Thursday, October 25, 2012

What to bring to basic training (for girls)

For the record, I'm sure everyone has different needs, and I'm probably going to forget things, and I'm working off of my experience in 2010, so things may be different. But I know that right before I was getting ready to leave for BMT, I was having a really hard time finding a list of what to bring, and since I had no idea what to expect, I was really concerned about what to pack to make sure I had everything I needed, but didn't bring anything to draw extra MTI attention.

As far as how much luggage to bring, I would recommend packing two bags: one very plain black backpack to bring with you to Basic, and an actual suitcase with civilian clothes, electronics, and anything you think you might want while at tech school, and ask your parents/significant other/friend to bring it to you at graduation. Just leave space in the suitcase for your backpack. If no one can come to your graduation, that's fine; they have a storage closet in the dorm for suitcases. It's just easier and more convenient to bring as little as possible, especially since you won't need any of it until you leave, and because as soon as you get there, your MTI will have you dump every item you brought onto your bed to be checked for contraband. Keep that in mind.

For what to actually bring, first of all, if you get on the plane and realize you forgot something, don't sweat it too much. One of your first pieces of business when you get to Lackland will be to go to the nearest shoppette, which sells pretty much anything you could possibly need. I would recommend packing a toothbrush and toothpaste for the trip there and for the first night, but for pretty much any other toiletries, it's probably easier to just wait and buy them there. You'll also be given a debit card with a few hundred dollars (out of your first paycheck), so while you can keep money on you if you want, it's really not necessary as long as you budget even a little. And since you can't buy food or anything but essentials during your shoppette trips, it shouldn't be hard.

Here is another decent list of what to bring, which also links to the "official list," though they also say to forget about the official list. I disagree with him in a few places, mostly about things like toiletries and phone cards, but ultimately you'll end up being fine either way. It doesn't say when this list was published, so I think mine might be more up-to-date, but not sure. By the way, this guy's articles on About.com have good answers for pretty much any question you have about the military.

Okay, on to my lists of what to bring and not to bring.

To Bring:
-3-4 plain t-shirts (You'll only need them for the trip there and the first two or three days, until your uniforms are issued)

-2-3 pairs of jeans (Same as above, you won't be able to wash your clothes every day, but there's no one there to impress, and the less things you bring, especially bulky things like jeans, the easier. Especially since you want everything to fit back in your backpack for storage)

-Pair of good quality, plain-looking running shoes (Mr. Powers disagrees, but I think mine's more current. We had the option to buy running shoes there, and they're Asics, so they're good quality, but they only have the one style. And we were also allowed to use ones we brought, as long as they weren't brightly colored. You're going to be doing a lot of running, so I liked being able to pick my shoes. It is physically impossible to find plain white running shoes, so just get the least colorful ones you can find. Even the ones they sell at Basic have blue or pink on them. Also, you can just wear them there, so one less thing to pack)

-6 pairs of white running socks

-1-2 bras (You'll only be wearing these on the way there and maybe during graduation)

-4-6 good sports bras (You'll pretty much be living in these

-6-8 pairs of non-flamboyant underwear (Mr. Powers says you'll have to buy some, but we were not required to)

-3-5 pairs of black Spandex shorts (You'll be wearing these all the time too; wear them during PT to keep your shorts from riding up, and under your ABUs during the day to keep your pants from chafing from all the marching. These are also good to sleep in, instead of PJs; jump out if bed and your halfway dressed)

-1 towel (I think you only need this for the first couple of days; after that they give you some)

-Toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste/toothbrush, etc. (I would recommend if you bring these, to just bring small sample sizes, especially since if you only bring a backpack, you won't be able to carry large bottles on the plane. You can buy all of them when you get there, and your MTI will probably give you pointers on what to buy; my pointer is to get a pack of those acne wet face wipes, because they're great to helping you actually feel clean between showers after days of marching in the Texas sun. Also, unless you're actually on your period when you leave, don't bother bringing pads or tampons. You can buy them when you get there, and a lot of girls stop having their periods completely while they're there, just due to the stress)

-Lots of hair bands and bobby pins that match your hair color (The Air Force doesn't require you to cut your hair like the other services do. However, if your hair goes past your collar, you will have to have it up in a very severe bun at all times. I went in with pretty long, thick hair, and I pretty much slept with my bun in so I didn't have to redo it every morning, but it frequently hurt, damaged my hair, and I still got yelled at [by other TIs] because my hair was so thick, my bun was almost to big to be in regs [it can't extend more than 3 inches]. About halfway through, we were allowed to go to the base salon, where I and about a third of my flight got our hair cut short. My hair frizzed up horribly, since I couldn't blow dry it, but it was infinitely more comfortable. A lot of girls get through basic with their hair intact, but this is just something to think about, especially so you can decide if you want to have your hair professionally cut, and not by someone with 20 other girls in line. If you do cut it, I recommend cutting it pretty short--ears or shorter--so that no one can ask if maybe your hair is too short. Your TI might know it's fine, but you have to deal with all the other ones lurking about, too)

-Paperworks (College transcripts, driver's license, if you have a marriage license or dependent birth certificate, social security card, enlistment contract, banking information, prescriptions)

-Glasses, if you wear them

-Cell phone and charger (You will get to make calls home, usually on Sundays and if you do something good. You might read that you should bring phone cards; there are pay phones, but we were always allowed to use our cell phones, which were much more convenient; I haven't heard of anyone who's gone through after me who couldn't use their cell, but if that rule has changed, you can always buy one)

-List of personal contacts, with current phone numbers and addresses (Especially if you're trying for an Intel field or something that needs a security clearance; they need a non-relative contact for every place you've lived. And do not trust your recruiter to do this for you.)

-Black pen (You're going to be signing a lot of stuff. Just go ahead and put one in your pocket)

-Paper, envelopes, and stamps; maybe pre-address and stamp some to your favorite people

-Pictures, a Bible, or other small mementos (Mr. Powers says to be careful with these, as the TIs could make fun of them. I didn't have a problem, but it is something to take into consideration. Any pictures anyone mails to you will also have to be shown to your TI, but I guess at least it wouldn't be on the first day, and in front of any higher-ranking TIs who may show up to mess with the newbies)

-Cheap waterproof watch (Not necessary, but very convenient; I say waterproof so you can wear it in the shower, or in the mud, or the sand, or whatever crazy situation you find yourself in. However, it will inevitably come out a bit worse for wear, so definitely don't invest a lot of money into one)

-Minimal make-up (If you really want, though you can only wear a very little bit and only during graduation, and they do have make-up at the shoppette. I would recommend not bringing any)

Not to Bring:
-High heels or flamboyant clothes (This happened in my flight, and she got immediate attention that first day, and not the good kind)

-Contact lenses (You can technically wear them for the first couple days, but you'll be very sleep-deprived and in Texas heat, so they'll be very uncomfortable, and you're not allowed to wear them at all once they issue you new glasses, which will happen within a few days. Put them in your Tech School suitcase. Mr. Powers says you can't wear them at all. I honestly don't remember if I wasn't allowed, or I just didn't because they hurt; either way, don't bother)

-Pajamas (Like I said above, you don't need them; we all just wore our Spandex shorts and PT shirts to bed)

-Hair implements (Maybe get a super portable version of your hair dryer, straightener, whatever, but you can only use it during graduation, odds are someone else in your flight will bring one and let you use it, and if they don't and you're that desperate, they sell them at the shoppette)

-Jewelry (Any jewelry that isn't a sports watch or a wedding ring--engagement ring doesn't count--will be required to be locked away. Just don't worry with it. You are allowed to wear diamond or pearl stud earrings during graduation, but again, you can buy them there)

-Pretty much anything valuable, including all your electronics (Put those things in the big Tech School suitcase; you won't need them at Basic, though if you're phone doesn't do music, maybe bring your iPod for the plane/bus and slip it in your backpack)

General Preparation:
-PT: push-ups, sit-ups, running (This one isn't necessary, but it does make your life there a lot easier; I did almost no exercising before I left, and the program is designed to help out-of-shape people like me to get up to standards within the 8-week time, and while it worked, I would have struggled a lot less had I worked out more ahead of time)

-Learn stuff (This one is only for if you're feeling nervous and really want to get that head start, because BMT is completely designed to help civilians who know absolutely nothing about the military to become Airmen. Absolutely everything you need, they give you. But, if you really want to feel prepared, you can start studying the Air Force ranks and insignias. You'll also have to learn your chain of command, but part of that is dependent on what squadron you're assigned to, so can't really study it. If you're looking for more light reading, here's another good article on About.com that goes through what to expect week by week. Again, some of it, like the phone situation, is a little out-of-date, but most of it's still really good information)

-Read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (This sci-fi novel has actually been one of my favorite books for years, so imagine my surprise when I heard it was on the Marines' recommended reading list. The Air Force doesn't have it on theirs, but I found it really helpful while I was there; mostly it just helped give me an understanding of the reasoning behind some of the seemingly crazy things my MTIs were doing. For instance, it helped me realize that when my TI was yelling at me, he wasn't mad at me. He just knew that odds were 45 other women were probably making the exact same mistake, so rather that calmly teaching the same thing 46 times and having it be disregarded as unimportant, they can yell really loud at one person, then everyone learns it and registers it as a big deal, or else they wouldn't be yelling about it. It's all just mind games)

-Practice the phrase "Sir/ma'am, Trainee [last name] reports as ordered"(You will be required to say this before saying anything to any TI, unless all you're saying is "yes" or "no." [As in, "What's your favorite ice cream?" "Sir, Trainee Skywalker reports as ordered. Chocolate." This one is especially hard to get the hang of, and you will no doubt get yelled at a lot for it, but the more you practice, the better off you'll be)

-Don't leave getting ready until the last minute (You're about to start a completely new life in a new place, on your own. Make sure that you know where all your important documents are. As for all your stuff, you will be able to do one "home of record" move, where the military to pay to ship your stuff from your parents' home, your apartment, a storage unit, etc. But when that happens, especially if you were living at home, it'll go a lot smoother for you and whoever will be helping you out back home if you've already put all your stuff together. They'll pack everything for you, but at least figure out what you want to bring or not bring, and anything you don't want the movers to see, go ahead and put in a closed box and mark it. When you're doing this, also keep in mind while you're deciding what to bring that if you're not married or have a kid, you'll probably be living in the forms for a while.

-Don't freak out. If you met all the recruitment qualifications, then you'll be able to make it through basic. That's what it's designed for. You can make it. You're going to be nervous and confused for the first week or so, but once you get into the routine, it may be one of the simplest times of your life. You are getting paid to exercise, study, eat, and sleep. If you've lived in the real world at all, you know how nice it would be for your biggest worry to be how many push-ups you can do and whether a colonel wears an oak leaf or an eagle. To not make it through on time, you have to fail pretty catastrophically, which mostly only happens if someone gets severely injured, or is just lazy, and even then they mostly only get delayed by a few weeks. And then you're off to be paid to receive training for a guaranteed job that you can keep for however long you want, with full benefits and money for housing. And if you do decide to get out, you just got paid to learn a marketable skill. Yes, there are hardships and sacrifices, but it's still a pretty sweet deal all around.

But mostly, you CAN make it through basic training.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wow, it's been a while

To be fair, it has been a very busy two years. But, I have now successfully completed a year and a half of Chinese language training in California and two months of follow-on training in Texas, and am now stuck in beautiful Hawaii for the next three years. Since I can't remember what all I've posted, I would also like to announce my successful marriage to my husband, which took place in a lovely ceremony on the Riverwalk in San Antonio on the day I graduated, as arranged by said husband and my wonderful mother. We are still happily married two years later, and living in very nice military housing here in Hawaii with our two dogs.

Hawaii is gorgeous, but honestly, husband and I really miss the mainland. Mostly seasons. Between here and California, we've been pretty season-free for over two years. And what with both of us working, there's really not a ton of time to hit beaches and mountains and shopping malls. And while there are plenty of breathtaking drives, for some reason none of them seem to go to Target. Very inconvenient.

Anyway, enough of poor Maggie's whining about being forced to live in Hawaii. The horror, I know. I'm going to try to get back to writing a little more here, if only because I know a few people who are about to leave for basic, so I keep having all these inner monologues about advice I'd want to give, and this seems like the easiest way to get that advice out there so my mind can shut up about it. And I can't talk too much about my job in the Department of Mysteries, but I can eventually try to talk a bit about training and the Air Force in general.

Probably.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Church at Basic

I know this is a little late coming, since I left Basic about a month ago, but I guess that's just kind of how I roll. And I wanted to write about this before I got too distant from the experience.

One thing I kept hearing from people, both before leaving for BMT and after I got there, was to go to church, whether I was religious or not. It gets you out of the dorm and away from the TIs, and it gives you an hour or two to just relax and decompress. And while I agree with that, I would encourage everybody who has a chance to check out a BMT church service, trainees and visitors, to do so. And here's why.

In my opinion, the church at BMT is possibly the coolest church service you will ever go to. And not so much because of the chaplain giving the service, though there was one who was really good. And I also think it's pretty cool that they offer a bunch of services in all kinds of other religions, so if you want to, you can broaden your religious horizons while you're there, so to speak. However, to experience what I'm talking about, you have to go to the contemporary Christian service--which normally I wouldn't be going to; I'm more of a traditionalist, with the hymns and whatnot--but the contemporary Christian service is the one that everybody goes to.

I admit that the first time I went to church, I cried in Sunday School before I even got to the service--the first and one of the only times I cried at BMT. It wasn't even an especially powerful class, though I remember that we were talking about marriage, which made me miss my then fiancee. It was the first time I allowed myself to decompress and actually feel anything since I'd gotten there. I guess I had put up some kind of defensive shield without realizing it, and when that came down, everything just kind of came rushing in, and the tears started gushing out.

And then I went to the service, and that was simply overwhelming. I had never witnessed such an example of coming together together to support each other. The sanctuary was packed with trainees, with the new Airmen and their families in the back. As everybody was walking in, they were playing music videos up on a screen. They always played the same three songs, but I actually really liked that; with all the other stress going on, it was nice to know what to expect. Though the songs they picked never failed to start a few other people crying: "Letters from War" by Mark Schultz always made me want to cry, and "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me always got a bunch of people, and they played "Letters from Home" by John Michael Montgomery, but that one was first, so I usually came in too late for that one.

But as I walked in and they were playing these songs, every single trainee, to a person,was singing along and had their arms around the waist or the shoulders of the person to their left and their right, and everybody as a giant mass was swaying back and forth. I was with a group of girls from my flight, but I was on the end, so I knew the girl on my left, and following suit, we put our arms around each other. But then another girl slid in next to me that I didn't know, and she put her arm around me too. And behind us were girls from an older flight, and during songs they would answer a few questions and tell us that Basic got better, and that it was going to be all right. And while there was a sermon and a few prayers, most of the service was just singing, a few slow songs where we all put our arms around each other again, and a lot of fast ones where we all clapped and did little dances in our pews. Those songs they changed once a month, much to our disgruntlement, though I assume that was to keep the band from going insane from playing the same songs for a year straight.

And as much as I enjoyed being part of the community, I also like watching its effect on everybody else, especially the guys (who were kept segregated from us). The girls really got into it, with little pockets of synchronized dancing breaking out. But I guess that was a little more expected from the girls. With the guys, I'm not sure what it was, because they were usually a lot more toned down than we were. Maybe there's just something more powerful, something more private being revealed, when you watch a bunch of guys with their arms around each other's shoulders, passing tissues to the guy in the middle during "I Can Only Imagine."

I have a couple of videos below. The first one, I'm really excited about. I stole it from Youtube, from ytmisschriss. They actually took a video of the beginning of church, where they're playing "Letters from War." This is exactly where I was, and this is what it looked like. The ones in blue jackets in the first visible row are graduated Airmen. Everybody else in ABUs are trainees. The second video is the one playing in the background of the first video, "Letters from War" by Michael Schultz. This is the one that always got to me, even the eighth time I heard it.



Monday, April 26, 2010

I'm in the Air Force now!

As of Friday morning, I have become an Airman and graduated from Basic Military training. Now, on Monday, I'm on a plane to California to start learning to be a Chinese cryptologic linguist. It's safe to say that this weekend has been one of the craziest ever, on many levels (I also got married, since one transformation wasn't enough [and more to come on that later]), but it was hands-down one of the best.

By now, I've had a little bit of time to reflect on the BMT experience as a whole, not to mention how much it's affected me. For one, I wasn't expecting to be freaked out by traffic, but after two months of only the occasional car stopping to let us cross the street, I had forgotten how fast the interstate can be, especially compared to the speed of a column of 40 girls marching in step.

Overall, though, I don't think I've changed too drastically. I still have my same sense of humor and can loosen up and laugh and play, though I do think I've developed a greater awareness of when playing is appropriate and when it's time to stop and get serious. Or maybe I'm a little too serious now. I guess I'll have to cliche it up and just say that time will tell on that one. I do think that going in a little later in life, rather than straight out of high school, helped a lot, especially since it meant that I'd already developed much of the maturity needed to graduate from basic. We definitely saw the biggest changes in the younger girls. When we first got there, one girl, who was 19, would never stop smiling when we were in formation, which is strictly forbidden. Really, smiling in general, especially in the first few weeks, will earn you a yelling TI, but especially in formation. But whenever a TI or one of us asked her why or told her to stop, she said that she was just a happy person. After a while, she found that balance between her serious game face and her normal happy self, but it took some time and growth.

As far as the BMT experience itself goes, it was about as bad as I had expected it to be; I had not, however, expected it to be as good as it was. The goods really ended up ouweighing the bad, and what "bad" there was I understood were necessary evils. The PT (physical training) sucked about as much as I thought it would, especially since I was stupid enough to do next to nothing to prepare for that before I went in. But, on the flip side of that, I can now run longer than I would have thought possible, I've lost about 12 pounds, and I have reasonable toned abs and thighs, which I think isn't too bad after 8 weeks. And even though I can't say I enjoyed the 45-minute workouts at 5 every morning, and they pretty much always hurt, there was a distinct progression to the intensity of the workouts over the 8 weeks, and no matter what week you were in, even if you only did 10 pushups and they wanted 30, if they saw that you worked for those 10 and weren't just giving up, they didn't give you a hard time. If they saw you being lazy and giving up, then they got angry, but as long as you were trying, they might encourage you to keep pushing yourself, but they would never punish someone for not being able to do something.

Really, that to me was the most surprising thing about BMT. I expected the yelling and the PT and the crazy eating, but what I hadn't expected was how much the TIs were teachers, especially the primary TI in charge of my flight (who I suppose I will very awkwardly call SSgt (staff sergeant) Matt, since so far I haven't used any last names in the interest of this being an open blog accessible to any crazy, and I'd like to protect him and his adorable little girl who came and met us at Easter). We were his first female flight, and the first flight he'd ever run (we call it "pushing a flight") on his own as the teamchief since becoming an MTI. The man truly became a mentor to our entire flight. Any time we needed extra help with anything, whether it was practice marching or setting up our areas for inspection or anything, he always sacrificed time with his family (and he sacrificed a lot of time) to come in early or stay extra late to help us. Whenever we learned something new, he always made sure we knew what we needed to do and how we needed to do it, and was always patient with clarification questions. Any yelling that did happen was only when someone would keep making the same silly mistake to break them of it, and so that the rest of the flight could hear and watch for that mistake themselves. I never felt like I couldn't go to him with a question, even about things like wedding dress options at the BX, and I know a lot of other girls went to him with problems a lot bigger than mine. At one point, we had to march with another instructor giving the commands, and we were getting frustrated because he kept calling them wrong. When we got back to the safety of our own dorm, we were telling SSgt Matt about it, and he leaned back in his chair and said, "Makes you appreciate Daddy, doesn't it?" He said it jokingly, but from then on we thought of him as our surrogate daddy, or in some cases the only father figure some people had ever known. I don't know if it's normal for people to feel about their MTIs the way we did about ours, but I'm pretty certain a lot of us wouldn't have made it without him. I think I probably would have, but I don't think BMT would have been the enjoyable experience it ended up unexpectedly being.

While I can't say it was easy, BMT was definitely a worthwhile experience, and I learned a lot about a lot of different things. Now that I'm on the wY to tech school, I'm back to being nervous like I was on the plane ride to Texas. Just as I had gotten Basic figured out, they send me on. I know Chinese will be incredibly challenging to learn, but based on what I've already accomplished, I think I can handle this. The Air Force seems to think I can. So now as I get ready to enter the operational Air Force, I just have to remember to use what I've learned and make SSgt Matt (and my parents, and my husband, and myself) proud. Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

From centerpieces to combat training

Well, I leave for Air Force Basic Training in six weeks, on February 23. And I realized that six weeks sounds a lot shorter than a month and a half. When I realized that was also about the time I had my first "Oh shit, what am I thinking?" moment.

I've started working out, some, but that just makes me realize how not in shape I am. I have lots of little things to do to start getting ready for the practical side of leaving, which basically translates into completely uprooting my life, putting it in a storage container, and putting it on hold at least eight weeks, and probably more while I'm at school on the opposite end of the country. I have to mentally prepare to leave my family, my fiancee, and the only town I've ever lived in, knowing that this may be the last time I live here.

On top of the normal stresses of leaving your life behind to join the military, I, in my brilliance, have also decided to get married at the end of this year. And while I am very excited to get married, this also means that I now have six weeks to plan a wedding that will happen in December. My fiancee and both our families have been extremely helpful, both financially and with ideas and planning in general. Likewise, I know I don't have to have a full-out wedding and I know I don't have to get married this year. But I am still a girl, and even if I'm about to become an airman, I still wanted a proper wedding, so I decided the extra stress was worth it. That doesn't make it any less stressful though. Not to mention that the juxtaposition between planning a wedding (bouquets and bridesmaid dresses) and getting ready to join the military (reveille and boot-polishing) is just a little confusing.

And so, I have decided to employ my most trusted coping mechanism to deal with my pre-basic anxiety: researching the crap out of it. I've talked to a lot of people who have gone through basic who swear that while it's hard, it's not that hard. However, I'm going to continue assuming that basic is going to kick my ass with my own stylish stilettos, mostly because I'd much rather get there and it be easier than I thought, rather than discovering that it's way harder than I expected. Basically, I expect to cry, to feel completely out of my depth, and to want to go home. My theory is that if I'm aware going in of how much I'll want to cry, I'll be able to accept it and move on to getting better at things.

To get ready, I've also been reading About.com's extensive "Surviving Air Force Basic Training" article. So now, for your benefit and mine, I'm going to steal liberally most of the relevant information from there and put it here, in one super-long plagiarism spree. Most of the preamble is basic information that I've already talked about, things like the fact that all Air Force Basic Training takes place at Lackland AF Base in San Antonio, TX; that it used to be 6 weeks, but they've extended it to 8.5 and included a lot more weapons and combat training; and that I should expect to try and want to go home.

(Everything after this point, except headings, is directly quoted from About.com. Instinct...to cite source...too strong to fight...)


What to tell your family

Before you depart for your great adventure in Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT), there are some things you should tell your family. Let's face it. Mommy's little boy or girl is leaving home to join the big, bad Air Force, and they're going to worry.

Family Emergencies. You can't receive phone calls during basic training. You can't receive them even if there is a family emergency. Emergencies must first be certified through the American Red Cross. Before you leave home, tell your family that if an emergency arises (a real emergency, such as a death or serious illness in the immediate family) they should contact you through the Red Cross. Your family should know your full name, your social security number, and your flight address. If they haven't received your address yet, don't worry about it. As long as the Red Cross knows you're in AFBMT, they'll find you.

Mail Call. Within a week or so of arriving, you'll be sending a "pre-printed" postcard home that has your flight address on it. You'll only be sending one of these to one person, so make sure that person knows how to get a hold of all your other friend and family members with the information. Tell them that you will not have much time to write home during basic. In fact, I would be surprised if you can find the time to send more than one or two very short letters home. However, make sure your friends and family know that it's very important that they write you as often as they can. Basic training can be a lonely, stressful time, and a cheerful letter from home can be just the thing to pick up a lonely airman's spirit, and make them want to go on.

Make sure they know not to send you any gifts or "care packages" during basic training. That'll just involve you getting yelled at by your T.I., and it will then be thrown away (if parishable), or put away in the storage area until you graduate from basic, if its not parishable (either way, you'll get chewed out, and maybe even have to do several push-ups). Also, keep in mind that the T.I. hands out mail to everyone at the same time, during evening "mail call," and they have a very bad habit of reading anything in "public view," so it's not a good idea to write "funny" or "cute" messages on the outside of envelopes, nor is it a good idea to send post cards, unless you want everyone in your flight to hear it.

Phone Calls. Make sure your family and friends understand the AFBMT phone call policies, and not to worry about how scared you sound during that very first phone call you'll be allowed to make.

Graduation. Finally, tell them that they will receive an invitation to your AFBMT graduation, along with all the details they will need to know, during your sixth or seventh week of basic. I strongly recommend they make plans to attend, if possible, as it is an experience they (and you) will never forget.

Meeting your T.I.

Once you step off the bus after arrival, you'll met your training team members. This consists of your Chief Military Training Instructor (MTI), lovingly called T.I.s by their close friends and family (you'll call them "sir," or "ma'am" at all times.)

Suddenly, the skies will darken, your ears will ring, and all Hell will break loose. You'll say to yourself, "What have I gotten myself into?" Your flight will probably have a Training Instructor, and an Assistant Training Instructor, as a minimum. If you're really, really "lucky," you may have more than the basic two. Depending upon their genders, their first and last names are both "Sir," or "Ma'am." Unlike the other services, in the Air Force during basic training, you'll be required to address noncommissioned officers (NCOs) -- especially T.I.s -- as "Sir," or "Ma'am." There are not enough commissioned officers around basic training for you to practice on, so the T.I.s "allow" you to practice this etiquette on them. Once you leave basic training, your technical school instructors will be quick to inform you that, as they are NCOs, they "work for a living," and you do not call them "sir" or "ma'am." However, in basic training, you should call everyone who outranks you (which is pretty much everyone except other trainees) as "sir" or "ma'am."

Before leaving home, you'll want to make sure you do not stand out in your personal appearance. When you meet your Training Instructor for the first time, trust me -- you'll not want him or her to remember you for your long hair, earrings (male), handlebar mustache, or pants that are four sizes too big. Ladies, while you will not be required to cut your hair for basic, you will be required to keep it off of your collar at all times when in uniform (which is most of the time in basic), so you may wish to consider cutting your hair short enough so it doesn't have to be put up.

The very first thing you will discover is that even if you're 6' 2", 190 lbs, and your T.I. is 5' 4", 120 lbs, he/she is the biggest, meanest thing you've met in your life. You'll soon realize that your T.I. does not like you, doesn't like your friends, and absolutely hates your family. Air Force T.I.s do not use profanity (at least, they're not supposed to), nor will they "put hands" on you. But, they are very, very good at yelling. Very good.

Years ago, when I was an up and coming young staff sergeant, I attended a supervisor's course at Chanute AFB. One of my classmates was a small, petite woman who had just returned to the "real Air Force" from four years of T.I. duty. One evening, while walking back to billeting (the base hotel) from a "study group" meeting at the NCO Club, we passed a young airman, walking down the street with his field jacket unzipped (this is a uniform no-no). My former T.I. friend said, "Watch this."

She braced the very large young man, ordered him to stand at attention, and -- standing six inches in front on him, looking up at his frightened face -- proceeded to discuss his ancestry and disgusting personal habits for ten minutes straight, all without a single word of profanity escaping her lips. When she was finished, the young man was six inches shorter, and bleeding from the ears. I was very much impressed (and, from that moment on, slightly afraid of her).

The second thing you'll discover about basic training is that nobody in your flight can do anything at all right. Everything you do during the first couple of days will be wrong. You'll stand wrong, you'll walk (march) wrong, you'll talk wrong, you'll look wrong, and possibly you're even breathing wrong. Hopefully, if you read this feature, you'll have a few minutes of respite while the T.I. concentrates on the person next to you with the purple hair. If so, do not giggle, do not smile. If you do, you'll discover just how short a T.I.s attention span can be, as he/she shifts attention to examine and comment (loudly) about your particular deficiencies. Keep in mind that T.I.s hate the word, "yeah." They also hate the word "nope," and "un-uh." They especially hate any sentence that doesn't begin or end with the word, "sir," or "ma'am."

When I went through Air Force Basic Training (several centuries ago), each and every sentence had to begin and end with "sir" or "ma'am." Example, "Sir, Can I go to the latrine, Sir?" However, my friend Johnathan Carpenter has reminded me that modern day T.I.s hate this as well. In Basic, if you say "sir" or "ma'am" beginning and ending a sentence, they call it a "sir sandwich" or a "ma'am sandwich," and that is another notorious pet peeve of those kind gentle souls.

T.I.s are also notoriously hard-of-hearing. No matter how loud you say "Yes Sir!," or "No Ma'am!" your T.I. will probably politely ask you to speak up. Because of their hearing problem, the T.I. will probably assume that you are similarly inflicted and will make a special effort to speak loudly -- right next to your ear. Moving, or showing any evidence of discomfort is considered to be impolite and will be commented upon (loudly).

Before long, it will dawn on you that somewhere between the welcome center and your dormitory, someone stole your first name. You'll probably never hear your first name throughout your entire time in basic. For your time there, everyone (T.I.s, flight mates, etc.) will be addressing you by your last name. If a T.I. doesn't know your last name, he/she will call you "trainee," or "recruit" (loudly). If you're female, often they will yell, "Hey, you! Female!" (My daughters hated this).

Your T.I. will likely spend most of the time on the first evening you're together, between meeting you, and lights out, by introducing you to some of his/her favorite T.I. games.

Typical Day

There isn't really any "typical" day in Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT). Each day will be different, as you will be learning new things, and doing new things, depending on how far along you are in your training.

However, HANSEN1N0, a member of our message forum, has shared with us what happened during one average day while he was attending Air Force basic:

0445 - Reveille (You'll learn to hate that song). Time to wake up.

0500 - Downstairs in formation. Get ready for PC (Physical Conditioning)

0500-600 - PC. You alternate. One day you run, the next day you do aerobic exercises.

0600-0615 - Breakfast. Believe me, you won't have much time to eat. My TIs always said "Give us breakfast, and we'll give you time for dinner and lunch." Meal time is often chaotic. So if your recruiter says it's a nice sit-down time to eat, he/she is full of it. But, then again, there are exceptions.

0630-0745 - Dorm setup. Getting the dorm "in shape. (Never call it a "barracks" in the Air Force)

0800-1130 - Anything from drilling, classes, records checks, shots, uniform issue, etc.

1130-1230 - lunch...well, it can really be anytime between 1100 and 1300 depending on what else is going on that day with your training schedule.

1300-1700 - Usually classroom instruction. I did bootcamp last July. Trust me, it gets hot. Your TI won't have you doing drill in the afternoon (especially in the summer). Sometimes, you'll do STT. I won't go into detail about this, but it's basically time to organize your area for inspection.

1700-1800 - Usually dinner. The amount of time you get to eat, depends on how far along you are in basic. Generally, the closer you get to graduation, the longer you have to eat.

1900-2045 - Set up the dorm for night-time. Clean-up details, shine your boots. Sometimes, maybe even a "patio break," if the TI feels the flight has earned it.

2100 - Lights out. You'll hear Taps right before "lights out." (That song I always loved).

Phone calls and patio breaks

You'll get a chance to call home at least once during basic training, and probably a few more times, unless your flight is so totally screwed up that they make your T.I. unhappy.

First Phone Call. This is the only mandatory phone calls that T.I.'s are required to let recruits make. You only get one chance at this, so if the person you call is not home at the time, that's just tough.

Your first phone call will most likely happen on the first Saturday or Sunday afternoon after your arrival, but this is not a hard, fast rule. It's basically up to the T.I. This will be a very short phone call (only about 3 minutes), enough time to pass on your mailing information. Warn your family/loved ones in advance about this phone call. You will not sound "well." Your voice will be shaky, and you'll sound like you're on the verge of tears. During this particular stage of training, you'll swear that T.I.'s are around every corner, under every table, just waiting for you to do something wrong so they can yell at you for it. This "scared rabbit" feeling transfers to your telephone voice. The bad thing is that you won't have time to tell them that you're really okay. You've got enough time to spit out your mailing address, then you have to give the phone up to the next recruit in line. So, make sure your family is ready for this. Otherwise, they may spend the next several days thinking they made a mistake about letting their "baby" go away to basic training.

Patio Breaks and Other Phone Calls. After the first mandatory phone call, how often you get to call home is a matter of "privilege." The phones are located on the "break patio" of each dormitory. You earn "patio breaks" (as a flight) by keeping your T.I. happy. If your flight is doing well, your T.I. will give them more patio breaks. If your flight is not doing well, the T.I. may withhold patio breaks. In addition to the phones, the patio has candy and coke machines. Whether or not you are allowed to use them, however, is up to your T.I.

T.I.'s are given a lot of latitude in this area. At Lackland, I met T.I's with completely different philosophies. One T.I. allowed his recruits to purchase candy and cokes on patio breaks during the first week. Another T.I. I met did not allow any of his recruits to have candy or coke (or even deserts in the chow hall) until after the 4th week of training.

Other than the first phone call, you will only be allowed to call home during authorized patio breaks. Keep in mind that there are going to be lots of other anxious folks waiting in line to use the pay phones at the same time. There is only one patio per dormitory building, and several flights are housed in each building. You may get lucky and your T.I. will give your flight a patio break when nobody else has one, or you may get to the patio and find out that every other T.I. in the building decided to give their flights a patio break at the same time. How long you will be able to chat on the phone depends on how long your patio break is, and how many other folks are waiting to use the phone.

Remember, these are pay phones, so bringing a pre-paid phone card with you to basic training can speed things up. That way, you won't have to go through the operator to arrange for a collect call.

(Note from Maggie: I've heard that with so many people owning cell phones, sometimes we will be allowed to use them instead of the pay phone. I have also heard that this very much depends on the T.I., so I intend to prepare for both.)

Settling in (Zero Week and Week 1)

Pre-deployment phase (Week 2-Week 5)
Deployment Phase: The BEAST (Week 6)

The BEAST replaces "Warrior Week" at Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT). This is where basic trainees get to put everything they've learned so far about combat situations into practice. The name may sound intimidating, but it's actually an acronym for "Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training."

At the beginning of week #6, the entire Air Force basic training class, consisting of about 800 recruits, is marched to The BEAST, which is a field training site on the Medina Annex at the west end of Lackland. It's designed as a simulated combat deployment site.

The BEAST site consists of four camps (called "zones"), named Vigilent, Sentinel, Reaper, and Predator. Each camp consists of 10 green canvas tents used for sleeping. There are also two tents, one used for a field hospital and the other for a command post. In the center of the ring of tents is a three-story tower (where instructors keep watch so they can chew you out for doing things wrong), and a hardened building which is used as an armory and as a bomb shelter. Each zone also includes five defensive firing positions, and an entry control point (ECP). Each zone is a self-contained unit responsible for operating and defending itself.

The BEAST starts on a Monday, and recruits spend that day with the instructors, setting up camp, and reviewing all the combat lessons and procedures that they learned during the previous five weeks. The next day, the war starts, and it doesn't end until Friday afternoon. Under the previous "Warrior Week," recruits only spent two hours in a simulated combat exercise.

The "war" is actually run by the students. Before departing for the BEAST, instructors choose one zone leader and 10 small unit leaders for each zone. These student-leaders are responsible for the day-to-day "war" operations in their zone, and schedule manning for the defensive firing positions, and ECP.

Recruits sleep in their tents and wake up at 0445 each morning, where they are given an intelligence briefing on the current threat. Throughout the remainder of the day, recruits endure simulated attacks, and take action accordingly. Some attacks are chemical/biological, and others are conventional attacks. Attacks can come from the air, or from hostile ground forces, or suicide bombers. Attacks can take place at any time, day or night. T.I.s and folks in the 3E9 Emergency Management career field act as the bad guys, and throw everything they have at the airmen. Throughout the day and night, recruits pull two hour shifts as camp guards in the ECP. Don't expect to get much sleep during The BEAST, kiddies.

The first 750 recruits went through The BEAST in December 2008. Almost to a person, what they hated the most was the amount of gear they were required to wear/carry with them at all times, and wearing chemical warfare suits and mask for hours at a time. Each recruit is required at all times to wear body armor, and helmets, and carry a rucksack loaded with three MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat), MOPP Gear (Chemical suit, gloves, boots, and gas mask), as well as carry two canteens and an M-16 rifle. This is 24 hours per day, for four days.

During the war, the instructors don't "teach." Student leaders and trainees are expected to complete assigned tasks on their own, and respond (on their own) to the various attack scenarios that are thrown at them. Instructors then debrief (yell) about what they did wrong, and (more quietly) praise about what they did right.

The BEAST site includes a 1.5-mile improvised explosive device (IED) trail littered with simulated roadside bombs (can you tell an IED from an old soda can?). Recruits learn to spot IEDs and then use the trail in training scenarios. For example, under one scenario, recruits make their way down the "lane" in tactical formation, trying to identify IEDs from the other debris. Get too close to an IED, and it goes "BANG," and you're dead (the instructor will emphasize this point with plenty of yelling). At the end of the trail, recruits are broken into teams of two "wingmen," and negotiate a combat-obsticle course (low-crawl under netting, hide behind walls, roll behind bushes and timbers, strike dummies with the butt of your rifle, high crawl through deep sand up a 40 percent grade, ect.). Hint: DO NOT advance ahead of your wingman, and whatever you do, DO NOT stick the barrel of your rifle in the sand!

When someone is not trying to "blow them up," or "kill them," recruits can enjoy three meals per day. However, these three meals will be in the form of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE). However, you never know when an attack will come, and even your meals will be interrupted (as well as your sleep).

Post-deployment phase (Week 7)

Graduation Week (Week 8)
(I think this is also when I learn what my language will be)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I got the linguist job!

Due to some kind of mysterious and awesome recruiter magic that I think may have involved minor ritual sacrifice, my recruiter gave my air traffic control job to somebody else, and got me a linguist job! I leave for basic on February 23! Which is actually pretty much perfect, since I was hoping to do basic (in Texas) during the winter. Then it's 8.5 weeks of basic training and then off to Monterey, California by late April or early May. Very, very excited. I don't have any idea yet what language I'll get; I should find that out sometime during basic, probably late-ish. From what I understand, my say in what language I get will be pretty minimal. I'll get to fill out a "dream sheet" of languages I'd like to have, and if one of those happens to match up with one of the ones they need, then that's great, but the needs of the military definitely come first here. Though honestly, while I think it'd be super cool to learn Greek or Hebrew, I'm really not very picky on what language I get, as long as I get to learn one. So yay!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Samson

video
Listen before reading.

I've been listening to my iPod a lot lately, and the song "Samson" by Regina Spektor keeps coming up. This is probably one of my top ten favorite songs ever, so I really don't mind, but what with my new, shall we say, military mindset, I've started to hear a different meaning behind it.

(I'm not sure that this song actually pertains to the military at all, but I really wanted to share it, so I'm going to make it relevant. I knew that creative writing degree would be useful someday.)

The song is a pretty obvious reference to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. In the story, Samson is a warrior chosen by God. He possesses enormous strength, but only as long as he never cuts his hair. He falls in love with a woman, Delilah, who is bribed by Philistines to find out the source of Samson's power. After many false answers, he tells her that it lies in his hair, and she has it cut off while he sleeps. God forsakes Samson for cutting his hair, and he loses his strength. The Philistines chain him in his weakness to the pillars of their temple to sacrifice to their god, but by then Samson's hair has grown long again, and he regains his strength. He pulls down the pillars, killing himself and the Philistines.

Ta-da, the original story of Samson and Delilah. Just in case you missed Sunday School. Now to the song.

On first listen, it just sounds like a sweet, simple love song. Spektor's voice is beautiful with a tinge of heartbreak when she sings lines like
You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first , I loved you first
Beneath the stars came falling on our heads
But they're just old light
They're just old light
Your hair was long when we first met

I have to admit, at first I was kind of confused by the song, especially the line, "And the Bible didn't mention us, not even once." Because it did. There's a whole story about it. I've read some theories about what the song means, and most people seem to think that it's just saying that they actually loved each other, which the Bible doesn't mention. Though some also think it's not about Delilah at all. I doubt that.

But I think it's a bit more than just "Yes, they loved each other," though that's part of it. After many listens, I've come to the conclusion that it's Delilah saying how she wished the story had gone. How she loved Samson (ignoring the bribery and chains and such), and how she knew that while he had all this power, he could never really be hers. He would always be a hero first.

Samson came to my bed
Told me that my hair was red
Told me I was beautiful and came into my bed
I cut his hair myself one night
A pair of dull scissors and the yellow light
He told me that I'd done alright
and kissed me till the morning light the morning light
and he kissed me till the morning light

This is such an intimate, beautiful scene, in which he's clearly choosing her, forsaking his strength, his destiny, and God, leaving him free to "kiss [her] till the morning light."

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
Ate a slice of wonder bread
and went right back to bed
He couldn't break the columns down
No, he couldn't destroy a single one
and the history books forgot about us
and the Bible didnt mention us
not even once

He didn't pull the pillars down on himself, and he didn't die in that temple. He simply went home to Delilah, living out their lives together and not being heroic at all, and so they were forgotten by history. That's what seems so heartbreaking about the last line, the way Spektor sings, "I loved you first." It sounds like such an aching plea, Delilah telling Samson that she loved him before he was chosen by God, before he became strong and brought the Philistines down on him. She loved him first, and now she just wants him to choose her.

(And now for the tie-in.)

I've been thinking a lot lately, for obvious reasons, about servicemen and women and the people they leave behind. I had mostly been thinking about it from the perspective of the people who leave (again, duh), but especially while keeping up with Amber's blog, I've been considering more the side of the people left behind; husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, parents, children, friends. I wonder, is this how these people sometimes feel too? I'm sure they're all very proud and grateful for their loved one's service, but I imagine there's also a strong feeling of simply wanting to tell them, "Choose me. Leave all these big things behind, and just come home to me. I loved you first."

Complete lyrics:
You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
I have to go, I have to go
Your hair was long when we first met

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed
And history books forgot about us and the bible didn't mention us
And the bible didn't mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the stars came fallin' on our heads
But they're just old light, they're just old light
Your hair was long when we first met

Samson came to my bed
Told me that my hair was red
Told me I was beautiful and came into my bed
Oh I cut his hair myself one night
A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light
And he told me that I'd done alright
And kissed me 'til the mornin' light, the mornin' light
And he kissed me 'til the mornin' light

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
Ate a slice of wonderbread and went right back to bed
Oh, we couldn't bring the columns down
Yeah we couldn't destroy a single one
And history books forgot about us
And the bible didn't mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first