Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revive, Poor Blog, Revive!!

I deeply apologize for the enormous gap in my posting. Deeply. I will make it up to you with a long post with plenty of photos.

However, this won't be a knitting-heavy post, because I haven't actually done a whole lot of knitting in the last 2 months, but I have been busy!

For those of you who don't know, I an going to start medical school in Colorado this fall (yay!) and also got accepted for the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program, which will pay for tuition, books, fees, and health insurance, as well as provide a $2,000 monthly stipend and a $20,000 signing bonus, in exchange for 4 years of active duty service. Sounds like a good deal, right? I think so, but there are certainly those who think that the military restrictions that I'll have to deal with later on aren't worth the money. I don't regret my decision, but realize that my feelings about the AF may change later on, depending on the situation. Who knows... Anyways, as part of the program, HPSP students have to attend Commissioned Officer Training at Officer Training School in Maxwell AF Base in Montgomery, AL for a month. My class was May 26 to June 26.

COT is basically an introduction to the military and the AF combined with a whole bunch of leadership training. It was hard sometimes, but I had a lot of fun and met some cool people :) I'm sure most of you have seen some sort of movie or TV show that had military training in it (Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is a popular one that comes to most people). Let me assure you, it was not like that for me. Similar, but definitely not as harsh. Some elements (like the yelling, the marching, waking up at 4:30am) were present, but others (like the cursing, insulting, random push-ups in the mud) were not. Thank goodness.

(Our drill sergeants looked like this sometimes, but not too often and weren't ever that close to our face.)

On our very first day at Maxwell, right off the shuttle bus from the airport, there was a drill sergeant yelling at us. And OTS staff yelling at us. Lots of yelling. Lots of standing at attention while we were processed into COT. Right from the beginning, I got yelled at 3 times. 1) My hair was not pinned up above the collar. 2) The hair tie I used to tie my hair up was a bright blue scrunchie (yes, I still use these, don't laugh) instead of the authorized black/brown I was supposed to have. 3) I had forgotten to take out my extra sets of earrings (women are only allowed to wear 1 pair of stud earrings) and I had a necklace on. I was a little freaked out, because my dad had gone to COT back in the 1980s and he told me it was pretty easy back then. Apparently, they had made it a lot harder in recent years. That's what I get for listening to expired advice from my dad and for not doing my own research!

At one point during the first day, I was standing in line waiting to go through the first step of in-processing, when I realized that I had grabbed the wrong papers (we had been given 30 seconds to set aside our luggage, find our in-processing documents and IDs, get $20 for meals, and get in 2 single file lines, while fixing our appearance to military standards - tucking in shirts, putting on close-toed sneakers, etc.). We had basically been told not to speak or move when we were at attention, so I was literally panicking because I didn't have the right documents, which were in my luggage outside, and I didn't know how to get the attention of a staff member without getting in trouble. After a minute, I finally squeaked out a "Sir, permission to ask a question," to an officer walking by and stammered out that I had the wrong papers and needed to retrieve the right ones, may I go outside to get them?

Looking back on that moment, I just laugh at myself and all of us during that day. I'll admit it, at the time, I was scared stiff of making a mistake and getting singled out by the drill sergeant or by OTS staff. Nobody likes being punished in front of a bunch of strangers/future classmates, right? But, we were all making mistakes (except for the few people who had prior military service) and nobody remembered who the heck was who later on. And really, was the yelling that bad? Not really. It didn't matter how much they yelled at you, you still graduated in the end (if you passed the classes and stuff) and you weren't physically harmed in any way. And actually, the yelling was more like "forcefully correcting" after the first day, which wasn't so bad. They never paraded an individual's mistakes in front of everyone else, they just corrected and moved on. Sooo... in retrospect, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I do remember a couple severe yelling sessions during COT, but I was thankfully never on the receiving end of those.

As for daily life during COT, we did not live in multi-person barracks with bed inspections and 10 toilets without stalls. We lived in 2 person dorm rooms - think college dorms, but nicer. We didn't even have communal bathrooms; each room had a shower stall, toilet, and 2 sinks. And room inspections? Nope, we had maids make our beds and clean the bathrooms every weekday. There was one inspection while we were in class much later on, but I think they just wanted to make sure we didn't steal their laptops. We also did not have dorm chores or anything.

Meals were a little more strict. For the first few weeks, we had to eat "tight meals" everyday. Tight meals are basically eating at attention: backs straight and off the back of the chair, heels together and feet at a 45 degree angle, napkin in left hand on lap, utensil in right hand, no talking, and plates and glasses arranged in a certain way on the tray. At each meal, we had about 5-10 minutes to eat and leave. Some of us strategized and ate easy-to-eat foods, like mashed potatoes, twice a day, everyday, for 3 weeks. The food was cheap, about $2-3/meal, but you got what you paid for. Let's leave it at that. Later on when we earned more privileges, we didn't have to eat tight meals, but still had the same time crunch.

Oh my goodness, I am so excited to eat this banana.

The "duty day" lasted from 5am until dinner at 6 or 7pm every weekday. This is the time that we have physical training, lectures, and small group class (flight class). During this time, we're not allowed to go back to our dorm room without permission and class was required unless you were on sick rest. The typical day went like this:
  • Wake up at 4:30am to get dressed in the dark, because we're not allowed to turn on the lights until 4:40am.
  • March to physical training.
  • Physical training 5-6:15am.
  • March back to dorms and shower/change.
  • March to breakfast.
  • Breakfast 7-8am.
  • Lectures/flight class 8am-12pm.
  • March to lunch.
  • Lunch 12-1pm.
  • Lectures/flight class 1pm-6pm.
  • Dinner 6-7pm.
  • March to dorms.
  • Personal/study time until sleep.
Days weren't really hard, but they were mighty long and sleep deprivation was probably the biggest problem in the beginning. Lectures were in a giant lecture hall that practically sang you to sleep, especially if it was after lunch or some exercise thing in the hot Alabama weather. The seats were all made of nice, soft, red cushions and the one air conditioning unit for the entire building seriously failed if it was particularly hot. Common nicknames for the lecture hall were The Big Red Bed and the Coma Dome. We weren't allowed to fall asleep in or ditch class, so if you were sleepy, the proper thing to do was to stand at the back of the room and take notes from there. Lectures and flight class were all basically about leadership, teamwork, or AF history, but mostly leadership and teamwork.

Ah, those early morning runs...

I am always at the back of marching formations since we're organized by height.

This was one of our last days of lectures. We're pretty happy.

A flight mate catching up on some sleep between lectures.

Our flight room.

Other than than the lectures, we got to do a bunch of hands-on leadership and teamwork exercises, which were really fun!

We got to go through the Assault Course, which is a series of different obstacles. There were a couple that I wasn't able to finish, but all my flight members, including me, rocked the monkey bars, which I didn't think I'd be able to do. It was awesome!

Bar walk thing.

High crawl.

Me on the right with my Assault Course buddy on the left, who was one of my favorite people at COT :) My warrior face needs a little work. I tend to laugh a lot at inappropriate times.

There was also Project X, which was a bunch of different scenarios where there is a physical obstacle/puzzle that we have to solve in teams of 6. These scenarios are military related, usually having to do with an escape or evasion from enemy forces or some sort of a rescue. For example, a team has to cross a wide, fast-moving river (i.e., no person or piece of equipment can fall in the water) that has a few "rocks" (pillars) in it. The team is given a few pieces of equipment, like logs, metal cans, boards, or ropes and has to finish the obstacle in less than 20 min. Sometimes you have to transfer ammunition or a wounded person to the end spot. For Project X, flights were given 5 scenarios out of a total of about 23. The rest of the scenarios were used for LRC.

The Leadership Reaction Course used the rest of the puzzles not seen during Project X, but there was a leader assigned to each team during a scenario and that leader's actions were evaluated by a staff member.

The WELPS course was like LRC, except that it was in a huge field that had a bunch of small numbered concrete circles in the ground and each team was given a compass and a series of clues to find the endpoint. Our compass was broken for the first 2 scenarios, so we were just wandering around lost for a long while. And I was on the team that had to low crawl everywhere, so my uniform got all wet and a little stained. On the last scenario, our flight got a compass that worked, so the last team at least finished their puzzle.

That's me in the very back. Crawling.

Our awesome Flight Commander, Capt Smith. I came to AL wanting to hear a Southern accent and his was my favorite! Well, he was also one of the only staff members with a Southern accent.

We also had a simulated deployment for 2 days and 2 nights. Maxwell has a "tent city" set up where we sleep on cots and eat MREs and do fun stuff. During the first day, we acted out a field hospital, which was called E-MEDS, and we did a high ropes course. During E-MEDS, everyone was assigned a position in a hospital, like chief nurse, surgeon, administration, chaplain, security, etc. I was a patient, which wasn't as exciting as being a hospital staff (in my opinion at least), but it was fun and I got to scream and yell in pain (as my flight mates can attest - they heard me throughout the entire tent-hospital).

Tent city. These were our sleeping tents. They each had two A/C units that made the hot air warm.

This is my broken wrist. I was driving a truck near an IED blast. There was more blood on it, but the surgeons patched it all up and put a "cast" on it, so it got messed up a little.

The high ropes course was pretty fun, even though I'm not that great with heights. We first had to climb a cargo net to a small platform and then drag ourselves across a single rope to the next platform. Next was the frog crawl, where we drag ourselves across 2 ropes. Next was walking up a single metal cable with ropes to hold on to on each side. Then sidestepping on a single cable with a rope in front of us. Then crossing a rope bridge with gaps in-between each step. Then hand-walking down a rope, then swinging across to another cargo net, catching the net, climbing the net to the final platform, and zip-lining close to the ground, where your flight brings you a ladder and you climb down. Zip-lining was the funnest part!

We also did a rock-climbing wall, which I couldn't complete, because I have no upper-body strength. At all.

I'm pretty close to ground in this shot. That's why I'm all smiles.

There was also a high walk, which was a horizontal wooden pole set 40 feet in the air, on which we have to walk to the end and back. Usually, I ignore my fear of heights (because it'll only get me anxious) and I do ok in high places. The ropes course was evidence of that, since I did ok. But when I got to the top of the tower and looked out over that stupid pole, I just froze. I was really scared. We're supposed to walk with our arms straight out to the sides, but I didn't let go of my safety line the entire time. I couldn't even speak to the staff member next to me and I think he could tell I was about ready to burst into tears, because he just kept encouraging me and telling me I did a good job, even though I clearly didn't. After I repelled down the side of the tower, I was so upset with myself that I just started crying. It was embarrassing, but my flight mates were really supportive and nice to me. There were some really great people at COT :)

Me being a scared-y cat.

I can't tell who this is, but I'm pretty sure it's me because I'm one of the only ones who held on with both hands.

We were also supposed to do a litter carry (carrying stretchers with people on them) through the same Assault Course we did earlier, but the weather was so hot and humid, they canceled that and instead taught us how to build a big tent. That was on the last day of our simulated deployment.

Look at me being all helpful.

Since the litter carry was cancelled, we spent some time taking pictures on the last day in tent city. Our flight is so cool.

The ladies of Bravo Flight.

Medic truck.

As we progressed through COT, we gained more privileges, such as getting to go off-base during weekends in civilian clothes. We ate at some good restaurants and even got to see a baseball game (Go Biscuits!!).

We are so excited to get off the base and explore the awesomeness that is Montgomery, AL.

We went to this same restaurant (Dreamland BBQ) at least 3 times. It had good atmosphere and we even saw a few OTS staff members there too.

Five dollar ice cream sundaes at the baseball game.

We got in for free, I think because it was after the 7th inning.

Watching the end-game fireworks.

Flight dinner with our flight commander during the last week at another barbecue place called Texas Roadhouse. It was really good!

On the second to last day at COT, we had a graduation ceremony, where they handed out awards and officially graduated the class. The last day, we had a graduation parade, which basically just reviewed what happened the day before, but showed off all our marching skills and military bearing and whatnot to our families and friends. I had a small role in the parade, which meant extra parade practices for me, which meant a really nice, dark farmer's tan on my face, neck, and arms. Yay.

Waiting for graduation to start.

Bravo Flight after graduation.

And then I finally got to fly back home, arriving at 11:30pm and with half my luggage missing. But, Delta Airlines delivered it to my house in 2 days, so I can't complain too much.

My silly portrait picture.

Falcon Squadron rocks, man! This was right after our graduation parade.

And that was COT. It seems to be a total blur when I think about it. It took forever to end, but was over before I knew it.

(* All pictures were taken by my flight mates. I used my camera once at COT. To take a picture of my dorm room. Boring!! *)

May was mostly filled with me trying to finish up stuff at work and pack for COT.

As for actual knitting (which is why we're all here, right?), I've made some progress on that purple acrylic scarf in my last post. I finished up one skein of yarn and am now halfway through a second skein. I'm not going to post a picture, because it's pretty much the same as it was last time you saw it, but longer.

I finished the purple silk scarf for my swap partner back in May and sent it off in my partner's package. I'm pretty proud of it - it was the first knitted piece I have ever blocked and my first finished lace project (don't even get me started on that dern baby blanket). Even though it was silk and I read that it should be pinned and then sprayed with water, I considered it to be pretty tough, so I wet blocked it anyway. I forgot to take a picture of it after blocking, but I did take a photo of it after I had it all folded and tied up for my swap partner's package.

Pattern: Chevron Plus One by Arlene's World of Lace (free)
Yarn: thick-and-thin mulberry silk averaging at a DK weight that I kettle-dyed with purple drink mix and food coloring
Needles: US 6, metal
Size: CO 19 sts and skipped the red box in the chart. 3" wide and 47" long.
Made For: Swap Partner in Color Swap 3 (Kelly)


Amybel said...

OK, this is too funny that you posted now. I had been wondering what you were up to and I saw on Ravelry that you were going into the Air Force! Holy Cow. I knew about med school from reading earlier posts, but the Air Force, wow! Great post. Felt like I was right there with you, except for the yelling part! Good for you. I would never have been able to make it through, would have floated out in a river of my own tears. Congrats!

Lupie said...

Wow! Your parents must be very proud of you.
You will have great stories to tell your children!

Megan said...

Those are some perks! Congratulations.

It was really cool to read about your experience with it since a lot of stereotypes normally do come to mind.

lunaticraft said...

Oh my goodness, congratulations! That's an amazing thing to do, and I wish you luck in everything Air Force related. Certianly a fantastic reason to take a blog break! =D

P.S. - That scarf is beautiful!