One Man's Experience (blog posts from elsewhere)

Discussion in 'Air Force Academy - USAFA' started by raimius, Jan 21, 2014.

  1. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    I've referenced a couple blog posts that used to appear on a different site, but that site has gone down. So, I'm going to repost them here, for reference.

    The next few posts will be the various entries.
     
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  2. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Before the Academy

    I am lucky enough to have been born to a very loving family. My parents have been supportive as long as I can remember. Their concern was "I don't care how the numbers come out, as long as you do your best."

    My family is strongly Christian. My father worked in telecommunications at our church, while my mother did daycare, HR, and charity work. Most of my family lives in the Chicago area, and my dad's side is very close-knit.

    From an early age, I was interested in the military. I had my arsenal of plastic guns and super-soakers, a collection of micro-machine planes and tanks, and 50,000 legos to tinker with. Super-soaker fights and playing army took up a good chunk of those hot Chicago-land summers. No doubt, some probably thought it was odd that my favorite TV show was "Wings" on the Discovery channel, and that I knew the top speed of a P-51D Mustang by around the age of 10.

    I had a relatively unique experience with schooling. My mother homeschooled me up until 6th grade. I attended a private Christian school for 7th and 8th grade, then transferred to the public school system. Home school was great, since I could get my work done in about 3 hours every day. The Christian school had a good sense of community, but the long commute and hard-core Calvanist teaching proved to be a little too much. My public high school had its share of problems, like chronic academic underperformance, but it did provide me with more opportunities than my previous schools.

    While I had always been interested in the military, I had not given much thought to actually joining. I do not have great eyesight, and that had pretty much crushed my dream of being a pilot. In 6th grade, a teacher introduced me to ham radio. That caught my interest, and I decided I was going to become an engineer. By high school, I had my plan--I was going to go to the University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne and become an electrical engineer.

    During my sophomore year, one of my friends told me he was going to go to the Air Force Academy. "What's the Air Force Academy?" I asked. He told me it was a college for the Air Force, and most of the graduates become pilots. "That sounds cool, but I couldn't be a pilot, since I don't have 20/20," I said. Well, you don't need perfect vision, my friend told me.

    Not too long after that, I went to a local college fair, at our community college. As I was looking for where the UIUC presentation was going to be, I noticed there was a "US Air Force Academy" booth. After the UIUC briefing, I dragged my somewhat confused parents to the USAFA booth. There, I talked with a Major for about 5 minutes. He told me that some people with glasses could fly, the academy was a challenging place, and that I should probably work on my fitness, if I wanted to go there. (My 6ft. 130lb frame probably gave away the fact that I was not an athlete!) I walked away with the card to have the academy send me a Pre-Candidate Questionnaire.

    The more research I did on USAFA, the more interesting it sounded. I found out about college tours and the Summer Seminar program at the academy. I wound up going to three places, UIUC, the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and summer seminar. I went on an overnight visit to IIT first. It was a fairly cool place, in my opinion. The frat I stayed at was pretty welcoming, the academic facilities looked decent, and IIT had a really good deal for AFROTC (which I was also investigating by this time). "I could go here," was my conclusion. Next, I visited UIUC. Apparently, even making their honors program only got you the ability to choose classes first. The tour was impersonal, and the campus didn't seem very inviting. The tour indicated that UIUC was not the place for me. So much for my original plan! Then, I went to Summer Seminar. My roommates and I connected pretty well, and the "classes" were mostly interesting. "Doolie for a Day" made my decision. Being the not-so-athletic person I was, I broke a LOT during that afternoon. However, when we finished, all 300 of us started chanting "RTB" and waiving our red hats. I felt a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that stuck with me for quite a while. "THIS is the place," I thought. "I don't know if I can make it, but I HAVE to try!"

    Over the summer, I completed my congressional applications and started the academy application. In the fall, I went to my first nomination interview. My interview was at my Congressman's office. I was nervous about Rep. Manzullo’s interview. Two retired officers conducted the interview, and I did terrible. As I walked out of the office, I thought, "Well, I blew that one. I guess I need to get a nomination from one of my Senators."

    Then, I received a letter from Senator Durbin. It went something like, "Thank you for your interest in Senator Durbin's nomination to a service academy. While your record is excellent, this year's applicant pool is extremely competitive. Unfortunately..." I stopped reading there. As my eyes moved over the rest of the letter, I realized my chances had just become substantially less. One Senator wouldn't even give me an interview. Could I get the nomination from Senator Obama? His nomination was my last chance.

    On a chilly fall day, my father and I traveled to Chicago by train. We walked to Sen. Obama's office. After waiting for about a half-hour, I was admitted into the interview. There were about 10 people on the board, and I was quizzed pretty well. I was nervous, but didn't do nearly as bad as at Rep. Manzullo’s office. As I walked out, I thought, "Well, at least I still have a chance."

    About a month later, I received a letter from Rep. Manzullo's office. "I know how this is going to go," I thought. Again, the letter started out something like "Thank you for your interest in an appointment to a service academy."
    ...yeah, great...
    "This year's applicants are very competitive..."
    ...tell me something I don't know already. I have a 3.99GPA and didn’t even get an interview with Durbin!...
    "Congressman Manzullo is pleased to offer you his nomination to the US Air Force Academy."
    ...Wait, WHAT?! There wasn't a negative in there somewhere, was there? Nope, no "but," "except," "not," or "unfortunately" in that sentence...I GOT THE NOMINATION!

    When the rejection letter from Senator Obama's office arrived the next week, I really didn't care. I had my nomination. Now, all I needed to do was complete my application and, hopefully, get an appointment.

    (Go back a year, to the start of my junior year) After I had learned that athletics were a big part of the academy, I had decided to play a sport. I wasn't big enough to play football, and I was way too slow for track. So, what could I possibly do? The tennis team was pretty easy to join...I had messed around with badmitten before, and they aren't too different, right?...I really needed a varsity sport for my application, and I needed to get more fit. Tennis it was! Well, I discovered I am not an all-star tennis player. I learned quite a bit and had fun, even though I usually played on 4th doubles.

    (Fall of my senior year)
    Well, I had my nomination. My application was almost done, except for the CFA. Let's see...pull-ups...uh oh...shuttle run...not good, I'm a slow sprinter...basketball throw...WHAT?! Who thought that one up?...sit-ups--FINALLY something I'm good at!...push-ups and a mile run.
    I had already switched my PE class from the normal one to "Excel PE" (weightlifting and cardio). As the winter rolled around, I realized I was WAY behind the power curve for athletics. With the help of my parents, I bought a treadmill and weight machine. My father asked around and found out his boss, Mike, was a personal trainer. Mike came to my house 3 days a week to help me train, and developed a workout program for the other days. It was time to work my butt off, if I wanted to pass!

    With the application deadline quickly approaching, I scheduled the CFA before school, with my PE teacher as the proctor. It didn't go very well. I started with a measly 3 pull-ups, didn't do great on the basketball throw, was really slow on the shuttle run, but I did OK on the push-ups, OK on the run, and maxed the sit-ups (and accidentally went over the max). Would it be enough?
    I sent the application packet, crossed my fingers, and prayed.

    I had a VERY long discussion with my ALO, and he said my academics and scouting/clubs helped overcome some of my athletic weakness. I was still competitive.

    So, I waited.
    ...and waited...

    After a while, I decided to call the admissions office. So, I walked into my HS counselor's office and asked to use the phone. The lady at admissions told me the admissions board had reviewed my packet and was sending the appointment packet on Monday. "Appointment packet?"
    "Yes, the packet is going to be sent on Monday"
    "Does that mean I have an appointment?"
    "The packet is being sent on Monday. The appointment information is inside."
    "So I do have an appointment, right?"
    "That is correct."
    "OK, thank you."
    I don't think I stopped smiling for another 12 hours.
     
  3. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Travel/1st BCT

    After receiving my appointment, I elected not to go to appointee orientation. It was during the school year, cost a bit of money, and I had already been to summer seminar. My thinking was, "I already accepted the appointment. This will just have more information."

    I eventually found my boots online, and ordered those. (Incidentally, searching for the correct boot model is how I stumbled across the CC forums and became involved in USAFA forums.) I wore my boots to school, in order to break them in. That is something I have never regretted. When I-day rolled around, my boots fit better than the running shoes I was issued!

    I elected to go the AOG Bread & Breakfast route. By flying in the day before, I separated my goodbyes and the start of BCT. That let me focus on each thing individually. Mentally, that was the easiest way for me.

    So, on I-day minus 1, I left via O'Hare airport for Colorado Springs. In the waiting area, I noticed a few other people with black leather boots around their necks/luggage. Just before boarding, someone called for all USAFA appointees to gather around for a picture. Eventually, I ran across that picture, and realized quite a few of my friends were in it.

    Once I arrived at Colorado Springs, a '62 grad and his wife picked up myself and another appointee. We had a very nice dinner and conversation that evening. While I don't remember the advice he gave me, it was comforting at the time. Part-way through BCT, I learned the guy who stayed with me that night had quit. He was the first person I knew who left, but he certainly wouldn't be the last.

    On I-day morning I was nervous...VERY nervous. So nervous that I managed to puke before leaving for the Academy--that never happened before or since. Strangely, I did feel much better after puking out my breakfast. Yes, nervousness is pretty natural for I-day!

    We arrived at Doolittle hall at about 8AM. Since I didn't have any long goodbyes to make, I proceeded up stairs pretty quickly. They say I-day is the worst, but I didn't think it was that bad. Sure, there is some yelling, cadre correcting almost imperceptible errors, some shots, and a lot of waiting in line, but that's not very difficult. The only really bad thing occured while I was carrying all my issued gear across the Terrazzo. My left hand went numb! I kept dropping my duffle bag. Eventually, I decided to use my right hand to carry the bag (on my left side, of course). When Taps rolled around on I-day, I thought, "Well, that wasn't so bad!"

    The next thing I knew, my door was about to implode from some monstrously loud cadre pounding the living daylights out of the door! THIS was the real introduction to BCT, in my opinion. Of course, that cadet classic, by Guns N' Roses...that which basics know to bring cadre and training...was playing as well. That night, I went to sleep thinking, "Why in the world did I think this was a good idea?!"

    Some people have this idea that 1st BCT is hard. In truth, it is taxing rather than truly difficult. None of the required tasks are likely to stump a basic. It is the continuous stream of tasks, requirements, and corrections that make 1st BCT what it is. It is the time where the cadre break everyone down to a common denominator, and begin to build them up as a team. It is learning to display your possessions EXACTLY as a book dictates. It is learning to turn correctly when the cadre yell "Right Face!" It is knowing what to say, when, and how to say it.

    It's not particularly difficult, but it is a grind.
    Fact of life: everyone is tired during basic.
     
  4. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    2nd BCT

    Well, second BCT started much like the first...push-ups in the hallway. By this time, we were rather expecting as much, and the heavy metal contributed to the fun...at least until we broke and the cadre kept going (an enduring theme of my 2nd BCT).

    2nd BCT is much more physically oriented than 1st BCT. It is also much more enjoyable. No longer will that speck of dirt in your window runner cost you on an inspection. To anyone who enjoys camping, Jacks Valley tents are MUCH superior to having dorm rooms in constant SAMI. The standard had gone from "white glove inspection" to cots neatly lined, no trash, gear in duffel bags, sleeping bags folded a certain way, and boots that looked black...oh, and sweep out the tent in the evening.

    Jack's valley contains a variety of courses--A-course, O-course, SABC, LRC, Confidence course, Op Warrior, and CATM. CATM (combat arms training and maintenance) consists of learning how to field strip, assemble, and fire the M16A2 rifle. CATM is one of the most relaxed courses. The cadre avoid adding stress so that the instruction is easier and basics shoot more accurately without added pressure.

    The LRC (leadership reaction course) is one of the more enjoyable puzzles. The course consists of an obstacle and a few pieces of equipment. A small group of basics is given a short amount of time to cross the obstacle with their assorted items. For example: one obstacle is a 5 foot double fence and the items provided include 5 feet of rope, two pieces of lumber, and a 55gal drum. The basics have a few minutes to move over the fence and bring all the items, without physically touching the fence! My group used the drum to make a base for a cantilevered piece of lumber, and we used the rope to help steady the person crossing the plank.

    Sadly, I had a very bad flu the day my flight did the Ops Warrior course. This course covers (very) basic infantry concepts and includes practice against an OpFor (opposing force, made up of several cadre). The reviews from my flight were favorable. They enjoyed it.

    SABC is Self-aid, buddy care. This is a first aid lesson and practice course. Not much to say, except don't let the "stunned" patients run all over the place! (Some tackles may be required.)

    The Obstacle course is pretty self-explanatory. There are over a dozen obstacles on a trail. Don't miss the swinging rope, or you'll get soaked! I usually nail these things, but once I did manage to hit the rope with my index finger. That knocked the rope away from my grasp, so I wound up more-or-less running straight into the pool of water underneath. It was probably pretty entertaining to any nearby cadre!

    The Confidence course is intended to challenge people's fears (heights especially). The confidence course has a number of obstacles, a series of logs that one must balance on and cross, a tall set of monkey bars, a pyramid ladder, and the 41ft "Tiltin' Hilton" (pictured below, courtesy of Webguy)

    The Tiltin Hilton is the most challenging, if you are afraid of heights (like me). To reach each platform, you must flip up, on the outside of the tower. You assume a pull-up grip on the last board of platform above you. Two buddies grap the legs of your trousers and "throw" you up, as you do half of a pull-up. On the platform above, two more people grab your legs and pull you completely onto the platform. To get down, you slide halfway off the tower, on your belly, while grabbing the last plank in a certain way. Then, you roll over the edge. Two people below you grab hold of you, make sure you get safely inside the tower, and pivot behind you. (This ensures no one can stumble backwards and fall.) The way it is designed and executed, the whole operation is very safe. Knowing it is safe isn't much comfort when you are staring 41ft down, realizing you are about to do a summersault off the tower! It is intimidating, but it forces people to conquer their fears and trust those around them. (I was probably white as a sheet, when I rolled off the top platform.)

    The Assault Course, "A-course" in cadet lingo, is the most physically challenging. The obstacles are not particularly grueling, but when basics run the course, many "grenades" are called. When a cadre calls a "grenade" or a ground burst simulator explodes, basics must dive to the ground as quickly as possible, then get up and continue. (Very similar to the standard "Up-down") At some points of the course, my only forward movement was the dive, because grenades were being called so frequently. Also, if a basic does not satisfactorily complete an obstacle or set of obstacles, they can be sent back to recomplete that part of the course. This makes for about 3 hours of exhausting work. The A-course is the toughest and most loathed course for most basics.

    Over the course of 2nd BCT, the obstacle courses are all run twice, and other courses are completed. It is physically draining, but more enjoyable than 1st BCT.

    Unfortunately, on my first run-through of the A-course, I fell and strained my knee. It wasn't serious, but I was pulled from the course and given a "self-paced" Form 18. Self-pace form 18s are very frustrating. You cannot perform at your normal level, but you don't want to let down your fellow basics by underperforming. On the O-course "high knees" became "high knee" for me. The A-course became slower, and one person accidently did a combat roll over my knee when a grenade was called. I don't recommend that!
    Fortunately, I was able to complete all of the courses.

    Jack's valley is where those who don't have heart are forced to confront their shortcomings. It is physically demanding, but all basics should be able to complete it, if they don't quit on themselves. One of the most valuable lessons from Jack's is that you CAN keep going...if you want to.
     
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  5. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Endurance

    It seems like a simple concept. Find that last ounce of energy to run that final stretch in the race. That's endurance.

    Well, sort of.
    Physical endurance can be trained, but I'm not a physical trainer and am not here to talk about that. I'm talking about mental endurance.

    Recognition is an event which tends to test both mental and physical endurance. Last year, we had a 4 degree who had injured his leg. Of course, he could not perform any PT involving his leg, so all he could do was core and upper body. That took endurance. He did sit-ups and various presses and curls for the majority of the weekend. This C4C was physically strong, but that wasn't the impressive thing. He was mentally tough. He didn't quit when his arms decided to go on strike. He kept pushing. It was that toughness that really earned him the respect of those around him...the kind of toughness that makes me want to follow someone.

    Mental endurance is a less quantifiable quality. It is more difficult to measure and harder to train. You can definitely identify it when you see it!

    I learned a little bit about this trait during the results of one of my mistakes. You see, I didn't come to the academy physically prepared. After outright failing my PFT, I went on recondo--mandatory workouts and a restriction to base. I discovered doubling a PE average when you are not that fit can be a time consuming thing! Sure, I didn't like being on Recondo (bit of an understatement), but I got used to it. My freshman squad didn't do too well on our knowledge tests during the 2nd semester, and the 4 digs were restricted as a result. Oddly enough, telling a 4 dig they cannot use one of their precious passes to leave has a serious negative effect on morale. My fellow 4 digs were REALLY bummed about being restricted, and it showed in several areas. I found this rather strange, since being restricted was a normal thing to me. "Oh, you couldn't leave for 3 weeks...try 8 months!" Perhaps this is part of mental endurance. Could it be that endurance is trained via some hardship? I think it may be so.

    More recently, I was sitting in a history class. We were talking about the german general staff of the pre-WWI days. Officer development became the topic of conversation. Being academy cadets, most of us agreed that we gained better training as officers compared to ROTC cadets. Our instructor asked us what thing(s) prepared us better. Oddly, none of us could come up with a short list of particular academy traditions which made it superior. We concluded that it was the combined effect, the "drinking from a firehose," that prepared us better. Ego and rivalries aside, we thought that facing more challenges would prepare people better.

    Life isn't a sprint, and around here the ones who graduate are the ones who endure. Some people won't face the same challenges that others do. However, I've noticed the cadets with mental endurance are usually the ones who stay, even when faced with the same problems. Being on recondo for three and a half semesters gave me a rather unique view (not always one I wanted). I saw a number of classmates leave the academy, mostly by choice. I was glad to see a few leave. Some I were indifferent to. Others surprised me.

    One in particular made me wonder. This cadet lived and breathed the fighter-pilot dream. He was a sensible person and a hard worker. He faced a few problems, but was mostly conquering them (faster than I was, in fact). His decision to leave bewildered me. I don't know what made him decide to leave, because I honestly couldn't figure it out. He said it wasn't for him... Wasn't for him? This is the guy who seemed better fit for this place than I was!

    Sometimes success falls into your lap, but you usually have to work for it. I've seen some people give up when facing surmountable problems, and others overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. I can't define the trait precisely, but I can say those who succeeded often outlasted their problems.
    I've largely taken the same mindset. I might not be the strongest, the fastest, or even the smartest, but I can outlast.

    So when that obstacle is kicking your butt, don't give up. Dig down inside and find that extra ounce--the one that keeps you from giving up, the one that lets you overcome whatever it is you are facing. Find that strength and refuse to surrender.

    Sometimes you'll surprise even yourself at what you can do when you decide not to quit.
     
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  6. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    The Years: 4 Dig

    (I intend this to be the first of four posts, each covering an academic year at USAFA.)

    Fear, dread, ignorance, exhaustion, teamwork, growth, and joy--yes, this is 4 dig year. The Fourth Class year at USAFA is supposed to be an introduction, instruction, and weed-out test rolled into one. BCT is much the same, but BCT is over now. Gone are the days of getting up at 0430, being tired all the time, and hoping to make it to the end of the program...well, not really.

    With the end of BCT a certain amount of freedom is given to 4th Class Cadets. They no longer have to be escorted everywhere by cadre. They can eat dinner anytime between 1700 and 1900 on weeknights. They can bring food back to their rooms. They have computers, and most importantly, in the weeks after BCT, they can sit down when they want. Yet, with the start of the academic year, new challenges await.

    Four digs now have class, homework, knowledge tests, minutes to call, and details to perform. Thankfully, Reveille is later, but the day now starts before that.

    An average day during 4 dig year, for me, started at around 0450. At the always annoying buzz of my alarm clock, I would roll out of bed, and get ready for the day. The order of business: shower, shave, brush my teeth, clean up anything on the floor, wipe down my valet countertop, clean the mirror, straighten my SAMI bed, and leave for minutes. I, like many of my classmates, found it much easier to sleep on top of the SAMI bed and only use the "blue magnet" comforter as a blanket. That way, we could save at least 10 minutes every morning by smoothing out our SAMI bed, rather than remaking the whole thing.

    So, off to the duty day. At around 0555 (but surely not 0556), the 4th class cadets of CS-14 would assemble in our hallway, by the CQ desk for minutes. For those of you who have not been cadets, "minutes" is the duty of 4th class cadets. It serves as both an alarm clock for some upperclassmen and a method of training for 4th classmen. At every 5th minute between 30 minutes until the start of the next formation (breakfast) and when the 4th class cadets needed to leave, the 4digs would call something like "COBRAS, there are 30 minutes until the contact time for the morning meal. Uniform of the day is blues. Menu for the morning meal includes make your own breakfast burritos, yogurt, and chilled orange juice. I say again, there are 30 minutes until the contact time for the morning meal. Secure your lights and rooms please."

    "But that only takes a few seconds," you say. What do you do with the next 4 minutes and 30 seconds? Well, that is where the training part comes in. Minutes serves as a time for upperclassmen (usually training staff) to teach and quiz the 4 degrees the week's "knowledge test" material. K-test material usually consisted of approximately 1 page of information. It usually had statistics for several AF aircraft, a few quotes relevant to military leadership, and some historical facts about the Academy. This information had to be memorized by the 4th class cadets, for weekly quizzes. If we 4 digs were doing unusually well or poorly, some PT could be thrown into the routine. Since Monday and Friday were BDU days, minutes on those days were generally reserved for upperclass lead PT. Let me tell you, you can get a pretty good workout in the 16 minutes we had. For CS-14's 4 digs, minutes only went until the 14th minute. Our location at the far northwest end of Vandenberg hall meant we had the longest "commute" of any squadron. Since all 4-digs must run the outer marble strips of the Terrazzo, the few minutes immediately before breakfast can turn the strips into a traffic jam of 4-digs. Therefore, we had to leave fairly early to navigate two full sides of the terrazzo and arrive with at least 5 minutes before the meal started. The "if you are not 5 minutes early, you are late" rule is held very strictly for 4th class cadets.

    Breakfast for a fourth classman is at attention most days. While most upperclassmen do not strictly enforce sitting at attention like BCT, 4 digs are wise to at least give the correct impression to anyone looking from a distance.

    After breakfast, classes begin. Each day has 7 class periods (4 before lunch and 3 after). Academics alternate between "M" and "T" days, so very few cadets have completely full schedules, provided they are not IC athletes. The average 4-dig will have between 2 and 4 classes on any given M or T day. Some classes, like chemistry and PE, are double-period classes.

    Lunch is preceeded by a formation or parade during times of good weather. During the dead of winter, formations are cancelled, and most squadrons will extend their "minutes" time to allow more practice/training for the 4-digs.

    After lunch and the remainder of academics is over, squadrons will either have intermurals, free time, or 4-dig training sessions. "Training sessions" are usually PT sessions designed to test the physical and mental endurance of the 4-digs, teach teamwork, work on knowledge, and improve physical conditioning...often at the same time. These are commonly known as "beat sessions." As a 4-dig, we were expected to be able to do PT while belting out whatever knowledge questions were asked. For example, while doing flutter-kicks, an upperclassmen may say, "Give me the crew of the B-52!" To that, all the 4th class cadets would reply in unison (or at least hopefully) "Sir, the crew of the B-52 is as follows: Aircraft commander, pilot, navigator, radar navigator, and electonic warfare officer." Generally, the worse we did, the harder the PT became.

    After this, we had time for dinner and ACQ. ACQ (academic call to quarters) is meant as a time for study. Cadets are expected to do homework and projects in the cadet area. Many cadets would use part of this time to go to the gym or relax, provided they could balance their academics and make the time. I said, "make time" for a reason. There is little time to be "found" in the cadet schedule, with the possible exception of dinner (1700-1900). Normally, there is always something more to do, but tasks must be prioritized by one's self. Do you have a lot of projects due tomorrow? Better stay up late to complete them (even if you are supposed have your lights out). Big test tomorrow? Study for that, and leave your projects for another time. PFT/AFT comming up? Hit the gym for a while and only quickly skim that history reading. At the end of your mental rope? Take an hour or two off, and hope there aren't any surprise quizes tomorrow!

    At around 2300, TAPS played, and we were supposed to go to bed. This of course, assumed we had completed our work, had our uniforms prepped for tomorrow, and were ready to sleep. This was not always an accurate assumption...

    So, that is an average day for an average cadet. Unfortunately, I was not quite average. I failed my first Physical Fitness Test, and was put on athletic probation. Ath Pro involved two basic things. First, you are restricted to base. Those passes to leave on the weekend? Yep, they don't exist for you. Second, there are mandatory PT sessions 3 days a week. These are run by upperclass Recondo CICs and a few officers. Recondo meets at the gym or field house and runs approximately from 1630 until 1800 (sometimes more like 1820). While Recondo is a good general workout, it is not tailored to individuals. For me, it was a LOT of work, with only slow gains. Fridays are usually "instructor option days." This means the squadron's cadet in charge gets to decide the workout for the day. This is a double edged sword. The workouts are better tailored to the few cadets in that squadron's Recondo program, generally get out before 1800, but tend to be higher intensity than the Recondo program's regular workouts. The worst I did was 45 minutes of "suicides" on a basketball court, with 10-15 seconds between each set. Afterwords, I went back to my room and sprawled out on the floor for 10 minutes to recover before grabbing dinner.

    So there is an average day for my 4th class year. But that does not convey the year very well. Where BCT was living for the next meal or next day, 4 dig year is living for the next weekend or leave period. The challenges are there, just like BCT, but they have changed. Military formalities still play a large role, but now everyone must focus more time on academics. While most 4-digs only have 5 academic classes (not counting PE), this load, combined with 4-dig duties and requirements proves to be quite enough for most cadets. Every cadet will face challenges. Some have trouble with academics. Some can't seem to balance their schedules. Some still have trouble with the military side of things. I had serious problems with my fitness.

    It's a new set of goals, a new set of challenges, and it's a step harder than before, just in a different way.
     
  7. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Random Ramblings: The Wisdom of Asking "Why?"

    Why? How did this happen? For what reason did you do that? These are questions that should not be skipped...for the sake of all involved.

    What do a messy room, basic cadets, a can of Gatorade, a tired cadre, and the question "why?" have in common? The answer: they all contribute to a lesson in fact finding before decision making.

    [Rod Serling voice]Imagine if you will....

    I am acting as the assistant flight commander for my squadron's 1st BCT flight (Aggressors-C Flight). It is 0430 during the second week of 1st BCT. The basics know room standards and uniform standards. They know what they are allowed to have in their rooms (basically nothing that was not issued to them). I know they know these things, because I and the flight commander taught them.

    After Reveille sounds, I use the bullhorn to get the basics out of bed and lined up in the dormitory hallway. Everything is going as usual. Some of the basics' uniforms still look a little poor, but they are improving. I am generally satisfied with how they are progressing (although I cannot let them know).

    As I walk down the hallway, glancing in each room, things look decent. At least they did, until I get about one-third down the hallway. I notice a pile of ABUs sitting on top of a SAMI bed. "They know better than that" I think, as I flip on the lights. "How am I going to correct them, this time?" "It's not a huge deal, but I taught them better than this." Those thoughts wander through my head fairly quickly.

    Then, I notice it.

    Sitting there in the middle of the floor is an unopened can of orange Gatorade. The Flight Commander, Mike, and I have told the basics at least five times not to bring food back from Mitchell Hall. We even emphasized it. We made sure they knew it was a big deal to us (as it is a simple rule and ensures they don't wind up with trash, spills, and spoiled food in their rooms). How stupid are they to leave it sitting dead center in the middle of the room!

    "This is just too much! I'm going to make a point here. They deliberately disobeyed a simple rule and didn't even try to hide it. I can't let that stand." So, I think...

    I snatch the can from the room, and walk back into the hallway. My basics are lined up on both sides of the hall, standing at attention, as usual. Well, a couple of them just went too far, and I have to make a point...and to be honest I am actually upset that two of my basics openly ignored rules I had emphasized (and I thought the flight was doing well, prior to this).

    So, I bowl the can down the hall as hard as I possibly can. The can goes sliding down the hall quickly, with a decent amount of spin. It hits hard off of the CQ desk and slides into the cross hallway.

    I scream, "ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!" at the top of my lungs. I don't even bother with propper command voice, because I am frustrated, and I want them to know it. I see the entire row of basics stiffen and rock slightly back. They know this isn't going to be a good start to the day.

    At this point, one of my 2-dig NCOs approaches me and whispers into my ear, "The SMO [safety/medical officer] gave them those last night."

    Now, I realize I just went off on my flight over something where I was wrong! At this point, I realized I was probably not going to come up with a witty way to end the issue, and would likely end up digging a hole for myself. I simply said a rather loud "Oh" and walked back into my room for a minute.

    It turns out that stiffening up of all the basics was not a "Oh no, someone screwed up and we are all in trouble" response, but a "Oh no, Cadet S____ doesn't know we were given that!"

    Fortunately, my basics understood what had happened. I had taken the evening off the previous day, and didn't know they were allowed to have the Gatorade in their room that night. They took it in good humor, especially after I returned the rather dented can of Gatorade to the basic in question the next day.

    For 100's night, my room's decorations included a Gatorade bowling lane...

    Moral of the story: Find out the facts before trying to make a dramatic point!
     
  8. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Random Ramblings: Training

    While I am by no means an expert, I have some insight to the training philosophy at USAFA and other Air Force programs.

    Good training both imparts skills and builds on positive mentalities. It clearly links its methods to its primary goals, but it can have unstated but desired goals as well.

    Take basic training as an example. Basic training has many objectives. Primarily, basics and trainees must learn and be able to follow Air Force standards. Yet, that is not all. They should be able to effectively work as team members, develop attitudes the military values (dedication, attention to detail, tenacity, etc).

    This brings up the obvious question, "How?" In some cases, adding artificial stress is intended to develop decision making skills and performance under stress. Why do TIs (aka Drill Sergeants) and cadet cadre yell and demand PT from basics and trainees? They need to be able to ignore distractions and function under stress. (They also probably need the exercise.)

    I've seen some very creative training methods. One TI at Lackland used a saluting garden gnome. When the trainees were doing poorly, he would make them talk to the gnome instead of him...but since the gnome was at present arms, they had to return the salute until the gnome dropped his. Yes, those trainees would step up their efforts anytime he even mentioned the gnome!

    A more conventional training method has to do with criticism and praise. During basic, giving praise has an interesting effect. If you reward someone for a certain level of performance, they and their comrades will assume that level is the level you desire. This causes some difficulties during basic. For several weeks, the basics' performance will be steadily improving, but will not be at the desired level. The trainers risk having their entire flight's performance plateu if they offer strong praise for anything less than perfection. As such, many good trainers will only offer praise like, "You are improving, but you still have a long way to go" for the first part of any training program. I had an excellent flight commander in basic, but the nicest thing he said to the flight in three weeks was "Today you sucked, but you sucked less than all the other flights. Suck less tomorrow."

    Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, and USAFA is no exception. Some cadets and permanent party will not always conduct good training. Sometimes they try to take parts of programs that have worked before, but miss the part that gives it meaning or brings the training to the desired objective. Other times, the tasks will be valuable, but the goals become twisted. Perceptions of "hazing" or "useless training" are some of the main causes of cynicism across the cadet wing.

    For future cadets: find the value in your training. Almost all of it will have some positive effects, but they might not be clearly stated. That skill of ignoring fear, pain, and other distractions may help out in unexpected places...

    For cadets: Make your training count! You need to know your objectives, communicate them, and design training that leads others to those objectives.

    For parents: Try to understand and help your cadets understand the intents and methods...sometimes we need reminding.
     
  9. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    The Years: 3 Dig

    Four degree year is over. Summer has passed, and a new year begins!

    Three dig year holds new squadrons, new freedoms, more passes, a little responsibility, and more core academics.

    Whereas 4 dig year is the toughest militarily, 3 dig year shines as the toughest academic year. Gone are the days of freshmen level classes. Now, more advanced material is taught, but it is still mostly core classes. What does this translate to? Answer: lots of classes you may or may not be good at, but are harder than last year's! Three dig year is when a lot of the people who will wash out for academic reasons leave. Those who decided to tough it out for a year may reconsider their decision to stay. Those on probation face tougher times as their classmates see the greater freedom of 3 dig life.

    Within academics, cadets get to experience the wonders of 200 level courses like Physics 210: Electricity and Magnetism AKA "black magic." Engineering students get higher level math courses like Calc 3 and Differential Equations. Those poor Chem/Bio people face the terror of Organic chemistry (which ends the med school hopes of about half of its students).

    As a cadet, you'll likely see some surprise exits from your classmates. (reference endurance post here) As a parent, you might hear some complaints and doubts.

    For me, 3 dig year was a story of change without difference. Those poor PFT scores were still haunting me. I was still on Recondo for most of the year. While classmates got to enjoy their greatly expanded pass packages, I was stuck in the cadet area. As a result, my DVD collection expanded greatly! (Not much else to do on winter weekends.) Fortunately, I did involve myself in the USAFA Airsoft club during freshman year. The great part of that club was most weekend games were played in and around Jack's Valley--which meant I could play even though I was restricted.
    (So, if you wind up on probation, find something on base that you like and get involved. It does wonders for preventing depression.)

    Yet, some things definitely change as a 3 dig. Training sessions actually become fun. The first training session as an upperclassman is quite an experience. You realize that controlling what exercises are done gives you a lot more ability to endure. There is a bit of a "power trip" effect as well. Be wary of that, as it is a double edged sword! The feeling of power can enable you to push your 4 digs to new levels of growth, or it can make you an egotistical jerk. Tread carefully!

    Another pitfall of 3 dig year is in setting standards. Very few people want to be viewed as jerks. Since they were recently 4 degrees, most 3 digs want to be nice to the 4 digs. There is a time and place for this, but most 3 digs don't find the appropriate balance for a while. As a result they either fail to mentor their 4 digs, or try to befriend them (instead of mentor/coach). This is a tough lesson to learn, and one few will get quickly. It does come with time and experience, somewhat...

    Cadet jobs for 3 degrees are fairly limited, but important for the future. It is here that cadets first develop their leadership styles within the cadet wing. The real go-getters often go for Chief Clerk (the only real 3 degree job within the cadet wing). Most jobs are "____ clerk" jobs. These are created within the squadron to assist the cadet NCO and Officer jobs and to develop the next years leadership within those fields (example: a "training clerk" will often become the "training NCO" the next year).

    Three dig year is also where a lot of cadets become cynical. They see the system's limitations. They want to take charge and change things, but hold very little power to do so. If you wind up here, realize that you don't have all the answers yet, but can find the ear of someone else or catalogue ideas for future changes. Quite honestly, the incomplete picture a 3 dig sees is a limiting factor, but that will change with time.

    3 dig year is really the time when cadets start to find their place within the wing. Since the squad shuffle at the end of 4 dig year, new squadmates will start to develop into teams. New friendships will be made. New ideas and new dynamics will come into play. 3 digs actually hold a huge influence on squadron competance and morale. They are the coaches to 4 digs and provide a lot of the effort behind squadron training and projects.


    Author's note:
    Being on probation for 3/4 of 3 dig year dramatically altered my experience from a more "normal" experience. As a result, this post is a little more vague than I would like, but is the best I can offer for insight into what most cadets will experience. I intend to write further on the experience of being on probation. Any multi-semester probation will affect a cadet's journey significantly, and I will explain my probation journey at another time.

    Photo: The attached photo is from the Commandant's Challenge field exercise. This is one area where 3 degree competence is critically important. Programs like GE are freshest in the minds of 3 degrees, so they must be able to help refresh training and perform personally.
     
  10. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    The Years: 2 Dig

    2 degree year is when things really get going at the academy. Cadets gain significant authority within the wing. Cars are finally authorized. Pass packages start to get more generous (especially for those on merit lists). Many academic classes are within a cadet's major/minor. In short, life improves quite a bit.

    Within the squadron, 2 digs have a variety of jobs available. The most common is that of element leader. Element leaders are responsible for about a half-dozen 3 and 4 digs. The element is the lowest organizational unit in a cadet squadron. This is where most issues are resolved, and the most mentoring/interaction amongst the 3 and 4 digs occurs. In my opinion, it is one of the more enjoyable jobs. It gives you a chance to get to know people and their abilities and practice leadership at a small-team level.

    Other jobs include various staff jobs within the squadron, like training NCO, academic NCO, safety/security NCO, etc. The squadron first shirt and superintendant are the highest squadron jobs for 2 digs, and carry significant responsibility. Group and Wing staff positions tend to mirror squadron jobs, but at higher levels. Cadets on group and wing staff will generally live with the staff, rather than their squadron. I did not hold any of these higher positions, so I cannot comment too much on them.

    Each job has its moments. One memorable one for me was as the squad's safety/security NCO. It was the weekend of the first SAMI, and I was responsible for the condition of the squadron's storage rooms (amongst other things). I had been on people all week to make sure the storage rooms were clean and within fire code (i.e. things not placed where they would block sprinkler heads, etc). On my final walk-through to make sure the rooms were unlocked, I found a pile of trash and debris right inside the doorway to one of the rooms. "Yikes! That's a squad-wide hit on the SAMI!" Well, there were about 5 minutes until the SAMI started, and I was 3 hallways over from my squad (where all the cleaning supplies were). I managed to sprint back to my room, grab some stuff, but not paper towels (used then all cleaning my room!) Fortunately, one girl down the hall heard what was going on and handed off a roll of paper towels as I sprinted back down the hall! It must have been an interesting sight, cadets doing a cleaning supply relay in service dress. Well, I made back to my room about 30 seconds before the SAMI began (dodging another squad-wide mark down).
    ...Ah, teamwork!

    For me, 2 dig year was the first academic year off probation. Getting off probation in the 2nd semester of 3 dig year was nice, but the benefits really kicked in 2 dig year. Suddenly, I had a car, more free time, and a boat load of passes. Oh, and my cadet pay increased by about 2x since my cadet loan was paid off!

    But things kept improving. AFSCs come out in the spring of 2 dig year. The week we got our AFSCs, I had a rather rough GR in my Aero class. One guy made the comment that he had barely passed (rather frustrated at his low score). I made the comment that the important number that week was 92T0 (pilot slot). We had both received it. Grinning, he agreed.

    At the end of the year, Ring Dance rolls around. It is one of the biggest events of a cadet career. A formal dinner and dance begin the long weekend of celebration. The class ring is one of the important symbols of the academy. Cadets are quick to show off their rings to each other, even though only the stone and settings are different! Symbolically, the ring is important to a lot of cadets/grads. It is a reward and way to commemorate years of hard work, development, growth, and achievement.
     
  11. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Random Ramblings: Clubs

    As unique as the academy's curriculum is, it does become routine. Cadets tend to get ground down by their schedules. Weeks of academics, military, and athletic requirements pile up. The newness of classes wears thin, and the time until the next leave or graduation begins to seem far away. People need hobbies. Everyone needs something to spice up their schedules and provide some interesting activities. For some cadets, their hobbies are IC sports or going out on the weekend. For many, clubs play an important role in keeping them happy (or sane).

    There were roughly 80 various clubs when I was a cadet. Some are huge and informal, while others are small and demanding. Everything from wargaming to debate, rodeo to flying seems to be represented. The trick is finding what you want to do.

    During my cadet career, I was seriously involved in two clubs--the airsoft club, and the Combat Shooting Team. Freshman year, I joined the airsoft club. For those who don't know, airsoft is a game where people "play army" with replicas that shoot 6mm plastic BBs. The USAFA airsoft club met several Saturdays per month to have battles in the woods. Usually, 20-30 people (cadets and people from the local area) played for several hours. Most games were capture the flag, or objective based. Several times a year, we would get an SCA to travel to larger events (often 100+ participants).

    I greatly enjoyed playing airsoft, as I liked the tactics and battle-of-wits often required to win. The group dynamic in the club was enjoyable. Cadet rank didn't matter, and we were prone to good natured taunts and jokes, when not trying to outmaneuver each other's team on the field. A huge benefit for me was that most matches occurred on base. As a cadet on probation, I could participate in on-base events. So, the airsoft club proved to be one of the few clubs I was both interested and able to participate in. I am happy to say that beyond being just a fun club, the USAFA club performed well at every event we attended. We were on the winning side of every major event we traveled to, minus one where we were outnumbered almost 3 to 1. We performed well because we worked as small teams, used decent tactics, took initiative, and physically worked harder than most others...all while having a great time. More than once we heard comments about our ability to seemingly be everywhere our team needed to be. If the team captain needed a squad to sprint across a field of play, take and hold a point, they looked to us.

    Late in my sophomore year, I heard rumors of a shooting team starting. One of the cadets who was on the airsoft club wanted to branch out a bit more. I was interested in learning how to shoot better, and this new club sounded interesting. I happened to be in a class with the guy starting the club, and asked how to join. "If you want to join, you're in" was his reply. Thus started one of the best journeys in my life...

    The "small arms club" was the reincarnation of an older USAFA Pistol Team. The old team had been a nationally competitive team for decades, but had died out in the late 1990s. Well, that was about to change. We had about 8 cadets and a retired pilot-turned-instructor to restart the club. The remnants of the old Pistol Team were a good start. We had various pistols, including 1911s, Glocks, and some .22 target pistols. The team also inheirited two shotguns and a couple AR-15 rifles. We received permission to use the CATM range at Jack's Valley for practice several times per week.

    Things started out fairly humbly. We bought some holsters and belts online, bought ammo at Wal-mart, and used the guns from the old Pistol Team. Twenty to fifty bucks a week on ammo puts a dent in a 3 dig's budget, but we made do.

    Eventually, we managed to find a process to get ammo from the Air Force. Fortunately, someone had included the old Pistol Team in the Air Force's yearly ammo allocation, and we were the new Pistol Team (under different name). This allowed us to practice much more, and use our own money to get better gear and more rifles (the two team rifles were not enough for 8 cadets to practice with). Things were getting rolling.

    The next fall, through some process unknown to me, we made contact with a civilian instructor from the Denver area. He offered to help instruct us and try to get donations for the team. He brought considerable new materials for instruction and a host of contacts. Pretty soon, we had tactical vests, slings, better holsters, better hearing and eye protection, and other things we needed to train in military-style marksmanship and techniques. We were improving quickly. Through our civilian coach, we were even able to arrange a trip to New Mexico for a weekend of instruction with a SWAT trainer. We had made great leaps from where we started.

    Well, things were not going as well as we thought. Unfortunately, there were policies the team and its leadership did not know about. After an incident exposed our lack of knowledge, the team was suspended. All practice stopped. The team was dead in the water, struggling to stay in existence. Officially, the team existed, but with graduation nearing, the two seniors who restarted the team were about to leave. That left us two juniors, four sophomores, and two freshman. Only three of us had been on the team since it restarted. The rest had been selected at tryouts that fall. Our officer-in-charge (OIC) could no longer serve in that capacity. Leaderless and unable to practice or compete, we were in serious trouble. The other rising senior and I were placed in charge of the "team."

    Getting the team going again proved challenging. I think we asked the majority of the academic departments if there was anyone interested in helping us. We had two officers in the history department who wanted to help, but one was already too busy to take the OIC position and the other was deploying to Afghanistan. It seemed that for every step we took forward, a new roadblock appeared.

    Eventually, an officer in the AOC Masters program (those studying to become AOCs the next year) contacted us. She was interested in helping the team get back on its feet. After various reviews and LOTS of work and diplomacy, the team was allowed to restart. We had equipment, but were starting back at square one training-wise. More limitations were placed on the team, so advanced techniques could not be used at the CATM range. This greatly frustrated the more experienced team members. Also, we were running out of experienced cadets. After significant planning, we held tryouts in the early spring and selected new members.

    A new race began. We had a very limited time between picking the new team members and graduation. We had to get the new shooters up to speed quickly, as the next round of tryouts would be in the fall. Our new shooters had to be trained into experienced shooters in a very short time, so they could train the next group.

    Fortunately, the new OIC and our civilian coach were extremely dedicated, and the experienced members of the team worked hard to bring the team back from its near-death experience.

    Helping to run the Combat Shooting Team proved to be one of the most challenging and rewarding efforts of my cadet career. It proved to be a big responsibility to help ensure safety and progress at the range and to keep the team on track administratively.

    Shortly before graduation, both of the firsties handed off their positions to the next class. I am proud to say that the team is doing extremely well today. The dedication of the team members, permanent party, and our coach overcame the obstacles in front of the team.

    The Combat Shooting Team proved to be one of the most enjoyable, challenging, and time-consuming activities at the academy, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

    Note: attached are a few photos from the C.S.T., as well as a link to a video the C.S.T. made shortly before being suspended.
     
  12. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    The Years: Firstie

    Ok, time for the final installment of "The Years."

    Firstie year is exciting. The vast majority of cadets know their AFSC, can take important leadership positions, and are eagerly watching the graduation countdown. A good number of their classes are in their chosen major, which is good news for most. Passes are abundant and most have their cars at the academy. Oh, now they don't have ACQ, so they can go out past 7 on weeknights. Life is good!

    First semester goes by fairly normally, except for having firstie jobs. I was lucky enough to be chosen as a flight commander for the 1st semester. Flight commanders are in charge of approximately 30-35 cadets in all four classes. They make sure everyone stays on track, gets any needed help, resolve semi-minor issues, and ensure the flight is ready for major training events. I specifically wanted to be a FLT/CC for the first semester since Commandant's Challenge occurred in November. I knew that having a good flight commander was a big help, and I enjoyed field training exercises. Fortunately, my squadron had good cadet leaders. My roommate and I were flight commanders, as well as another good friend. The squad comm was also the guy I had worked under for 1st BCT. We were able to work together pretty well, and were all dedicated to making sure the squadron was ready for any events we had coming up. I'll admit that administrative stuff and morale events were not my strong points, but we did OK there and performed very well in most areas.

    For fun, my roommate and I decided to really play up the Christmas decorations this year. I had put up 700 miniature lights in my room freshman year, and decided I wanted to beat that. Being in squadron 3 and the class of 2010, I decided that having 10 cubed (yes, 1,000) lights would be a good goal. With some lights from my parent's house and some of my own, we met that goal. Sure, we had to wrap just about every corner in our room with lights, and some places twice, but it was worth it! Now we could do homework with the lights out, even if it was a bit of a challenge to close our closets without destroying a half-dozen lights.

    I spent a good portion of first semester helping get the Combat Shooting Team back up-and-running. Fortunately, the team members were very dedicated, and we had excellent support from our OIC and civilian coach. Having an extracurricular team to help lead was a fun and sometimes very challenging experience.

    However, firstie year isn't all fun and freedom. There are several things that wind up dragging on firsties. For anyone in leadership, subordinates' mistakes can bring you down just as quick as your own (you're the leader, so any mistakes are yours too!). Unfortunately, one of my sophomores drank underage at a university downtown. While he wasn't being an idiotic drunk, he was underage. A random dorm patrol stopped by his friend's room and discovered some of them were underage. Well, news always travels... He thought it was not going to get back to USAFA, but our AOC found out about it the next week. (Low and behold, municipal and federal organizations DO talk to each other!) Getting back from class to find an Outlook appointment with my AOC 30 minutes overdue was my first clue that something was up. A closer inspection revealed that the three cadets required to meet our AOC were myself, one of my element leaders, and one of my 3 digs. I quickly talked to them to find out what was going on, and learned what happened. Getting blindsided wasn't fun for my element leader or myself, but at least we had a clue before stepping into our AOC's office. Under the Cadet Wing policy of the time, anyone getting an alcohol hit received Conduct Probation and the two levels of cadet leadership above them were restricted for two weeks. I guess it was a good thing I spent my weekends at the range on base!

    Another item that trips up some firsties are the last of the core classes, specifically astro. I'm a pretty good student, but astro is taught and tested in a foreign language! I managed to get a something like a 64% on the first GR, and astro is not a curved class. Well, I decided that I would have to study about 3-4 times as hard as most classes to keep up my grades. It worked, but it wasn't fun. More than a few cadets' graduation were nearly delayed due to astro. Classes like astro become known as "firstie killers" by the middle of 2nd semester. I had one friend who squeaked by with a D after a lot of studying--fortunate for him, as he had only one shot at it during 2nd semester! Failing astro would mean delayed graduation for anyone who had it 2nd semester.

    When 2nd semester gets rolling, firsties get more an more excited. Hundred's Night is when firsties find out what their first base will be. As a guy with a UPT slot, this isn't quite as big a deal, as most UPT bases are similar (in the middle of nowhere) and run very similar programs. However, Hundred's Night weekend is also the time when the 4 digs get to creatively "decorate" the firsties' rooms.

    Hundred's Night rooms get a variety of treaments. My room turned into the "Party Zone" complete with a Gatorade bowling lane (after my launching of a Gatorade can during BCT). I suspect this was a bit of a commentary on my roommate and I tending to be decidedly not the party types! Other firsties got some creative rooms as well. I saw one room that was turned into Omaha Beach (history major). Another became a mountain campsite, complete with rocks for a floor and a pine tree! One room even became a mop closet, as the 4 digs drywalled off most of the room, and only left it as a closet with cleaning supplies...

    Second semester also brings the appearance (or disappearance) of the "stealth firstie." Once people realize they have less than 6 months until graduation (the standard for a probation), they tend to be ultra-conservative about putting themselves in risky situations. While discussing Recognition training, an idea that pushed the training rules was suggested. The firstie in charge made the comment that he liked the idea, but "Operation: Graduation must succeed!" As the days until Graduation get closer, more and more firsties go into hermit mode. There is a competing trend as well, as some firsties realize this is their last chance to affect the changes they had always advocated. Some double-down their efforts at policy reform or mentoring the lower classes.

    As the countdown winds down even more, senioritis sets in. (No, this affliction is not exclusive to all of you high schoolers!) Fortunately for most, many seniors already have well-established grades and a firm grasp of the basics of their courses. As time went on, I found myself concerned less and less with available time to sleep. I procrastinated more and more. By the last couple weeks, I didn't find it that concerning that I stayed up until 2AM to write that 5 page mini-paper, since I got to watch Star Trek at 8PM. Fortunately, I did maintain enough work ethic to have my best GPA semester of my cadet career (although that coincided with the worst sleep habits).

    Soon enough, Graduation week was upon us! It had been forever since that June day when I first stood on the footprints, even though it also seemed like yesterday!
    ...but I think I'll save that for a different post...

    Linked are a few photos from Recognition, Hundred's Night, and Christmas.
     
  13. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    Graduation and Related Events

    If there are three events at USAFA that cadets are likely to remember for the rest of their lives they are I-day, Recognition, and Graduation. Can you guess which one is the most memorable?

    I'd seen it before, but I still had no idea about what to expect. As a four degree, I had set up the chairs, and provided crowd control for the children trying to get hats after the ceremony. As a 3 dig, I had sat in the cold watching President Bush congratulate the firsties turned LTs. (note picture below). As a 2 dig, I had the honor of sitting on stage, as part of the "Outstanding Squadron" of the year. Along with that, I had the honor of trying not to move or look bored for three hours as the ceremony progressed. Fortunately, I was usually one seat out of the camera angles! Now, how would this Graduation Day go?

    First, realize that "graduation" is more than just the ceremony! Walking across the stage and throwing your hat in the air as the the Thunderbirds scream overhead is the part everyone focuses on, but it's not the whole story.

    Planning for grad week starts some months in advance. Fortunately for me, my parents wanted to organize most of the planning and preparations for the family and friends side of things. (Note to cadets: if your parents offer this, I HIGHLY recommend accepting their offer!) We invited family and friends, as well as people who had helped me in preparing for the academy. My original Scoutmaster was able to attend. He had been a good role model and mentor, and had talked about his desire to attend USAFA as a high-school student. I was proud to have him attend. My parents handled many of the details, and arranged for the group to stay at a hotel on the south side of town. Choosing that hotel made for a longer drive, but they wanted to be a little further from I-25 than most of the hotels near the academy.

    The first big events of the week were the Organizational Awards Parade and the Graduation Parade. As a firstie, these are a mixture of good and bad. None of us was really excited about going to two more parades. After four years, we had had enough parades. Yet, the graduation parade was the parade for us, and has symbolic significance, being the reverse of the Acceptance Day parade. Well, Colorado threw a curve ball, or more specifically gusty, 40mph winds, to make things more interesting! Par for the course, I guess. It was one of the few times I have seen winds form patterns on a well-mowed grass field. Fortunately, I had told my parents to bring clothing for ANY weather! Colorado never disappoints in its ability to frustrate the weatherman.

    Grad week also includes various dinners and dances. I recommend the Superintendent's Reception. That was a nice opportunity to mill with various families and guests.

    Commissioning ceremonies occur the night before Graduation. This is where you "pin on" your 2nd Lieutenant rank for the first time, after taking the oath of office. It is done as a squadron event, at various locations around base. My squad chose to have the ceremony at the golf course. It worked out fairly nicely, although the room where we held the ceremony was a little on the small side. However, the course is a great place for the ceremony if the weather is nice.

    For cadets, the whole week is building to Graduation, but at the same time things are going haywire. Grad week has all the festivities, all the celebrations, tours with the families, etc, but it is also moving week! So, while you have a whole lot of events to attend and enjoy, you also have to pack and ship everything you own by Graduation day. It is an odd process. "Mom, Dad, this is my room, but it looks completely different than normal because most everything is in boxes on the floor now!"

    OK, enough with the build-up! You didn't open this page to read about the stuff before Graduation, did you!? Parents don't care about the entire class practicing how to march onto the field into the rows of seats. They probably don't know that the Commandant practices with the Thunderbirds to get the timing of the hat-toss correct. They probably don't care that the firsties practice putting their hands up and down for the oath of office. These are little details that become invisible during the ceremony.

    So, the day was finally here! I had made it to Graduation. Those days of wondering if my congressional interviews were good enough, if my CFA scores would pass, the long PT sessions during Recondo and the fears that the next PFT might be what got me kicked out, the all-nighters writing reports, the spirit missions, training sessions, the days of range practices with the Combat Shooting Team, the late night discussions about the stupidity of Cadet Wing policies, the cadet experience--from the confusion of I-day to the confidence of instructing the next year's 4-digs--it was all coming to an end. I put on my parade dress, with my firstie shoulder boards, grabbed my LT boards, my car keys, and headed out to the Stadium to get there a few hours early, along with the rest of my class.

    We all had to arrive early for the big day. Outside the stadium, there was a complete set of seats, exactly like inside the stadium. As we arrived, attendance was taken, to ensure that everyone was there. (It would look bad to call someone's name, and them not be there to walk across the stage!) As time progressed, the class arrived. A few were obviously tired from a sleepless night, a couple were coming off a bit of a hangover from parties the previous evening, and we were all nervously excited to be there. As the march on neared, the last stragglers arrived, after suffering various delays and issues. Everyone made it.

    Pretty soon, the time arrived. We formed up and began marching down the tunnel. We marched through the tunnel before football games all the time, but now was certainly different. Ready to go, we waited for the music to start. I don't doubt that for that day, the favorite song of 1001 cadets was "National Emblem"--the song played for the march on. Eventually, the band started playing, and the stadium erupted with the cheers of over 1000 families.

    The march on was unbelievable. The past 5 or so years of work came to this. That song filled me with pride. The cheers of the crowd were for us!...and I still was having trouble deciding which beat was supposed to be "left!" That moment is the only time I can remember ever having to suppress tears of joy. It was that kind of moment.

    We managed to march into our seats without completely messing up the rows. After taking seats, we heard from various officials and Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave his speech. By all standards, it was a good speech, even though I don't remember much of it! Eventually, he ended his speech, and moved on to awarding diplomas.

    Handing out 1001 diplomas takes a while! We waited for our turn with a little impatience! Finally, my squad was called up...and I say "finally" fully realizing that I was in the 3rd of 40 squadrons. It still seemed like a long wait! Well, I messed up in a comical way. I committed that error that the Falcons rarely make--a false start! I was listening to each of my squad mates being called forward. I figured out the average delay, and started walking up the ramp after what I figured was about the right amount of time. Well, the lady reading names didn't have the same timing as I did! So, after I made it halfway up the ramp, she hurriedly read my name. I'm glad she was on her game, because I had thrown a good curve-ball with that one! It all worked out though.

    After all the diplomas had been handed out (with the last cadet getting a LOUD round of cheering), we stood for the Air Force Song and Oath of Office. At the end of this, we waited for those magic words: "Class of 2010, you are DISMISSED!" With that, we hurled our parade caps skyward, a split second before the Thunderbirds screamed overhead. What a moment! Cigars appeared, and we went nuts celebrating for about 10 minutes.

    Eventually, I worked my way into the stands and found my family and friends. After some more celebrating, I left to finish up out-processing. After throwing out a few things and loading my car until there was less than two inches of space between my stuff and the ceiling, I handed in my cadet shoulder boards, and got the last of my out-processing paperwork.

    What a day!

    My group celebrated with a nice dinner. The next morning, I geared up and began my 1,000 mile drive to Chicago to start off my 60 Days of leave.
     
  14. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    AFSCs

    At some point, every cadet will need to decide for him or herself what kind of career they will have in the Air Force. An integral part in this decision is what career field, or Air Force Specialty Code, they want to be part of. There are many choices, but some are restricted by major, some require prerequisites that cannot be obtained by graduation (Flight Surgeon for example), and others are extremely competitive. If you want to be a research engineer or doctor, hopefully you had the foresight to pick a major that works. For those of us who did not want an AFSC with majors based prerequisites, many choices still remain.
    Some people compete for extremely tough jobs like CRO or STO (Combat Rescue and Special Tactics Officers) or boarded AFSCs like OSI (Office of Special Investigations). The majority of USAFA grads will put a rated (flying) AFSC first. These are pilot, navigator, air battle manager, and, I believe, RPA operators. (NOTE: my info for RPA is dated and may be inaccurate, as that was not even an option for my class.)
    So, how does it work? During their time at USAFA, every cadet is ranked by their OPA. This is the weighted average of their GPA, MPA, and PEA. The OPA ranking is the starting point for the AFSC assignment system. Each cadet will also have a Form 94. Form 94s are basically a performance report where the person rating them has a chance to showcase the cadet’s best qualities, experiences, and projects. Often times, cadets will write the bullets, as most AOCs cannot keep track of every accomplishment cadets make. Each Form 94 has a limited number of bullets, and a limited space to write them. Bullet writing is an art that is introduced during this process. I highly recommend cadets writing their own bullets have a permanent party member read their draft! Since bullets convey a lot of information in a very compact space, it is important to make them informative and extremely concise. Some cadets will have the chance for extra Form 94s, if they are ranked highly in some area. I was fortunate to be one of the higher ranking history majors, so I received an extra Form 94 for that. This is valuable because it allows a cadet to submit more bullets. DO NOT duplicate bullets, if you have more than one Form 94! Once the Form 94s are submitted, a board will review each cadet’s file. They will adjust a cadet’s ranking, based on their Form 94s. As such, a strong set of Form 94s can significantly boost a cadet’s ranking.
    Once every cadet is ranked, their preferences are taken into account. Each cadet will fill out a list of their preferences. For my class, we could fill out 3 rated preferences, and 5 non-rated preferences. If we left some places blank, these became “needs of the Air Force,” meaning whatever AFSC the Air Force needed more people for.
    Each year, USAFA receives a certain amount of slots for each AFSC. Using some black magic (or perhaps Microsoft Excel), USAFA combines the AFSCs available and cadet preferences, based on their rankings. What this means is the first-ranked cadet is almost guaranteed their first choice, and the last-ranked cadet will get whatever is left. Thus, it pays to be ranked well!
    The ranking and preferences will be input sometime during the early-to-middle part of 2 degree year. In the early spring, the results will be released to the cadet wing.
    Hopefully, this was informative and accurate. All of my information is based on the AFSC selection for the class of 2010.
     
  15. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    So, You Want to be a Pilot? (IFS)

    With a sizeable portion of USAFA grads going into flying AFSCs, I thought it might be a good idea to talk a bit about the Air Force’s pilot training program.
    The Air Force starts by sending every student pilot to Initial Flight Screening in Pueblo, Colorado. Pueblo is about an hour south of Colorado Springs and USAFA, so many grads end up visiting friends still at the academy at some point.
    IFS is currently run through Doss Aviation. Doss has a full-service training complex at the airport. Lodging, dining, a gym, academics, and flying are all done out of the Doss facility. The building is fairly nice, but oddly, none of the hotel rooms have windows (most are on the interior of the building.) The lack of windows and a schedule that keeps most students either on the flightline or in the building for most of the week has earned Doss a few nicknames. I preferred the “USS Doss,” as it seemed almost like a land-bound aircraft carrier—everything in the building, except the flightline, and you don’t leave often! One good thing about the facility is the dining hall. The food is good, and you can get quite a lot of it, if you want. They usually have sandwiches, cooked meals, a short-order grill, and deserts. I never heard anyone complain about the food, so it was definitely much more appreciated than Mitch’s.
    The program itself is a serious sprint for most students. IFS tries to introduce Air Force style pilot training to students in classic “fire hose” style. The first week is academics, and consists of long days of briefing after briefing, with some tests thrown in. The tests aren’t unfair, but they are not particularly easy either. Passing is 85%. For the first week, most students will get up, get breakfast, go to briefings for the day, and study in the evening. Most material is posted on the Doss system, accessed via loaner computers provided to every student. I HIGHLY recommend completing all online reviews to 100%, as they are very similar to the tests, even though it is time intensive. Failing out of IFS for academics is frowned upon (i.e. the AF might not give you another AFSC). Don’t be stupid (seemingly always good advice).
    Once flying begins, things are structured much like Phase II of UPT (T-6As). Expect to have a mass brief with your flight 1st thing in the morning, including stand-up EPs. Stand-ups are where an Instructor will provide a situation for a student to analyze and solve. You will be expected to figure out what is wrong, apply the correct procedures, and describe how you will safely land the plane. Several emergencies have Boldface items—checklists that must be stated and completed VERBATIM from memory. Don’t stutter or try to change something part way through. It’s already too late, and you have failed the stand-up. After the mass brief, each student will study, go work-out, or fly. Each flight starts with an individual briefing with the Instructor Pilot. It will cover things like take off and landing distances (TOLD card), weather forecasts, the profile for the flight (where you are going, how you’ll get there, and in what order), safety topics, and a few other details. After this, you will go sign out an aircraft at the step desk, and step to the flightline.
    One the flightline, students preflight the aircraft. This is about 90 items of checklist material before engine start. You’ll start slow, but be able to get it down in about 10-15 minutes by the time you have your checkride. Once you start, you’ll taxi to the main ramp, run up the engine, and depart. You’ll fly one of several departures to practice areas or auxiliary fields for your maneuvers. Each flight will include some pattern work and area maneuvers. None of the maneuvers are terribly complicated, but some of them have precise limits to pass (for example, some maneuvers will allow up to 10 knots of extra airspeed, but zero knots below the briefed airspeed). For students without much experience, the hard parts are knowing the procedures (altitudes, airspeeds, radio calls, headings, etc) well enough to recall them while trying to fly the aircraft and talk to the IP, and developing situational awareness. It is similar to learning to drive in 3 dimensions. Most people aren’t used to it, and don’t know what to focus on at what times. Having situational awareness allows you to plan and stay “ahead of the aircraft.” You never want to be reacting to what is happening around you, but rather be planning what to do in the next few minutes or how you will enter and exit the next maneuver.
    As you progress, the requirements for how well you can fly each maneuver will increase. At first, you will just have to attempt things. After a short time, you will have to do them safely. By the time you hit your checkride, most things will have to be within a set of parameters, described for each maneuver. This is called MIF. Each maneuver will have a set MIF to make (U for unsat, F for fair, G for good, and E for excellent). U is a failing grade, but the expectation for most new maneuvers. F is what I would call “ugly but reasonably safe.” G is within maneuver limitations, and generally a pretty well done maneuver. E is usually awarded for maneuvers flown in “textbook” style.
    Some students will progress faster than others. The guy with 2300 hours (who flew professionally as a civilian) was able to skip most of the normal flights and proficiency advance very quickly. Others will hit occasional road blocks, and have to repeat rides or start the elimination process. If you fail three daily rides in a row or the checkride, you go to a “progress check” or “88.” The 88 is a one-time check to see if you have the skills to keep advancing. If you pass, you go back to training as normal. If you fail the 88, you go to an “elimination check” or “89.” Eighty-nine rides are things to be avoided! It is basically a pass/fail ride to see if you will continue IFS or wash out. That said, there can be multiple 89 rides. For example, if you fail daily rides and get sent to an 88 and 89, pass the 89, then fail your checkride later on, you will get another 89 ride. After the 89 ride, there is a final commander’s review. Generally, the CR goes with the results of the 89. Occasionally, there will be extenuating circumstances and the student will be allowed to continue training.
    Most of the way through the program, students will have a chance to solo. The solo is a confidence builder for students, and demonstrates that the IPs trust them not to crash in the pattern. Solo sorties are generally 3 trips around the traffic pattern, then a full stop. It is nothing fancy, but exciting none-the-less. If it is your first solo, it will be something you remember for a LONG time.
    For me, the DA-20 was the 2nd aircraft I soloed. I had done the powered flight program at the academy, in a DA-40. My solo was interesting, haha. We flew up to Butts Army Airfield at Ft. Carson, flew a couple patterns there, then taxied to parking, shut down, and my IP got out. He gave a few words of advice, then left for the control tower. I started the engine, requested to taxi to the runway, and take off. I got my taxi clearance, and started moving, only to hear something quite unexpected. “Tiger 54, Solo, confirm your flaps are set to Take-off?” …Uh…OK. I looked over at the flap indicator, only to see them indicating full up—Cruise configuration. Well, that’s odd!...(slam the breaks to stop taxiing). What the heck did I miss on the checklist?! Engine start went well. All those items are good. Let’s see…OH! THE ENTIRE ENGINE RUN-UP CHECKLIST! That would be good to do! Apparently, in my excitement, I had forgotten that since there was no Doss ramp/main ramp split, I had to do my run-up where I had originally parked…oops! “Tower, Tiger 54 Solo, holding on the ramp for engine run up.” “Roger Tiger 54 solo, let us know when you are ready to go again.” So, after take-off, things went better. Although, I did surprise myself by climbing 200 feet in the pattern when I dropped my flaps for landing. I guess having 240lbs less weight without the IP made a difference to the 1400lb plane!
    At the end of IFS, each student takes a check ride. The check ride is one of the standard profiles, with a specific set of maneuvers to accomplish. The check IP evaluates rather than instructing. The student is supposed to run the sortie by themselves. Unfortunately, I lost situational awareness partway through my flight, and tried to enter the pattern for a runway 90 degrees off from the one I was supposed to land on. I hit the entry point, and realized something was odd (almost always an indicator that you lost SA). I kept going, until I saw another DA-20 climbing at an angle 45 degrees toward me, and turning into and behind me. “Well, that’s odd. Something’s definitely wrong here,” I thought. About that time, I heard what no student wants to hear on a checkride…”I have the Aircraft.” My IP took the aircraft, made a quick 90 degree turn, and said, “do you see the runway now?” “(sigh) Yeah, I see it,” I said, as the numbers became readable and it became more than glaringly obvious I had been going to the wrong one. Well, so much for the checkride! Fortunately, the 88 went just fine.
    IFS is a sprint of a program. If you want to be successful, it is best to put in maximum effort every day you are there. There is not much down time during the week. (Wise students will take at least part of the weekend off, to prevent burnout.) Work hard, and try to have some fun, because the program is set on full-blast firehose.
     
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  16. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    So, you want to be a pilot? (Phase I and II, part 1)

    After IFS is done, student pilots have Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (JSUPT) or Euro-Nato Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT, pronounced “en-jept” ). Both programs are known as “UPT” to most people. JSUPT starts at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas, Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma, Columbus AFB in Columbus, Mississippi, and Pensacola NAS/Whiting Field in Pensacola, Florida (with the Navy). ENJJPT is done at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. I went to Laughlin AFB for Phase I and II of UPT.
    Most academy grads will have some time as APTs (awaiting pilot training) or “casual” before their class starts. Often, casual students will be assigned some sort of job until they start Phase I of UPT. These jobs may be working in the transition office, helping people inprocess, or doing things like marshalling jets on the flight line or checking IDs at the gate. I was lucky enough to get a job on the ramp, marshalling T-6s with maintenance. Fortunately, it wasn’t the middle of the summer, as the average highs ran about 104F every day this past summer! The fall and winter weren’t bad at all though. Working the T-6 flightline was nice, in that I was able to watch crews do pre-flights, learn the hand signals, and start to learn the parts and pieces of the T-6. It was not a huge advantage, but it certainly helped here and there. Knowing when to pause to signal the crew chief and what signals to give helped avoid some confusion, right off the bat. Also, I got to work on and around aircraft, which in my opinion is way better than doing paperwork in the office!
    After some medical exams and administrative work, students start Phase I—academics. Phase I covers things like aerospace physiology, egress training, aircraft systems, weather, navigation, instruments procedures, emergency procedures, and more. Students can expect 4-8 hours of lectures or computer based classes each day, with however much home study time they think is necessary. Academics is not too demanding, but some of the tests require a fair bit of studying. As in IFS, passing for academic tests is 85%.
    During Phase I, students will also be introduced to the simulators. There are 3 types of T-6 simulators, UTDs, IFTs, and OFTs. UTDs are basically the front cockpit of a T-6, attached to a computer system that will keep the instruments displaying correctly and provide control feedback. They are the simplest sims, and are used for learning switchology and checklist procedures. Students can also check out the UTDs for personal practice, with permission from their instructors. IFTs are similar to UTDs, but with a projector screen for a forward view. These are used for instrument sims, during Phase II. OFTs are the most complex (and cool) sims. These are front cockpits set up inside a 270 degree projection screen. These are normally used for emergency procedures sims, where students will have to deal with in flight emergencies and safely land (or eject). Most sims are done during Phase II, but a couple procedures sims in UTDs occur during phase I.
    After about 6 weeks of academics, classes move on to Phase II—T-6As. Starting Phase II is like getting thrown into the deep end of the pool…from the 10 meter platform! Students are required to be in the flight room, the computer lab, or on a sortie for the duty day, which is usually 11.5-12 hours long. Working 6AM-6PM or 7 to 7 is the standard. If you aren’t flying, you should be studying, in the sims, or getting ready for your next flight or sim. By the time you are a couple flights in, the IPs start to ask things in the style of “why don’t you know all of this already?” For me, it was a kick in the pants to go from 6-8 hours of work and studying in Phase I to 12 hours of work, plus whatever time I could make to study at home. For the first few weeks, my routine was work, study, sleep, repeat.
    Flying T-6s is like a rollercoaster, both physically and mentally. The aircraft itself is a little sports car of a plane—two seats and 1100 horsepower! Things happen a lot faster at 200 knots than the 60-100 knots of the little Diamonds at IFS. Flying a more complex, high performance aircraft, while trying to learn new procedures and maneuvers leads to what most people call “helmet fire.” Helmet fire is basically the feeling that you are giving 100% of your ability just to try to keep up with what is going on…and not always succeeding. Students’ SA bubbles (how much they can stay aware of) tend to be pretty small at this point.
    For most students, within a few weeks, things start to settle down a bit. Once the local procedures are learned, maneuvers are practiced, and they get used to the world going by twice as fast, students will not need to spend nearly every waking minute studying. That said, the work and study load is still pretty high. You can go to a high workload pace instead of the burnout pace that dominates the first month or so.
    After about a dozen flights, students get their chance to solo the T-6. The first solo is a pattern solo, but exciting none the less. One of my friends had an ELT (emergency beacon) start transmitting over the radio while he was flying. He didn’t know how to turn off the receiver for that frequency, and it was overpowering the signal from the runway controller. After a couple of stressed-out sounding radio calls, the operations supervisor at the step desk was able to tell him how to turn the guard receiver off. Of course, we all gave him a hard time for sounding freaked out on the radio!
    After soloing, students have a couple more blocks of flights (totaling about a dozen, if I remember correctly), then their first check ride. Check rides in UPT are BIG deals. There are four during Phase II—mid-phase, final contact, instruments, and formation. Combined, they make up about half of the score that goes into ranking each student. Not only are check rides very important to grading, and thus how likely you are to get your top choice later on, but they also initiate the elimination process if you fail. So, instead of having to fail 3 consecutive rides before going to an 88 or 89, you go straight to one if you fail the check ride.
    Every check ride has several possible profiles, which dictate the order of the flight and the maneuvers to be graded. Usually, the day before the check, the student will be informed of their check pilot and profile. The day of the check, the student will do their normal pre-flight planning, go to the check section office, fill out a bold-face/ops limits sheet, then report in to their Check IP. From there, they will brief the IP for the flight, go fly the profile. Check rides have a different atmosphere in the aircraft, because the Check IP is there to grade the student and ensure safety. They generally will not talk except to ensure flight safety or perhaps to deal with situations the student has never seen before (which somehow inevitably seem to occur on Check rides).
    After the flight they will answer general knowledge questions (“GK”) about the aircraft, local rules, and Air Force regulations. The last portion of the check is a “table-top EP,” where the IP will give the student an emergency situation and have them determine what is wrong and how to safely land the aircraft (or eject). The EP ends when the student is safely on the ground, and out of the aircraft. Students have a chance to ask set-up questions before analyzing the issue, in order to get a better idea of things like where they are in the scenario, what the outside conditions are, etc. Then, they can ask analysis questions to identify the problems with the aircraft. After this, the student informs the IP of what is wrong, and how to deal with the problem. Finally, they talk through exactly what they will do, who they will communicate with, and how to safely get to the ground. After all of this, the check ride is considered over, and the check IP will debrief the student on their performance and tell them whether they passed or not.
    For ranking purposes, the important thing is the number of downgrades a student receives. Each maneuver is considered to be an “E” unless there is a downgrade. Each area or maneuver not flown to specific standards will receive a at least one downgrade. Some errors are bad enough that they fall below the required grade for that maneuver (multiple downgrades), and automatically cause the student to fail the check ride. Safety of flight violations and procedural errors are the most common automatic failures. Students and IPs generally talk about check flight scores with the number of downgrades and overall score. A “5E” would be an “excellent” overall, with 5 downgrades. Generally, scores below a 6 or 7 are considered very good. A score in the 7-12 range is decent, and anything above that is rather poor. Oddly enough, the overall grade is not a major factor for ranking purposes. So, a “5E” and a “5U” will rank a person in the same place, numerically, even though the 5U was a failure that sent the student to an 88 or 89. One of my friends had a “5U” score. He flew an almost perfect flight, but made a procedural error on an instrument approach. So, while he had a good score, he had to go to an 88 ride for failing the check ride.

    …more to follow in part 2.
     
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  17. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    So, you want to be a pilot? (Phase I and II, part 2)

    [First, a note on my writing schedule. I apologize to anyone who was waiting for this to be written. I do not like to write about training in progress, as I don't think I fully understand the implications of training in real time. Sometimes time clarifies and showcases good and bad much better than impressions in the heat of the moment. I will not be writing about Phase III for some time, for these reasons.]

    UPT has several major blocks of instruction. Contact, prior to the Mid-Phase checkride is mostly about normal maneuvers and emergency recovery procedures. Students learn the local procedures, various types of take-offs and landings, how to recover from several types of stalls, and spin recoveries. Essentially, this portion of training is to allow a student to be able to safely fly in the local area, in good weather.

    The "Final Contact" section focuses more on aerobatics. This is a fun section for people who enjoy pulling Gs and doing loops and rolls. Students learn how to fly a variety of aerobatic maneuvers to a set of maneuver parameters. The most exciting rides in this block are the area solos. Usually, each student will have two area solos to go practice by themselves. This is the first time in UPT where a student will solo outside of the local traffic patterns. It is the first time a student will run an entire normal sortie by themselves. Most students do aerobatics until they get bored or scare themselves by not flying a maneuver as well as they expected. While there are safeties built in, like only being allowed to do certain maneuvers, and only those maneuvers the student performed to the standard on the previous attempt, minor things go wrong. I tried to perform a barrel roll, and wound up having to pull more Gs than the standard to recover (not breaking any limits, but coming closer than I was comfortable with). Barrel rolls weren't my strength, so I decided to leave them until I had an IP to provide pointers again! When students finish their aerobatics, they tend to either fly back to the traffic pattern, or fly "border patrol" as we called it. Flying "border patrol" is not doing any demanding maneuvers, but cruising around the area for a little while. How much "border patrol" a student did depended on how much aero they were comfortable doing, how much time their sortie called for, and how much fuel they had left.

    My first area solo went poorly, in that the winds changed and I was recalled before I even did one maneuver in the area! Of course, they weren't too specific on why my plane had been recalled by name. I spent the next 5 minutes or so wondering if this was something not my fault or if I was in serious trouble! (I guess I was the only solo in the areas at the time.) Because my first area solo had been cut short, my second had to be LONG to meet the syllabus required times. I happily did aerobatics until I realized I was burning too much fuel to do that the whole time! So, I wound up flying a bit of "border patrol" and a significant number of patterns back at base. I landed that sortie with the least amount of fuel of any sortie in Phase II. Yes, I was thinking, "can I get the required flight time without violating my reserve minimums?" Morale of the story: don't go blasting around doing aerobatics at high power settings and expect to get good fuel economy!

    The next two major blocks are intermixed or flown in either order. Instrument phase contains a lot of sim rides and a few aircraft rides. The sims are more economical, and are just about as good for instrument training as real flights, in my opinion. That said, real flying time isn't quite the same, and definitely beneficial. I did not enjoy the instrument rides as much as the other rides. Instrument flying is all about regulations and precision inputs, with only numbers and dials to show you the world around you. Instrument flight regulations can be exacting, because airspace is only guaranteed to be free from known obstructions if you follow certain parameters. Now, if you know the rules, can visualize the situation based on your instruments, plan several moves ahead, and fly smoothly and precisely, instrument flying is not bad at all. That, however takes practice! Almost every detail of an instrument flight could be pre-planned...and how much preparation you did usually became obvious in the aircraft. If you planned right, you knew how many miles out you had to start your descent. You knew which method you would use to complete an approach, with each heading, airspeed, altitude, and descent rate computed already. If you came with a rehearsed script, chances where decent you would do well. Of course, in reality, a few monkey wrenches might get thrown into your plan, but if you had a sound plan, you could alter things without losing situational awareness.

    Formation is the other major block, and my personal favorite. Whereas instruments was all about regs and flying off the gauges, formation was primarily responding to visual ques and constantly making fine adjustments to get and stay in position. Think of trying to drive along side another car by using your cruise control rather than pedals. Now do it in 3D, while turning, climbing, and descending. It is challenging, but when it goes well, it is an absolute blast! Flying in formation required fine adjustments and a basic understanding of energy and geometry in relation to the lead aircraft. Being on the inside or outside of a turn, whether lead was at the top of an arc or going through the bottom required different power settings. In more extended formations, where you pointed your aircraft's turn circle compared to the lead's determined what position you would move to.

    Now, formation required a bit of planning and rehearsal, if you wanted to have a good flight. Planning the order of events, how each one would start, and discussing your preferences and tendencies with your partner greatly improved how well you did, as a flight. Having your wingman know you would start with one maneuver, move to the next, turn back toward the center of the area, then begin the next maneuver with a turn up and toward him, etc. helped the wingman stay in position, and kept the lead's plan moving efficiently. As lead, planning your next maneuver, and flying smoothly and predictably created an easy platform for the wingman to follow, and kept everyone in their assigned airspace. If you have seen the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels sitting at a table going through their routine in their minds, making every verbal call, and moving their hands, that is the epitome of the level of planning that makes formation flying flow smoothly.

    There are two non-checkride blocks in T-6s. The Navigation block is rolled into instruments, and the Low-level block is a couple rides at the very end of the program. Navigation is usually done as a weekend cross-country trip to a couple airports the student has never flown to before. The point of these flights is to give the student experience outside the local area and have them plan a trip for themselves. Things like routing, compatible approaches, airfields that permit military T-6s and have the right kind of fuel and equipment available, booking hotels and transportation for the crews, and more goes into these flights. It is usually a rather fun experience, and requires some organizational and planning efforts outside of simply picking maneuvers and a route for the next day's flight. The Low Level block is an introduction to low-level navigation and planning. I don't know how other bases do it, but we had several training routes to choose from. These flights were low threat, as the last checkrides had already been completed, and the required level of proficiency for the block was not that difficult. Low Level was more about introducing students to a different style of flying than they had been focusing on.

    At the end of Phase II is the track. This is where students go one of several ways for advanced training. Many people's top pick is T-38s. The T-38 is a two-seat, twin-engine jet trainer. This is the fighter/bomber track. T-38s are the only track that produces fighter and bomber pilots, although getting T-38s does not guarantee that a student will get a fighter or bomber. Most of the time, the T-38 slots will go to the top few students in the class. The majority of students will get T-1s. T-1s are basically a business jet that the Air Force uses to train transport and tanker pilots. The T-1 track has quite a range of possible aircraft that students can be assigned to. C-17s, C-5s, C-130s, KC-10s, and KC-135s are some of the common ones. When I went through, there was the option to track T-44s to Corpus Christie. That program was a Navy program, and AF grads from there would go on to C-130s. So, if a student was set on C-130s that was the way to go. I believe this will no longer be an option, and AF C-130 pilots will mostly be from T-1s from now on. The fourth option is UH-1s at Ft Rucker. UH-1s (moving to upgraded TH-1s) train AF helicopter and CV-22 Osprey pilots. Usually there is only one UH-1 slot per class, as the "vertical lift" community in the AF is rather small. As such, the competitiveness of UH-1 slots varies by class.

    For track selection, each student is ranked by checkride scores, their flight commander's ranking, daily ride scores, and academic scores. Each student fills out a form ranking their choices for track. The requested choices are combined with the ranking and available slots to determine who gets what. The top student will almost always get their first choice. The lower one ranks, the less likely it is that they will have their first choice.

    After Phase II, students move into Phase III for their next aircraft, and a similar process starts again.
     
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  18. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    So, you want to be a (Helicopter) Pilot? (SUPT-H)

    During T-6s, some of the smarter students (or more insane, depending on your viewpoint) put UH-1s at the top of their track select dream sheet. Out of a class of 25-30, usually one or two students will go to UH-1s. Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training - Helicopter is the more official name of the helo track. All students who get SUPT-H will move to Ft. Rucker, Alabama for their training.

    Hidden away at Ft. Rucker (the Army's main helicopter training post) is a single Air Force squadron. That squadron, the 23rd, is a relatively unique thing in the Air Force. It is a very small squadron, by UPT standards. There are only about 3-6 students in each class. The instructors are split between Air Force IPs and civilian contractors (VERY experienced former Army and AF helicopter pilots). The 23rd is a dot of AF Blue in a sea of Army green.

    The SUPT-H program is set up very similar to Phase 1 and 2 of JSUPT, in many respects. After students in-process to Ft. Rucker and the 23rd, they start with several weeks of academics. These weeks cover the general aircraft, rotary wing aerodynamics, aircraft systems, regs, etc. This is when the old saying that a helicopter is "10,000 parts flying in close formation" starts to sink in for most students! Fortunately, the academic instructors do most of the teaching, instead of leaving it to computer based training like much of T-6 academics.

    After academics, students move to the flight line, and the classic UH-1H Huey. If you think about the Vietnam vintage Huey, this is it. The UH-1H is pretty much manual everything and analog everything. Each one is a little bit unique, after about 40 years of flying. To give an example of some differences in design and operation from what students flew previously, the T-6 had a Rube Goldberg system to blowing the canopy out in the event of an emergency that involved explosives, lasers, and self-generating electrical systems. The Huey, on the other hand, had a handle that was wired to the hinge pins on the doors. In an emergency, pull the handle, kick the door, and get out! The old Huey is a different animal, altogether than what students learned to fly before.

    Fortunately for the students, the Contact phase is taught by some very experienced instructors. Unlike T-6s, contractor IPs actually teach flying sorties at Rucker. The contractor IPs are pretty much all high-time, retired AF and Army helicopter pilots. Some of them have over 40 years of flying experience and have enough flying time that they stopped really keeping track at 25,000 hours! (Compare that with "Sully" Sullenberger of Hudson River fame, who had about 19,000 hours, at the time.) I literally had IPs point out parts on the Huey that are no longer included in the technical manuals.

    Contact is where students learn how to fly all over again. Due to the aerodynamic differences between fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, the controls in a Huey operate a bit different than a T-6. Unlike the T-6 throttle, where forward is more power, and back is less, the Huey has a collective lever where up is more power, down is less, and the engine RPM is controlled by a twist grip. Instead of pulling back on the throttle to slow down, a Huey pilot pulls back on the stick and lowers the collective. Instead of rudder pedals, the helo pilot has anti-torque pedals, but in directional terms, these still control yaw in a similar way. The fun part is learning to manage the controls to hover in one spot on command! It is not a "set and forget" type of system. Lots of small corrections are required to remain stable. Similar to T-6 contact, students in UH-1 contact learn various types of approaches, take-offs, emergency procedures, etc. Contact sorties are flown to local "stage fields" which have several mini-runways called "lanes." These provide an orderly way to practice many types of maneuvers, including ones with slide landings (as the Huey doesn't have wheels). Contact includes a pattern "team solo" where two students fly the aircraft while the IP watches from the ground. Of course, there is a checkride at the end of Contact. Fortunately, most students are well prepared for their contact checkride, due to a good amount of sorties and experienced instruction. After the checkride, students go back to academics for the transition to the TH-1H. The TH-1 is very similar to the UH-1, but is rebuilt and modernized. The big changes for students are nicer seats, newer radios, and an all-digital instrument panel. Students then receive a couple rides to get used to the TH-1's characteristics.

    Next in the syllabus comes Instruments. Since helicopters can slow down without falling out of the sky, they are able to get some interesting exceptions to instrument rules, but otherwise, it is very similar to instrument flying in any other aircraft...things just go by a little slower at 100mph in a Huey than the 200+ of the T-6. Most of the instrument block is done in the sims. The TH-1 sims are modern, full-motion sims, and extremely nice. The block includes a couple actual flights, although the checkride is usually done in the sim. I actually think that is nice, as it allows the check IP to tailor the training more than actually flying around with good weather and other aircraft getting in the way.

    After instruments, there are a couple cross-country sorties. These are almost always enjoyable flights. Many students plan a leg of their flights along the Florida coast, which is quite scenic! Unlike T-6s, where most of the planning is instrument based, Huey cross-countries are based on VFR nav. That is to say, we go by headings, timing, and points on the ground, rather than radio-navigational aids and Air Traffic Control vectors. Cruising at a thousand feet looking for the big lake at 7 minutes and forty seconds is a bit different than cruising on the 123 Radial from a VOR at 24,000 feet in a T-6. Neither is necessarily better, but they are very different!

    After cross-country, the "mission phase" starts. This is where students really start learning "helicopter stuff." The first part is called "Remotes," and consists of navigating to a designated field (that's chunk of grass, not airfield), evaluating the landing site, and practicing landings and take offs from the field. This block is fun and very time intensive, as students have to plan their routes by hand. Break out the pencil, compass, and ruler! Remotes includes a team-solo and a checkride.

    Next, students get to do similar profiles, but at low-level. This isn't the 1000ft "low-level" from T-6 days, but 100 feet over the trees low-level. Most students consider these flights to be the most fun. There isn't much else like swooping in over the trees at 100mph, and spotting your landing site just in time to slow down and land exactly where you wanted to...except maybe doing it with more than one helicopter or at night...
     
  19. raimius

    raimius USAFA Alumnus

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    So, you want to be a (Helicopter) Pilot? (Continued)

    (Continued)
    "More than one helicopter?" you say. Yes, formation is the next block of instruction for students. Formation sorties involve navigating two helos to remote sites, practicing approaches and take offs there, and some "high work." "High work" consists of formation procedures for situations like losing sight of the other aircraft, going into the weather by accident, or basic break-up and rejoin procedures. Since helicopter blades don't mix well, we don't fly at the 10ft spacing of T-6s.
    dramatic example of why we like more space:
    Two Helicopters Crash in Midair - YouTube


    Due to this and the lack of aerobatics, TH-1 formation was a bit less "aerial ballet" than T-6s. Both are enjoyable, but they are very different. Helo formation is more about being able to support each other and do remote work as a formation, whereas T-6s was more about close-in precision and basic energy management. This block is also very time consuming. More details need to be planned out before the flight, and both crews need to be on the same page for the planning. Things like how much time your half of the flight will take, who taxis first, which side of the field you will be landing on, how quick your turns can be, and what the other student needs to work on are examples of things that need to go into planning each flight.

    After formation, things get really interesting. Now, students get to learn to fly at night. After learning all about night vision goggles, students get to fly a couple flights without them, to airfields and stage fields. Then, they move into Remote and Low-Level flights on NVGs. This is challenging at first, for multiple reasons. First, NVGs limit your field of view. Try taping the cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls together and looking through those! The field of view is limited, and your depth perception is a bit off on goggles. Oh, and everything is green. It quickly becomes apparent to students that hovering is much more challenging without peripheral vision! However, after a short time, students learn how to operate under goggles.

    Then, suddenly, the last checkride of UPT is staring you in the face! What's the testable material? Everything you've learned up until now. Airspace regulations, rules for instrument procedures, weather requirements, systems, aerodynamics, emergency procedures, and more... By this point, students should have a good grasp on all of these, but everyone tries to brush up on their weak spots. This is where students keep quizzing each other on little details like "what pressure does X valve in the hydraulic system reset at?" or "what is the exception for station passage on an NDB holding pattern?"

    Hopefully, everything goes well, and all the students pass their checkrides. After that, if time allows, students get a couple NVG-formation rides (including low-level). These are the final rides in the syllabus before the drop. They are educational and interesting, but not "high-threat" rides. This is where everything gets put together, and a lot of students say things like "that's pretty challenging!" Due to schedule delays or weather problems, not every class will get to do NVG-Form.

    After the flying is done, the squadron holds a Drop Night for each class. This is where each student finds out what aircraft they will get and which base they will be going to. Current options for helo students are HH-60Gs, CV-22s, UH-1Ns, or a slot as an instructor in the TH-1H. HH-60Gs do Combat Search and Rescue. CV-22s run special-ops missions. UH-1Ns fly security and support at nuclear missile bases and do VIP transport. At all UPT bases, leadership likes to say, "There are no bad assignments." At Rucker, students tend to agree with that statement wholeheartedly!
     
  20. falconfamily

    falconfamily Member

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    Thanks Ramius!

    Only one word for your thread - Epic! Thank you!
     

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