The past couple days the family and I went down to Maxwell Air Force Base to celebrate Jacob’s graduation from Commissioned Officer’s Training, or COT.  This is training for non-line officers like chaplains, medical, and JAG (lawyers).  Jacob will have his own tips for people going through COT when he gets back from the next phase of his training, but for now I’ve got 10 tips for those of you that will be attending your loved one’s COT graduation in the future.

1. Be brave.

Particularly for those of you that are not as familiar with military bases, official ceremonies, and that sort of thing, this will be a stretching process.  It can be a bit nerve-wracking to encounter all these things for the first time, so prepare to be brave.  Your loved one gets a lot of information to pass to you, but he or she won’t be with you every step of the way and you’ll have to do many things for yourself.  Be patient with yourself and other family members, as everyone deals with stress and ambiguity differently.  Don’t be nervous about making mistakes; the base is a training base and people are used to clueless family members, haha!

2. Be flexible.

Your loved one has a lot of expectations and rules placed on them while at COT, and he will be doing his best to please the leaders above him, get his responsibilities done, and also spend time with you guys.  Be flexible as far as schedules and plans.  Rest assured that your loved one wants to spend time with you but may have other responsibilities or rules that have to be addressed. Roll with the punches and enjoy the time you do get with him.

3. Get a base map.

I, even as a directionally challenged person, did not have too much trouble finding things on Maxwell AFB.  The Officer Training School (OTS) complex where COT ceremonies are held and near which COT students reside during training is very easy to find and pretty self-contained.  However, it can be helpful to get a base map.  Your loved one will have one and it has COT graduation event locations marked clearly on it.  You cannot trust Google Maps to accurately give directions on a military base, trust me.

4. Pack business casual/nicer clothes for daytime events.

The graduation events are all attended by your graduate’s bosses and high-ranking brass.  Wear classy, nice clothing that would be appropriate for an office, church service or semi-formal wedding, like sun dresses, slacks, and button-downs.  You don’t need to go full-out in a suit or cocktail dress, but put your best foot forward.

5. Check the weather.

That being said, also take the weather into account.  During the summer Alabama is hot and humid, so wear cool fabrics.  Be prepared for rain as well and don’t be disappointed if rain or humidity messes with your hair and outfit.  Your loved one won’t care, guaranteed!  There are both indoor and outdoor events, so weather is important to consider when packing.

6. Prepare for the awards banquet.

There’s an awards banquet held in a nearby convention center that is also part of one of the evening’s festivities.  Pack clothing appropriate for a cocktail hour (though this is a dinner) that is also classy and sophisticated.  The instructors, speakers, and high-ranking people will be in mess dress (the fanciest military uniforms), and students will be in their dress blues, so dress appropriately with a button down and tie or knee-length dress with some glitz and formality, something like that.

Also be sure you get there early.  It’s a large event with several hundred people, and you will need time to find your assigned seats and such.

7. Attend spouse/family informational meetings and ask questions.

While almost no one I know really enjoys informational meetings, the part I did like about the ones offered to families attending COT graduation was the opportunity to ask questions.  They had a spouse panel complete with an officer’s wife, the commander’s wife, dual military, etc.  They had a Q&A time for questions about military life, and they were also available to answer questions after the session.  I talked to a woman about being in a dual military marriage, and she gave amazing insight and helpful tips.  Take advantage of these opportunities, especially if you aren’t going home to a military-familiar community where these resources are readily available.

8. You won’t need a base visitor pass to attend graduation events on Thursday and Friday.

I got up early and went to the visitor center on Thursday because I expected there to be a rush for visitor passes (like I experienced at Lackland for BMT), but I was informed I wouldn’t need a pass.  They simply checked my driver’s license against the list of names each graduate submits earlier in training.  If your loved one is sure to add your name when they ask for graduation attendees, you’ll be on this list.  If not, you’ll have to get a visitor pass.  If you’re in doubt, they can check this at the visitor center.

If you are going on base any other day than Thursday or Friday, you will either need your loved one to show his or her military ID at the gate to get your vehicle in, or you’ll need to get a pass.  Also remember that a military ID is good to get only the vehicle the military person is in on the base; it doesn’t apply for a family convoy of cars.

9. Enjoy the sights on base.

Maxwell AFB has some fun things to check out that are great for the in between times when you’re waiting for your graduate to pack her stuff or get other responsibilities done.  There’s the Jet Garden with lots of retired planes and helicopters you can read about, touch, and look into with monuments and memorials scattered around.  There are several historical buildings and sites relating to the Wright brothers’ flight school as well.  (They take COT students on a run to see and learn about all of them during training, so your graduate will know what they are.)  Gunter Annex nearby (a part of Maxwell AFB) also houses the Enlisted Heritage Museum.

10. Respect the brass and be aware.

Like I said earlier, these graduation events can host some very high-ranking people.  Jacob’s graduation was attended by a brigadier general and a myriad of officers and NCOs.  Familiarizing yourself with rank structure can be helpful.  At the very least, realize that generally more bling/more stripes=higher rank, so be respectful and considerate of these people who can radically affect your graduate’s career trajectory, haha!

In other words… Don’t be like the mother I saw that asked the general to take a picture with her and her son… and then handed the iPad to a colonel and critiqued how he was taking the photo.  Just don’t do it.  Happily the new 2nd Lt. involved had the sense to salute immediately after the photo and the colonel and general were very gracious. Basically, be aware as a family member that there are important people there that deserve your respect and your graduate will need to follow protocol in acknowledging the hierarchy, even if you don’t.

It was a fantastic, memorable time to celebrate Jacob’s accomplishments and learn about his training experience.  COT graduation is a lot of fun and those of you that get the chance to attend will undoubtedly enjoy it!