Sunday, January 23, 2005

Flexibility is the key to Air Power

As I continue All-Request weekend here at Favorable Dicta, I am moving right along from my first kiss to my worst job ever and into the next area, requested by both Fitz and Soup, a story about Officer Training School. Soup wanted a funny story, and Fitz wanted to know how I was turned into the stealthy killing machine you've all come to know and love. I'm combining these requests because honestly I can't really remember too many funny moments, and also, the whole 14 weeks was kind of a blur, so I'll have to just try to ramble through the experience and do my best.

My first husband walked out on me three days before the first day of my senior year of college. He was eating a hot dog left over from a barbeque we had thrown the previous weekend and I walked in the door from work and asked how he was doing and he said "I don't love you anymore and I can't live here. I think I want a divorce." And so, I moved through my senior year of college in a state alternating between panic, homicidal rage, depression, and mourning. To make a long story short, my dad told me if I started running I would feel better, and so I did. And, like Forest Gump, only with boobs and better hair, I ran and ran and ran. I got into such good shape that the military started to seem like a possibility for me, but I knew I would only be happy in the Air Force. So I applied. And to make another long story short, I ended up being accepted on my first board. I started Officer Training School on a breezy day in March at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

First, an adminstrative detail or two. Officer Training School (OTS) is different than "basic training" or "boot camp." Basic training/boot camp is something enlisted people do. It is 6 weeks long, and is an introduction to the military, mostly a physical introduction in a lot of ways. It is an attempt to get young enlistees ready to be a part of the military. After boot camp most enlisted people go to a long training school where they learn whatever skill they are going to be doing in the military. OTS is 14 weeks long. It is a comprehensive leadership school. The first six weeks are sort of boot camp-ish, but only in the physical sense. In my flight of 12 people at OTS, 9 were prior-enlisted. If not for those people teaching me the "insider" stuff like how to shine my boots and iron my uniforms and do my paperwork and manage my time I would have never, ever, ever, made it through. Also, without them telling me about the "real" military, I would have looked like an even bigger jackass after graduation than I'm sure I did. But, OTS is not boot camp. Secondly, the way OTS works is that each new wave of Officer Trainees (OT's) comes in at the halfway mark of the last class. So, every six weeks or so a new class comes in, the class over them becomes "upper class", and the class above the new "upper class" graduates. My class had about 160 people who were divided into 3 "squadrons" which were further divided into about 6 "flights" of 9-12 people each. Your flight is your live with them, eat with them, work with them, and count on them to watch your back.

The first thing I remember is going to the MEP Station (I think that's Military Entrance Processing or something along those lines) to get sworn in. I did a bunch of paperwork and then I went into a room with a flag and I raised my right hand and took the following Oath:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the
Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the
orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers
appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military
Justice. So help me God."

At the time, I can remember all of the sudden thinking "This is it, I can't back out...I have pledged to DIE for this country." And I cried a little bit, in a proud was a very life-changing moment. For people who have never been in the military it can be hard to describe what it means to say to what is basically an institution, headed by the President of the United States as Commander in Chief, but representing some pretty nebulous ideas like "democracy" and "freedom" and "justice" and "truth", that you are willing to give your life to the "cause", as it were. Anyway, it was a big moment. After I took the oath, I left MEPS, and because I was local (my parents were stationed at Maxwell and I had been living with them), I drove myself to OTS and reported in.

Reporting in is a process that I *think* I remember being told I'm not supposed to talk about, so I won't too much. It involves being screamed at a lot while you try to memorize the Honor Code, your new address, and your room and building number. It can take hours depending on how flustered you get. I remember hearing people crying late in the night and upper class OT's shouting "YOU CAN GO TO SLEEP WHEN YOU GET IT RIGHT OT." It was pretty intense.

The next few days are basically filled with getting uniforms, getting screamed at, getting shots, drinking a lot of water, memorizing stuff, and getting yelled at some more. There are specific "magic phrases" that make things happen at OTS. For instance, whenever you need to walk down a hall and you have to pass an upperclass OT you have to stand at attention and say "Sir, OT Spatula requests permission to pass." It seems simple, but on three or four hours of sleep a night, and physically and mentally exhausted, and sometimes with an upperclass OT who is a little sadistic, this can take hours. This process is for everything. You can't do the simplest thing without asking permission in a certain way, and it has to be done perfectly.

Eating was another fun time. There is an entire process for getting into the mess hall. You have a time assigned to your flight, and you are expected to get your shit together, march to the mess hall, and report in at your time. Only, reporting in takes forever because it's so complicated. Once you finally got in, you would get your food and there was a whole other set of procedures to follow in order to eat. We got 2 minutes for breakfast, 3 minutes for lunch, and 4 minutes for least for the first few weeks, and then I think we got 5 for each. Each person would sit down at the table and you all had to "ground" your silverware and trays. Grounding a process that you do with basically all your belongings and it involves putting them flush against the edge of something, usually a piece of tape that the instructors had put somewhere. Then someone kept time, and everyone would eat until that person signaled that time was up. After that, everyone would get up at the same time, with precision, and do a little routine involving putting the food trays and plates and stuff away. Did I mention there was no talking at all during this whole eating process or demerits would be given? Yeah, no talking.

After the first couple of weeks, most of OTS was filled with physical fitness activities, leadership stuff, classroom lessons on the military and the Air Force, etc. There are room inspections, uniform inspections, personal inspections. Marching everywhere takes up a ton of time. Basically from about 5am until midnight or 1am we were busy to the point of total exhaustion. I didn't have time to miss my family and friends that much. Mostly I just plowed through, trying to remember what I had gone through to get there, and how proud I would be if I could finish and have the most intense physical and mental experience of my life behind me. At week 6 you get to wear your "blues" for the first time. Up until then we had been in either BDU's or our fitness gear. During "New Blues", the ceremony associated with the whole wearing of the blues, you get your upper class rank as well. My dad came to the ceremony as a VIP and cried. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. After New Blues, the lower class shows up and basically you go through with them what you just went through with your upper class, and you have duties associated with training and leading them that are on top of what you already have to do anyway. The experience of OTS is why things like law school rarely seem that threatening to me. Even writing about it makes me wonder why I'm complaining about being busy...of course, there it is a closed universe, you don't have to do anything but train to be a military leader, so you're not pulled in as many directions I guess.

Anyway, I knew I was going to ramble. I could write about OTS for WEEKS because it's a long and very complicated process that takes you from being a normal college kid to being an officer in the United States Armed Forces. There is absolutely no way that I can convey the experience of OTS to you with any kind of clarity. At once it is a process that teaches you to think critically and make snap decisions and to show leadership in adverse situations, and also a process that necessarily takes away a bit of your personal identity and replaces it with a group identity, a process that changes you (I used to think subtly because I hadn't really noticed, but in hindsight I realize it was profound and I was too tired to notice) from the inside out. You can never be the person you were before. But for me personally at least, that's OK, because I feel like the benefits I got out of the military were so great, and the skills I learned so important, that I don't think I would even want to be the same as I was before.

I will try to think of a "funny" story, right now nothing comes to mind except "funny" in the "tragic" sense. Like, oh my god, it was pretty funny when I had to do an exercise laying out fake landmines and the first three times I did it I blew up half my flight. HAHAHA. See, not funny. I'll work on it though.
This blog is sponsored by The Reeves Law Group at 515 South Flower Street, 36th Floor. Los Angeles CA 90071. (213) 271-9318