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How to survive officer training: recent graduates offer tips to help others prepare for course.

Newly commissioned officers in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard medical specialties often come into their jobs with no prior military experience. Though most organizations offer these new officers some type of initial military orientation, the orientation is rudimentary at best.

Sometime during their first 12 months of service, these new medical specialty officers are obligated to attend either Commissioned Officer Training or Reserve Commissioned Officer Training, where they receive a more definitive orientation to military service. These courses are abbreviated versions of the three-month Officer Training School that line officers attend and are shortened in recognition of the special hardships created when medical providers must be away from their civilian jobs for training.

The five-week COT and two-week RCOT courses are intended to provide entry-level officer training to orient officers to the U.S. Air Force culture, history, customs and courtesies, as well as introduce them to the profession of arms. To cover three months of information in these shortened periods of time is a daunting task for both students and instructors.

These courses are both rigorous and rewarding. One important step new officers can take to help them prepare for what they will face is to familiarize themselves with some of the material and take advantage of some valuable Air Force resources beforehand.

The best initial training is found on the Web sites sponsored by the school: http: // and center/OTS/COT-RCOT/WelcomePackage.asp. Be sure to visit these sites first and download all the information available.


Watch the video to get a feel for what the experience will be like, and download the operating instructions. The OIs will be your primary reference, especially during the first week of COT/RCOT. You will need to have a good understanding of the information contained in the OIs upon arrival, so begin to study them well ahead of your school dates. Specifically, focus on customs and courtesies, reporting statements, dining procedures, and class opening and closing procedures.

Also, continue to monitor these sites as the course date nears, because they will be used to update you to changes that may occur in the course requirements or other instructions to students.

Air Force Portal

The Air Force Portal ( was designed to be an initial entry point for all your Air Force needs, so you will have to be able to access this site immediately. Be sure your account is set up, active and available before arrival.

Once your account is established, you can surf the Portal and its many links to get information regarding regulations, benefits, training, pay, etc.

The Portal includes a link to information on Air Force uniforms.

You will be expected to know not only which uniforms to wear but how to set them up and care for them.

You must be able to pass the Air Force physical fitness test during the second week of training, so you should know your target requirements for achieving this goal. Practice running and doing sit-ups and push-ups. Try to plan for a score of 85 percent or better, so you have a "buffer" in case you suffer an injury or illness while attending the training. You can find all the charts and scoring systems on the Portal.

If possible, try to get your weight down to a level that gives you a body mass index of 25 or better. You can download a BMI chart from the Internet, or use an online calculator and input your specific height.

Use the Portal to access the Advanced Distributed Learning Service site or use this link: kc/login/login.asp?kc_ident-kc0001. There is a significant amount of computer-based training you will need to accomplish during your Air Force career, and much of it occurs on this site. Three of these courses must be completed before you leave RCOT/COT: Self-aid and Buddy Care; SERE 100; and Information Protection.

Complete these courses and take the certificates of completion with you to the training. You can do them during the course, but they take up about nine hours of instruction, and time is a precious commodity.

Computer Skills

The military uses Microsoft Office, so ensure you are comfortable using Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook programs, at least for basic functions. If necessary, see the Microsoft site or your unit for online tutorials.


Though you can purchase your uniforms during the first couple of days of training and have them altered there, it's better if you obtain your uniforms before arrival. Also, have all sewing and alterations done at your local base clothing sales store. This is especially important for the two-week RCOT course due to the turnaround time for alterations, which may be several days.


The following items were issued during our course for our reference.

* "The Flyby: USAF Preparation for Active Duty Pamphlet," ninth edition.

* "Airman: U.S. Air Force Handbook 1." This reference is available on the Web at

* "A New Officer's Guide to Etiquette and Decorum." Air Force Manual 10-100, "Airman's Manual," June 1, 2004. This general-purpose reference for all things Air Force is available at epubs/AFMAN10-100.pdf.

* AFMAN 36-2203, "Drill and Ceremonies," Sept. 24, 2007. This document covers basic marching commands and cadences. It's available at shared/media/epubs/AFMAN36-2203.pdf.

* Air Force Instruction 36-2903, "Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel," Aug. 6, 2007. Available at / epubs/AFI36-2903.pdf. Pay special attention to hair standards. Also, be aware of the concepts of trimming all strings and "cables" from every piece of your clothing and tucking your shoe laces into your shoes or boots so they do not flop or protrude. Know which uniforms should be pressed along with the proper combinations of uniforms.

* AFMAN 36-2105, "Officer Classification," April 30, 2001. Available at 2105%20Officer%20Classification.pdf. This reference specifies which badges you are eligible to wear: basic, qualified or advanced/staff/chief/master. Reference this to determine which uniform badges to purchase, or have your unit assist you. These badges are based on your experience level in your occupation and have specific requirements.

* AFI 36-2101, "Classifying Military Personnel," March 2006. Available at media/epubs/AFI36-2101.pdf. This reference explains the Air Force specialty code occupational classification system. This is not a critical reference before COT/RCOT, but it's helpful to explain some of the numbers and letters you will hear referenced during the training.

* Air Force Handbook 33-337, "Tongue and Quill," Aug. 1, 2004. Available at media/epubs/AFH33-337.pdf. This is the official style manual for all Air Force correspondence and a critical reference to be used throughout your Air Force career. Specifically, know how to draft an official memo and a memorandum for record before going to COT/RCOT, and know how to properly use office symbols. See the COT/RCOT OIs for their specific office symbols for instructors, command staff and student positions.

* AFI 36-2406, "Officer and Enlisted Evaluation Systems," April 15,0 2005. Available at http://www.e-publishing. In general, be familiar with the process of writing officer and enlisted performance reports. The courses will provide more detail.

General Resources for Learning Air Force Culture

* Air Force chief of staff recommended reading list,

* Air Force Reserve Command fact sheet, mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=151.

* AFRC public Web site,

* ANG fact sheet, asp?fsID=160.

* ANG public Web site,

* Citizen Airman, official magazine of the Air Force Reserve,

* Information on ANG and AFRC people, installations and aircraft (available from the Air Force Association Web site), Pages/defaut.aspx.

(Editor's note: Lt. Col. Steven Podnos, 920th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., and Capt. Tom McKinney, 908th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Maxwell AFB, Ala., completed Reserve Commissioned Officer" Training in April 2008. As a result of their experience, they wrote the following article to provide others with information, resources and suggestions to help them prepare for the rigorous training.)
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Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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