around, I was ready for the interview. A little bit apprehensive of what was in store, I showed up at 0500 on the first day of interviews with my ruck loaded and all of my tactical gear on (at least, I thought I looked tactical). Our rucks were 35% of our body weight + 12 pounds of water (mine was just over 50 pounds). I completely stood out like a sore thumb... an A1C personnelist among an elite group of Security Forces non-commissioned officer (NCO) troops and gung-ho enlisted members from across the wing. There were 19 of us in all, and like I said, upon first glance I was probably at the bottom of the selection pool.

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

The initial interview, the ruck up Tablerock (a local Boise hiking hotspot), turned into an all-day event. We met on base to receive the Operation Order (OPORD) detailing what was to come. Then, we drove to Tablerock to prepare for the hardest interview of our lives. Immediately upon arriving at the site, we unloaded our bags and the yelling and screaming ensued. One of our troops, a former Marine, was putting us through the rigors to simulate what Officer Training School (OTS) and the Security Forces Officer Course (SFOC) were going to be like. He smoked us on the spot, having us do sprinting drills, burpees, carrying our bags from here to there, and whatever else he could to burn us out prior to the ruck. After working up a sweat for 30 minutes, we loaded up our rucks and began heading up the hill.

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

The hike was steep as we headed off in a group, stopping at cones about every 100m for "intel," which was found on laminated pieces of paper. Each of us were required to memorize an intel card, which contained the name, photo and biography of one of the 14 fallen defenders. We had to memorize all the information, including the entire paragraph of the fallen defender—word for word.

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

As we finally approached the top of the hill, the former Marine went at it again, screaming for us to drop our bags, don our weapons, and prepare to be smoked. Another 45-minutes of smoking ensued, leaving us completely exhausted and drenched in sweat. We did everything from push-ups until failure, squats, overhead presses with our rucks, drills with the weapons until muscle failure, and more burpees than I can even count. During the smoke session, there were also several SF cadre in our faces, yelling random things, pointing out where we were falling behind, and truly overwhelming each of our senses.

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

We were all completely spent when we finally were told to ruck back up and head down the hill. When we arrived back at the squadron, we had to stand before a panel and recite our intel cards word for word. I know I didn't repeat mine 100% accurately, but I gave it my best shot. We were dismissed and told to return the next day for the formal board interview.

I showed up in my dress blues the next morning, making sure they were lint-rolled to perfection and my lines were ironed and crisp. I went before the board and saluted our Commander, a Major, and greeted my other board members (who were all officers from around the wing, including several Senior NCO Security Forces members). My Commander always invites people from outside the unit to sit on the board, hoping to negate bias and present an unfiltered opinion of the candidate. Some of the areas represented by our board were Finance, Maintenance, Emergency Management, and Logistics. Each board member asked questions, I responded in kind to each one. Being an A1C, I didn't have a lot of experience within the military to base my answers, so I tried to come up with examples from my limited Air Force trainings and then from my civilian employment with the hospital as well. My interview lasted just about an hour, and I thanked the board for their time as I saluted and left the room. And then, the waiting began.

I hadn't heard anything at all for almost three weeks when I got a phone call from the Commander, asking me to come back in for another interview. He told me to just come straight over from work and that I didn't need to wear my uniform. I showed up in my work outfit, a shirt with our hospital's logo and some black pants and sneakers, and went in for the second round. Each member of the board was present again, and I was in a chair in front of them answering questions for close to 20 minutes. They asked some follow-up questions from my first interview, including, "How would you conduct yourself to stay humble if you got this position?" and other questions similar in nature. It made sense—it's not that often that an A1C is selected for commission against other NCO's, but I answered all the questions to the best of my ability. The last question the Commander asked me, which he almost fired my direction as soon as I'd finished an answer was, "So, do you want the job?" I looked at him, mouth open in awe and for the first time at a loss for words, and didn't even have a chance to respond before my husband walked through the door, a smile on his face from ear to ear, and the Commander handed me a bottle of PatrĂ³n and said, "CONGRATULATIONS, LT! You got the job!"

To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. I'm not normally a "speechless" kind of person, but I literally couldn't even find the words to say thank you. I was overwhelmed with joy, surprise, excitement, and pure happiness. I gave each of my board members the strongest handshake I could muster and hugged my husband like there was no tomorrow. I couldn't believe it—they had selected me for a Security Forces commission!

Just a couple days later, the following email went out to the 1,400 members of the Idaho Air National Guard,

"Please join me and my fellow Defenders in congratulating and welcoming A1C Annelise Rowe for being selected as the new 124 Security Forces Squadron Operations Officer. A1C Rowe's proven communication skills, enthusiasm for a challenge, and fitness excellence have prepared her for her new role as a leader in the always demanding, challenging, and proud 124 SFS.
Congrats A1C Annelise Rowe"

Shortly after the announcement was made, I transferred from personnel to be the Commander's Support Staff (CSS) in the Security Forces Squadron while I awaited my commission. I attended Officer Training School eight months later, and the Security Forces Officer Course seven months after that. And now, here I sit, two years after my selection for commission, as the Security Forces Operations Officer for the 124th Fighter Wing in Boise, Idaho. It's a pretty cool gig, I'll tell you that much. I love my job, wouldn't trade it for anything, and can't wait to see what the future holds!

Security Forces Officer, Air National Guard Security Forces, Commission in the Air National Guard, Officer Interview

Again, I know this description of my interview is drastically different than what most officer hopefuls & selectees will experience when commissioning, but I love the story and the process by which we were interviewed... so if anything—at least I wrote it down for myself so I could remember all the nitty gritty details. HOOAH!

Monday, September 18, 2017

US Air Force Half Marathon & MAJCOM Challenge 2017

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio, Pasta Dinner

For the third year in a row, I had the honor of representing the Air National Guard, the 124th Fighter Wing, and the great state of Idaho at the United States Air Force Marathon. I was on the ANG team the last two years for the MAJCOM Challenge, and this year I traveled to the event as their team alternate (in case anyone was injured leading up to the race). To support this amazing group of super-human runners was just incredible, and to run the race alongside them as an individual was also a great experience. Luckily for them, as you'll read below, my time did not count toward the team time. It just wasn't my day for a good race—but we all have those—and the trip in itself far outweighed simply "having a bad race."

To start, I didn't put my name in for the team this year for a couple of reasons, but the main factor being that since we are the only un-funded team in the entire MAJCOM Challenge, shilling $1,200 out-of-pocket to participate in this event was a bit of a stretch for me, my husband, and our financial goals this year. The second reason I didn't apply is that I'm nursing a fractured sesamoid bone injury in my foot, one that's been plaguing me off-and-on throughout my marathon training for the last two years. I had intended to give it some R&R, but clearly that didn't happen. The third reason I didn't apply was that I spent half the year in Texas for Security Forces training, and the rigors our bodies were put through down there didn't lead very well to long-distance running. I was stronger, sure, but definitely not faster. So I told the team I'd be an alternate this year and let an amazing gal from New York have my spot. She ended up being the only new addition to the team and absolutely killed her race. So all in all, it was a win!

Now, I'm sure you're already asking yourself how I was able to go since $1,200 was going to hit my bank account hard, right? Well, a blessing came my way and I was completely blown away when our Idaho National Guard Officer's Association offered to sponsor my entire trip. Holy cow, what a gift—my prayers were answered! I literally would not have even been able to fathom going on this trip if it wasn't for them, so I was (and still am!) ever-so grateful for their support to send me to Ohio for this race, morale, and team-building event.

I flew out to Dayton on Thursday, two days before the race, to help acclimatize to the Ohio humidity and avoid any last-minute stressful travels. I walked around the Wright Patterson AFB BX for a while, met one of my teammates at the Expo, and went to dinner with half the team at Texas Roadhouse.

On Friday, I woke up and went for an easy 3-mile run around Wright Patterson AFB, and relaxed/stretched prior to heading to the USAF Marathon Expo to meet up with the team and pick up our race packets. After the Expo, we enjoyed the Gourmet Pasta Dinner, hosted at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. I love that dinner and their guest speakers... it's always one of the highlights of the trip.

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio

Saturday morning began early for us as we boarded the busses at 5:30 am to head to the race. Everyone seemed pretty nervous, though since I didn't have the pressure of competing with the team this year—but instead as an individual—I didn't feel my usual pre-race jitters. We arrived and set up camp in the MAJCOM tent, waiting for the race to start.

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio
The Air National Guard MAJCOM Challenge team prior to the race. We had six half marathoners—2 females/4 males—and four full marathoners—1 female/3 males. I was the alternate juuuuust in case anything happened!

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio
F-22 & P-51 flyover to kick-off the race.

At 7:30 am, our marathoners were off, and as half marathoners, we followed shortly behind with a start at 8:30 am. I began running with our Chief who organizes our team and we held a 7:45/mile pace for the first mile. Compared to the last couple years and my prior race paces between 6:00-7:00/miles, this didn't feel so bad. Again, my training was off this year due to SF training in Texas and my injury, so I wasn't really going for anything special with this race... I was just glad to be there to participate!

It was a pretty muggy morning, but not too hot at the start, so I was able to maintain between 7:24-7:51/mile for the first 8-miles—I even stopped at the "free bacon!" table for a sampling, which I'd always been too afraid to do in years prior. Mile 9 hit me pretty hard as I crested the big hill on the course, sending my heart racing to an uncomfortable level. I lost feeling in my hands and got the chills and knew I was pretty close to passing out. It was then, for my first time in a race, that I had to walk. HOLY MOLY you guys—talk about a gut check there. I knew my heart was beating way too fast for my normal running state and it was all I could do to just walk it out without completely collapsing and pulling myself from the race. I was so bummed. The last four miles were MISERABLE, and I had to walk-jog the entire way just to make it across the finish line. I almost stopped at every medical tent I saw during the last four miles, but just couldn't bring myself to quit the race. I've never had such a rough race nor have struggled so much to eke out the last few miles. I mean, I was walking down the home stretch to the finish line (though I did muster enough strength to jog the last 100m or so). Oofda. I had nothing left. As I received my finisher medal and reflected on the race, I was not only glad that I was the alternate for our ANG team this year and that my time didn't count toward their time since I did so poorly, but heck, I was just glad I finished at all.

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio

After I recovered from the race and settled my heart rate back to normal, I cheered on the rest of my full marathon teammates as they finished their races. When all was said and done, one of our half marathon ladies won the 1st place overall female award and our full marathon gal won first place military female. One of our male marathoners also ran a PR, and almost all our other runners had stellar races. So exciting! Overall, the team was about 20 minutes slower than last year's team time, so we will have a competitive team time to compete against the other MAJCOMs. They should be releasing results later this year—so fingers crossed that we won!

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio
The Command Chief who organizes our race (left) and the MAJCOM Challenge team coordinator and USAF Marathon staff member extraordinaire, Rachael (right). These two are so supportive, uplifting and helpful, and have become very good friends over the last two years.

After the race—and a nap of course—most of our team headed to the race's "After Party at the Greene" for some good British food at The Pub and live music. I was so excited to get to spend some time with one of my best buddies from Officer Training School, Nick, who I'd met two years prior at the 2015 MAJCOM Challenge when he was running for PACAF. I talked with him briefly at that race and immediately recognized him when I saw him at OTS last year. We ended up running 13-miles almost every Sunday at OTS, and got to know each other really well. This year, he came back to run for Global Strike, so we got to spend almost all day hanging out in the MAJCOM tent and then he joined us for dinner at The Greene. I tell you what, it was so good being able to catch back up with my old running friend!

USAF Marathon MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, Air Force Half Marathon Dayton Ohio

Well, I may not have had my best race, but it definitely wasn't my slowest ever. The entire experience in itself was pretty humbling—you're not going to win everything, right? In addition, the honor of being able to represent the Air National Guard, the 124th Fighter Wing, the state of Idaho, and to be the alternate support for this year's ANG team far outweighed the perks of bringing home any flashy trophy. This weekend was for team building, morale, fostering relationships, having fun, honoring service through fitness excellence, and a camaraderie that you can't really find anywhere else. So no, as everyone back home has been asking, I didn't win, but really? Yes... I did.

Thank you again to the Idaho National Guard Officer's Association who sponsored this trip for me. I would not have been able to travel to this race or gain the personal/professional development I did without your support!

Previous Two USAF Marathon & MAJCOM Challenge Posts: United States Air Force Half Marathon & MAJCOM Challenge 2015 │ Air Force Marathon & MAJCOM Challenge 2016

Thursday, August 31, 2017

thirty one.

Bainbridge Island Ferry, Seattle Washington, Bainbridge Ferry, Downtown Seattle

Well, I've done it. I've officially hit the age where I'm now "in my 30's." I'm no longer just thirty (which was a pretty killer age if I do say so myself), my grays/whites are creeping steadfastly through my scalp and becoming more and more visible, I hardly ever get carded anymore, and gosh dangit--I still feel like a kid but have all the responsibilities of an adult. Welcome to 31, Annelise.

In all actuality, I'm thrilled about turning 31. Daniel and I have accomplished some big goals for ourselves over the past year, and I can't wait to see what we will do together this year now that so many of our boxes have been checked. For instance, we recently did a very Dave-Ramsey-esque "Debt Free Scream," after getting ourselves completely out of debt for the first time in almost five years of marriage. Now THAT was exciting. I also finished up the last bit of my out-of-state training for the Air National Guard, and have no more commitments in the foreseeable future where I'll have to be away from Daniel for an extended period of time... HOORAY!

So you know what that means? That means 31 is going to be a banner year. That's what I was praying for when I blew out my candles, anyway. I've got some big hopes and big dreams, and regardless of what does or doesn't happen, I'm happier than I've ever been and there's no value or price tag I can place on that feeling.

To celebrate my birthday this year, Daniel and I road-tripped to Seattle, Washington to spend some time with my sister and family. It's the third year I've been with my sister on my birthday, and I'm liking the idea of making it an annual thing. We are 12 months and 6 days apart, so sharing our birthday weeks together is pretty darn special.

Over the course of the weekend we played games (10 Penny & Scattegories), ate all the food we could possibly fit into our bellies, took two delightfully long beachwalks and filled our pockets with agates, hugged all the family members we could find (all grandparents & one uncle), and regretted the fact that we didn't have just a couple more days to do it all over again.

Ivar's Mukilteo Landing, Ivar's soft serve ice cream
If you're taking the Mukilteo Ferry to Whidbey Island, stopping at Ivar's for a cup of chowder and a soft serve swirl cone is a must. Now the real question... cake cone or waffle? We stop every single time we take the ferry and this tradition has been a treat for me since I was a kid.

Some of our foodie adventures included chowing down on slices of Neapolitan pesto pizza and caesar salad at Village Pizzeria in Langley on Whidbey Island, savoring Penn Cove mussels and clams in green curry broth with a dessert of a key lime tart at Gordon's on Blueberry Hill on Whidbey Island, destroying a pot of chilled peel-and-eat shrimp alongside a Bloody Mary at Doc's Marina Grill on Bainbridge Island, demolishing a soft serve swirl cone at Ivar's, tasting the delights of Mexican mole enchiladas and ultimate margaritas at Senor Moose in Seattle, overlooking Seattle with a caesar salad and white chocolate mousse cake at Salty's on Alki Beach, and treating myself to a double scoop of oatmeal cookie dough and smore's ice cream at Molly Moon's in Seattle. I mean, can-I-get-a-food-AMEN?!

Maxwelton Beach, Whidbey Island, Clinton Washington
My happy place--Maxwelton Beach. I don't know how many times I've walked these beaches scouring the rocks for agates, but I will never turn down a 2+ hour beach walk or a chance to make it to the point.

Maxwelton Beach, Whidbey Island, Clinton Washington, Maxwelton Beach agates, Whidbey Island agates
I found this big & beautiful agate nestled in the tide flats on Maxwelton Beach. It was glowing just enough for me to spot it amidst the sand. I did an agate dance for that one!

Ebey's Landing, Ebey State Park, Whidbey Island, Ebey Beach agates, Whidbey Island agates
Our second beach walk landed us at Ebey's Landing, just outside of Coupeville on Whidbey Island. We took home 23 agates of all different shapes, sizes and colors. Daniel did really well... he didn't have time for the small ones that day!

Whidbey Island, Gordon's on Blueberry Hill
I hardly get to see my grandparents enough (mom's & dad's), so it was our pleasure to treat them to dinner at Gordon's on Blueberry Hill in Freeland on Whidbey Island. I don't know if I've ever dined at such a fine restaurant (read: expensive), but every penny spent was so worth the experience... plus the food was DELICIOUS, so it made for a very memorable, enjoyable evening. I'm so blessed to be able to spend time with all my grandparents and treasure our time together.

Whidbey Island, Gordon's on Blueberry Hill
This delectable dessert was the key lime tart from Gordon's. For my actual birthday, my grandma took me, Daniel and my sister to Salty's on Alki Beach in Seattle. The food wasn't quite as spectacular as Gordon's, but again... the time spent with Grandma meant more to me than any gift or birthday treat.

You know, I don't think I've ever had a birthday that I just didn't love. But this one felt different. It felt exciting. It felt real. It felt new. I felt so loved. And most of all, I feel ready for what's next. So let's go, 31, show me what you've got.  

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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Security Forces Training

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders

Since June of last year, I've been working as the full-time Operations Officer for our Security Forces Squadron. However, it wasn't until graduating the Security Forces Officer Course back in May that I actually received the training to enable me to do the job. So here I sit--several months later--still working as the Operations Officer and absolutely loving every minute of it.

Since coming home from school, I've taken a team out to the desert for two weeks of field training, gone to Dayton, Ohio for the MAJCOM Challenge trophy presentation, gone TDY to Klamath Falls, Oregon to support the Sentry Eagle open house as the lead of a security detail, and have worked more 60+ hour weeks than I can even count on two hands. And seriously, I love it.

Anyway, today's post is not about how insanely rad AND tactical AND sah-weet my job is, but instead it's to show some of the cool photos of our field training exercise (FTX) we did back in June. When I got home from school, I transitioned straight into an entire month of work (one single day off), and part of that month was planning and executing a four-day field training exercise out in the Idaho desert for our Defenders.

My role in the exercise was to be the Flight Commander for our three flights of 27 total troops. I wrote and presented the Operation Order (OPORD), planned the 3.5-hour convoy to get us to the site, set up a bare base, and then rocked it out in the field with the troops for four days while we held security of our base, ran missions against opposing forces (OPFOR), and had a heck-of-a-time bonding in the middle of nowhere. I mean, when you have no showers, eat nothing but MREs, sleep out in the open air, and have no cell phone connection... what's better than some good 'ol squad bonding? Nothing, I tell you, nothing beats it. Man, I love being a Defender.

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
During the two-week training and prior to heading out to the field, we started most mornings off with squadron PT. For this session, we hit our range and did log, sandbag and bucket carries up a 200m hill ten times, with sets of 15 burpees & log jumps between each hill repeat. It was a killer workout and we really bonded as a team. Break down the body--build up the resilience--bond the team!

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
A shot from our lead vehicle of our convoy headed out to the training area. Our convoy was 3.5-hours long. We suffered a broken down HMMWV on the way out, so we had to tow it the entire way. Talk about a wrench in the system! But hey, we made it and it was just one more lesson learned--always have a back-up plan!

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
We set up this bare base around these conex boxes that were out in the middle of the desert at the Saylor Creek Training Area. With the help of a ladder, they provided a place for us to make static overwatch posts and they also provided nice wind barriers at night! We held this camp as well as the base perimeter, which was blocked with C-wire, for four days.

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
One of our missions/trainings involved a Blackhawk Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC). Typically, we rehearse MEDEVACs with 9-line cards and radio traffic. This time, however, Blackhawks showed up to pick up our guys and we were really able to put our SABC (self aid buddy care) and litter carry training to the test. The ride in the Blackhawks was the favorite experience by most of our troops at the FTX.

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
Both Blackhawks landing at our camp after being signaled by one of our troops who popped smoke to signify their safe and designated landing point.

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
I lead our MEDEVAC mission from our Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC), because I didn't want any of our troops to miss out on the Blackhawk ride. To my surprise, after the mission ended they came back to give the rest of us joyrides who didn't get to go. Just my luck!

Security Forces, 124 Fighter Wing, Defenders
Our entire FTX flight. What a great group of people this was. This was our flight (Armageddon Flight! BOOM!) and OPFOR members on our last night of training.

If the pictures didn't do it justice, check out the video of our training that a visiting troop put together for us.

I don't think I can say it enough--I love my job. The opportunities I'm being given at the Air National Guard and within Security Forces are more than I could ever have asked for. Every single day brings something new--a new challenge, a new dilemma, a new way to help, a new lesson to learn. The hours are long and the work can be rough, but this job and the people I get to work with make all the difference in the world. As I say every single day (and sometimes it's to remind myself as well--trust me--we all have those days)... "I love my job. I love my job. I love my job!"

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Arizona Road Trip

Bear Canyon Trail to 7 Falls, Sabino Canyon, Tuscon Arizona

After spending 4.5-months away from home at the Security Forces Officer Course in San Antonio, Texas, I was ready to spend some much-needed time with my husband! He flew down to make the drive home with me, and we decided to turn the road trip into a week-long vacation through Arizona. In fact, in the 4+ years we have been married, it was the very first vacation we have taken where it's been just the two of us for the entire time (without another family member/friend). This was our trip!

My favorite part of the vacation was that he surprised me with the entire trip, taking us to amazing and scenic locations all across Arizona on the way back. Prior to our departure, all I knew was that we were going to be driving home and stopping at a couple places along the way... he orchestrated the entire adventure and I couldn't have been more grateful or appreciative of the amount of time he took to set it all up for us. Man, I'm a lucky wife!

Needless to say, the vacation--true to our style--was jam-packed with hikes, restaurant exploration, poolside relaxation, and a list of "must-do-agains" for next time! Check out some of my favorite photos from the trip below...

Gruene Texas, Gristmill
The day before the road trip, we had to have one last trip to Gruene, Texas to enjoy a margarita at Cantina del Rio (BEST MARGARITAS EVER!). We also ate a delicious dinner at the Gristmill.

Natural Bridge Caverns, New Braunfels Texas
Before leaving Texas, we visited the Natural Bridge Caverns in New Braunfels. They were stunning!

Bear Canyon Trail to 7 Falls, Sabino Canyon, Tuscon Arizona
Our first stop was in Tuscon, Arizona. We stayed at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tanque Verde. That place was a dream getaway. The hotel was exquisite, secluded, and so romantic! We hiked all over the area while we were there. Our first hike was the Bear Canyon Trail to 7 Falls at Sabino Canyon.

Ventana Canyon Trail, Tanque Verde Arizona, Loews Ventana Canyon
Our favorite hike of the trip was the Ventana Canyon trail, with the trailhead beginning at our resort. The trail was an intermediate level hike and got our blood pumping. We loved that it was a longer trail and could have spent all day on it. The views were incredible.

Screamery Ice Cream, Tuscon Arizona
After all our hikes, desert was a must. The Screamery in Tuscon was so yummy--their homemade ice cream was to die for. This was a cup of honeycomb & oatmeal monster cookie. It was not enough... I could have eaten an entire quart of it!

Sonoran Desert Museum, Tuscon Arizona
We also visited the Sonoran Desert Museum just outside of Tuscon. It reminded us a lot of the Living Desert in Palm Desert, California. If you like zoos, this place was a must!

Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona, Chuckwalla Lizard
Our next stop after Tuscon was Scottsdale, Arizona. We stayed at the Eagle Mountain Inn in Fountain Hills. We found this chuckwalla on the Sunrise Trail in Scottsdale. That trail had a great incline, the most beautiful views, and tons and tons of lizards.

Sunrise Trail, Scottsdale Arizona
This is a shot from the top of the Sunrise Trail. It's a must to make it to the top!

Cien Agaves Mexican Restaurant, Old Town Scottsdale, Cheese crispy
In addition to ice cream, we had to try each town's #1 Mexican spot. Our new favorite Mexican joint in Arizona (coming in closely behind Armando's in Palm Desert, California) is Cien Agaves in Old Town Scottsdale. This was the cheese crispy and it was the size of a huge pizza. That, along with their margaritas, made for our favorite meal of the entire trip.

Siphon Draw Trail, Lost Dutchman State Park, Superstition Mountains, Apache Trail
Our next stop was Chandler, Arizona (Daniel's hometown) and we stayed at the Wild Horse Casino. Our first evening there, we did a night time hike at the Siphon Draw Trail at the Lost Dutchman State Park (Superstition Mountains) in Apache Junction, AZ. It was a VERY, very cool hike... beautiful during the day and CRAZY at night because that's when the "creatures" come out to play (if you don't like spiders, DO NOT look at the next photo...)!

Siphon Draw Trail, Lost Dutchman State Park, Superstition Mountains, Apache Trail, Desert tarantula
We saw at least 30 GIANT tarantulas and a bark scorpion as soon as the sun went down on the Siphon Draw trail. If the park didn't close at 10:00 pm, we would have spent all night looking for cool (read: creepy) things!

Sedona Arizona, Red Rock Sedona Arizona
The last night of our road trip was spent at the Plaza Hotel at Fremont Street in Vegas, though on the way there we stopped in Sedona, Arizona to check out the quaint little town. It was so scenic and the perfect spot to spend a couple of hours before hitting Vegas.

The entire week was so magical. I didn't share photos of all our hikes or every adventure we took... but each one was one for the memory books. I was blown away by the amount of time that Daniel took to research and plan our trip, and so grateful that he did it all as a surprise for me. The trip was exactly the vacation I needed to bookend my training prior to going back to work. I don't think it could have been any better!

It may have been our first trip to Arizona together, but it certainly won't be our last!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Security Forces Officer Course: Week by Week

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis

Now that I'm getting back to the grind at home as our Security Forces Operations Officer, I'm constantly being asked, "How was school?" My immediate answer? "IT WAS FUN!" To be honest—and for anyone who has spent time at Camp Bullis or who thinks of technical training and fun as oxymorons and is already rolling their eyes at me—YES! I had a TON of fun. But then again, that's just me!

The Security Forces Officer Course (SFOC) at Camp Bullis in San Antonio, Texas was such a different experience for me than any training I've ever attended. Not only was the training filled with tactics, troop leading, contingency operations, and law enforcement principles, it was also a kick-butt experience because I got to stay in a hotel, made life-long friends, and learned so much about everything I'm capable of (which is much more than I thought!) and how motivated and excited I am to be a Defender in the Air National Guard. I don't care if it's cheesy—I'm "ate-up" with Security Forces and this is the best life I could be living right now.

So let's get to the training, shall we? The 4.5-month (18-week) timeline is broken down below, with photos and a snapshot description of the training we received each week. Have questions about the training? Don't hesitate to leave a comment and ask below!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 1 - This was our head-first dive into SFOC and we were still all pretty unsure of what was going on at this point. They had strict rules about not bringing phones to class, so we weren't able to capture any of the initial days. To sum it up, we were divided into squads (three), we took an initial PT test so that we could begin Combat Agility Drills (CADs, a.k.a. group physical fitness training), did the obstacle course, the Leaders' Reactionary Course (LRC) and sat through lectures about Security Forces history within the Air Force and armed forces. We took this photo on our first Saturday outing. This was my squad—Squad 2—the "Mudbloods" at The Alamo.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 2 - We spent the majority of the second week at Medina Air Force Base, taking weapons classes and qualifying on most of our weapons systems. To name a few, we learned the M4 rifle, M9 pistol, M240B machine gun, M249, M203 grenade launcher, and shotgun. I was the 1st In-Charge (1IC) of the class that week, so it was a great chance to test my leadership abilities and learn about the skills I needed to hone in by the end of the course (like my command voice!). We also went for our first weighted ruck march, with a 35-pound ruck (before water) and that was definitely an experience. I got much better, stronger, and faster by the end of the course!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 3 - Our third week treated us to our first (of many) Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) rides. We spent the week in the field with many of our other weapon systems, including grenades and claymore mines. I loved throwing the grenades—the BOOM they make when they detonate is exhilarating to experience!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 4 - The fourth week taught us the meat and potatoes of "Shoot, Move Communicate" (SMC). Working in pairs and as groups of four while navigating obstacles and engaging targets was not a bad way to spend a few days. It had poured down rain the night before we hit the SMC course, so by the end of the day our boots were literally caked with mud and were so heavy! Our objective was to move through/around obstacles (barriers, trees, rocks, vehicles) with weapons and in full battle rattle as we communicated with our fire teams to direct them where to go, provide cover, and rotate back and forth between the M9 pistol and M4 rifle with ease.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 5 - Our fifth week taught us the basics of land navigation and surprisingly—despite all the "Lost LT" rumors—I did not get lost! The way this training worked was that they dropped us in a spot as a pair. We began at 0430 so that we could land nav both during the hours of darkness and daylight. We had a compass, protractor, map and pencil and were in full battle rattle with a ruck and weapons. We had three hours to find four points. And we did it twice—so all in all it was about seven hours of field land navigation. The course was rough, the weather was hot, and the morale was high. Land nav was no joke, but it sure was fun! And then the next day? We did it alllllll over again. We were exhausted and finished the week with our first 3 Bears ruck, getting to experience the beast of the hill "Mama Bear" for the first time.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 6 - The sixth week introduced Individual Training Tactics (ITT). Similar to SMC, you work in a pair and have to navigate land and obstacles in a tactical, stealthy manner. This was accomplished by performing low crawls, high crawls, back-crawling under barbed wire, trench crawls, wall-clearing, moving as a team through a tactical setting, and lots and lots of simulated fire & smoke. I had sand in all parts of my uniform for weeks after that day! In addition, we also got to fire the MK19 automatic grenade launcher and law rockets. Now that was fun!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 7 - Our seventh week taught us Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). Essentially, it's building clearing, moving as a tactical small unit (fire team or squad) up to/around/through a building to clear it of threats. After we practiced the "glass house" version of the training, we went against opposing forces (OPFOR) in one of our field villages, putting to use all the training we received. It was the last of our initial training before we moved out of the classroom phase and into the field, missions, and OPORD phase.

The photo on the right shows our hardest day we had experience yet, and for most of us was considered—by far—the worst of all of our days at Camp Bullis. It was "Prep for Combat" and was the final day of Week 7, where we were tested from 0315-1230 in multiple scenarios to simulate combat stress. We began by loading up LMTV's at 0315 and driving around in the chilly morning air for 90-minutes. We then fired the M4 with night vision goggles before taking off on a weighted running ruck, sprinting to a spot where we got absolutely smoked with burpees, push-ups, overhead arm press with our rucks, etc. After our smoke session, we rucked back to begin an 80 min station with physically/mentally demanding scenarios that tested us to simulate a combat stress environment (including up/down field movement drills, 200m crawls through mud and while sustaining fire, liter carries, ammo can carries, and troop movement). I became very fatigued during that station... it tested me! Immediately afterward, we then had a "mind game" station where we put our mental skills to the test and were "punished" for our failures by having to complete over 300 burpees. It was by far the most demanding day we had and just one more reason why I am so glad—yes, glad!—I have chosen this career field! Days like that show me what I'm made of and are very humbling!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 8 - The eighth week was full of ambush & assault drills in the field, finishing with a nighttime raid. Ambushes are a lot of fun and I enjoyed testing our tactics with a full day of scenarios. For the nighttime raid, we had to be in full battle rattle with rucks and camo on at 0230. We had mission briefs, armed up, and were out making our way to our hilltop rally point within the hour. Man, land navigation is difficult but it's even harder at 0400 and over rough, rocky terrain and elevation. Once we found our observation points, our three squads worked together to raid a location against OPFOR. It was a successful mission and we all learned a lot. Also, we were done at 0945! What a way to celebrate St Patty's Day!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 9 - Week 9 is taught us about mounted patrols (in a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV)), dismounted patrols, Warning Orders (WARNOs) and Operation Orders (OPORDs). We also did HMMWV training, rollover training, and a convoy simulation. It was very cool! Midway through Week 9, we were put to the test when we received our first mission drop and had 30-minutes to come up with a WARNO. As Squad 2's Second in Command (2IC), I was part of the OPORD planning team and spent most of the evening planning the following day's mission. That morning, we set out on our surveillance and sweeping mission against OPFOR. The day was relatively quiet until two OPFOR came directly at me while we were halted. I shot them both (with blanks!) and sustained a shot (simulated) in the leg. My guys wrapped me up and evacuated me off the hillside super quick. That moment made me realize how glad I was to be part of such an amazing group of SF BAD-A's!! Mission SUCCESS! That week lead us into the same type of training we would be doing for the next few weeks.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 10 - Week 10 brought more adventure! Over 70 Defenders from the Combat Leader Course (which we call the CLC and is made up of SF Staff and Tech Sergeants) and Security Forces Officer Course (us!) prepared to initiate the largest training operation in years at Camp Bullis, successfully raiding an enemy compound and ambushing reinforcements. Week 10 also involved mission planning and execution progress checks. It taught us troop leading, strategic planning, and gave us a feel for all of the responsibilities we will encounter if we get deployed. We showed up each morning, ran a "mission," came back, got a new mission, planned that mission all night (2-4 hours of sleep) and then would run that mission the next morning. That was our life... on repeat... for two more weeks. They switched up our roles every day so some days I was in charge of the entire 35-person flight or our 12-man squad, and other days I was a gunner, driver, pace counter or fire team leader, etc.

Week 10 ended with a—what we thought—final mission which was set to be done in the early afternoon. Cadre threw us a curveball and when we returned from our mission, they dropped another WARNO and we had 10-minutes to pack our things before heading out for a 24-hour mission that evening. I was so bummed because Daniel was coming into town the next day and I was certain I was going to miss him. Needless to say, the 24-mission was a true test of our resiliency and tactics, and after it was all finished I was able to spend the weekend with my sweetheart. It was a much-needed break from the training and all the motivation I needed to finish the last 8-weeks strong!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 11 - The eleventh week was more missions that included Traffic Control Points (TCPs), raids, ambushes and key leader engagements. We were putting all these weeks of missions to prep for the following week where we would put practice into play for five solid days of missions during our non-stop overnight field training exercise.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 12 - Our twelfth week was our Field Training Exercise (FTX) which was much-dreaded but ended up being a lot of fun! We spent five days in the field with no running water, bathrooms, etc. We took shifts on base defense, mission squads, and a Quick Reaction Force (QRF). Each day was filled with new missions/scenarios and we combined all of our mission practical application and applied it to one solid week of combat operations. We destroyed the enemy forces and had lots of laughs, tactical maneuvering, dirt, sweat and ammo along the way!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 13 - This week was all about convoys and we finally were in the home stretch of missions. See the party hats above? That was our last OPORD on our last day of missions... we had made it! I won't do this specific job since we don't run convoys like this from my base, but it was great training for my other classmates. I basically just drove a HMMWV around all week and ate sunflower seeds. No complaints there!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 14 - The fourteenth week began our law enforcement (LE) officer phase. We began to learn about what I'm actually doing now that I'm at my home station and what our Defenders do at their daily jobs to protect and secure our base, resources,  and personnel. The shot above was from our last day of the week where we finished strong with a 35-pound weighted ruck up 3 Bears. Can you tell we were soaked in sweat? It was a great workout--GO SQUAD 2! We only had four-more weeks to go!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 15 - The fifteenth week included Taser, oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, and law enforcement tactics like handcuffing, searching and seizing. I had been previously tased and OC sprayed at my home base, so I was personally not looking forward to doing it again. But hey, you do what you have to do, right? I was able to opt out of the Taser, but did not have a choice with OC. To begin the OC progress check, we first were sprayed in the face (two side to side shots). After being sprayed, we had to run at a "red man" and hit them 5 times with a baton, run at another offender, draw our weapons, and verbally challenge them to get on the ground. Once they were down, we had to handcuff, double lock and detain them. And all of this was AFTER being "pepper" sprayed. I was able to complete it without an issue—though I did have a mad-runny nose!—and I have to say, it was no better (nor worse) the second time. It was all terrible! I'm hoping that was my last time encountering that nasty orange stuff.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 16 - The sixteenth week continued our law enforcement phase with baton training and another go at the LRC. Baton was something entirely new for me... it took me a while to get used to, but once I got the feel for a good strike, it was a lot of fun! I definitely gave some powerful strikes and got even more fired up when took a couple hits in return. Oh man, two full minute rounds with the red man was no joke! Let's go again, HOOAH!

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 17 - When we finally arrived at Week 17 (of 18!!!) it was very surreal. We finished the week with combatives, the obstacle course, and a six-mile ruck on 3 Bears in honor of National Police Week. We did our miles in honor of those who serve alongside us and in memory of our fallen defenders and police officers. We were so excited that the end was in sight.

Security Forces Officer Course, Air Force Security Forces, Camp Bullis
Week 18 - Jamming out the last few days of Week 18 was no big deal. We had a final PT test, ran our final 3-Bears ruck, and took care of some basic housekeeping items before graduation at the end of the week. To finally don the beret and join the Security Forces Officers' corps was BY FAR the greatest honor of my career. I was SO happy to simply graduate, and when I was presented with one of three "Distinguished Graduate" awards, it was absolutely the icing on the cake. That final day was one of the best days of my life... I now get to follow the footsteps of those who went before me with honor, pride, excellence, valor, heritage... the list goes on. "Upon the Shoulders of Giants..." Truly, I am so blessed to be a DEFENDER. HOOAH!
    And here are some photos from adventures I took around San Antonio with my classmates in our downtime. We tried to make the most of every weekend—checking as many boxes on our Texas to-do list as possible! The weekends were what helped get us through... "Weekend Please!"

    3 Bears Ruck, Camp Bullis
    We often loaded up our rucks and hit the 3 Bears trail for a leisurely ruck and some good UV rays. We didn't have as much time—nor energy!—for this toward the end of the course, but it sure was fun while it lasted. We resorted to other forms of recreation toward the last few weeks.

    Cowboys Dance Hall San Antonio
    One of our favorite weekend venues was Cowboys Dance Hall. Some of my classmates taught me the basics of country swing and we had a blast!

    San Antonio Ice Skating
    One weekend we donned skates and "chilled" (ha!) with the kiddos at the local ice rink. That was a fun way to beat the San Antonio heat and do something different.

    Epic SUP Paddleboarding Austin Texas
    Paddleboarding in Austin was one of my favorite recreational adventures. I ended up paddleboarding four times over three different weekends... I couldn't get enough!

    Floating the Guadalupe River, Shandy Tubes
    The Guadalupe River was a treat on the hot days. We would load up our vehicles and coolers and head to the river for a four-hour lazy float. We always finished the day in Gruene with some good honky tonk music and margaritas at Cantina Del Rio.

    Boating Canyon Lake Texas
    Taking the boat out on Canyon Lake was super fun. We made some good memories that day!

    San Antonio Spurs Game
    The San Antonio Spurs were in the NBA playoffs while I was down there, and I was able to attend two Spurs games. The crowd down there is wild and they ended up winning both games I attended. If only they had made it through to the championship... if only!

    Barton Springs Austin Texas
    True Austin tourism at its finest was found at Barton Springs. I spent a couple afternoons in their natural spring pool soaking up the sun or swimming some easy laps.

    Chainsmokers Concert San Antonio Texas
    One of my buddies was a big fan of the Chainsmokers, so when we found out they were having a concert we jumped right on the tickets. That was a fun night!

    All in all, SFOC was by far the best training I've ever received. It wasn't only great because of the tactics and leadership techniques we were taught—it was great because of my fellow Defenders, the incredible cadre who got to know us (and joked with us!) along the way, and the lessons that I was able to bring home and will be able to practice for the rest of my life... all of that, and some insanely great memories and laughs that I will hold on to forever. (#RUCKTHIS!)

    The Defender life is a pretty legit path to be on. I couldn't be happier to have endured those 18-weeks and to now wear the police shield and beret with pride and honor. Seriously, I couldn't ask for more. Honor, Serve, Excel... and of course, in the words of the fallen Defender 1st Lieutenant Joseph D. Helton, Jr., "Don't be a weaksauce."

    PS // Watch my SFOC Class 0170123 video here!