I am proud to say I just graduated TFOT, Total Force Officer Training at the Officer Training School. Watch out Air Force, another butter bar is on the loose!
The Officer training school at Maxwell AFB in Alabama is home to two of the Air Force officer commissioning programs: Commissioned Officer Training and TFOT. (Read about COT here.) These programs are constantly being tweaked and changed, and there are rumors of further changes planned for the future. Because of that, my TFOT advice isn’t specific; it’s more principle-based. Even if the TFOT program changes in the future, these tips should still be useful to you. (If you want to read about my experiences, check out this post.)
Before you come:
Get physically prepared.
Do not assume you will be trained into shape while you are here. The PT test at the beginning is important, and with a stressful, tiring schedule and odd meal times you’re unlikely to see big gains while you’re here. Come trained up and ready to pass the PT test with flying colors.
If possible, get everything you need before you come.
If you can, get your uniforms, supplies, etc. before you come to training. You won’t have to deal with alterations schedules, learning how to wear your uniform (if you’re new to the military), or restricted base privileges if you already have what you need. It really decreases your stress, particularly at the beginning.
Familiarize yourself with any study materials you’re provided.
If you have access to the OTS manual (or any other training materials they may create in the future), familiarize yourself with them before you come. You don’t need to memorize them–changes may still be made by the time you get there–but have a basic idea of how dining procedures, reporting procedures, etc. work. (Here’s a list of things you should definitely master before training.)
While at training:
Don’t waste time.
At the beginning of training you probably won’t be allowed to have your phone, but you will have a computer for schoolwork. Don’t waste time on social media, videos, movies, etc. Be fully present for your training and devote your spare time to studying, growing, and developing relationships with other cadets.
It’s tempting to want to stay up late to finish assignments or get ahead. Don’t. Make sleep a priority. You can’t run on little sleep for several weeks; everything you need to do well (academics, leadership, teamwork, etc.) will suffer. Manage your time efficiently and make time to sleep.
Don’t take things personally.
Yes, there is yelling. Yes, there are a lot of rules. Yes, you will screw up and be called out for it. Everyone will at some point. Don’t take any of the treatment personally or view it as an attack on your personhood. It’s part of the training environment to toughen you up, build discipline, and inoculate you to stress.
Learn how to handle stress and not get flustered under pressure.
When you’re being yelled at or you’re in a pressured situation trying to get things right, your adrenaline will start pumping. Learn to calm yourself down so you can think clearly. Breathe deeply, pause, focus, and think about what you need to correct or do to succeed.
Don’t be a “no chopped nuts on the ice cream” guy.
My flight commander told us a story from when he was deployed. They were lucky enough to be provided an ice cream machine while in the desert, but one guy complained that there weren’t any chopped nuts to put on top of it instead of being content with the fact that he was eating ice cream while deployed in the Middle East. There will be stuff that sucks at OTS, but learn to recognize the “ice cream.” You are being paid to be there. You have air conditioned buildings, a bed, and food three times a day. You are given the chance to become an officer in the world’s most powerful Air Force. Don’t complain about not having chopped nuts.
Make time for relationships.
Don’t be a loner at OTS. Don’t be one of those people that’s just there to graduate and doesn’t care about anyone else. First of all, you’d be a terrible wingman. Second, you’d be missing out on a huge opportunity to glean wisdom from other cadets. There’s a huge variety of people that attend TFOT. Prior service SNCOs with over 20 years experience. The recent college grad with hacking skills. People from various Air Force career fields and even other military branches. Each of them has something to offer. Make time to get to know them and learn from them.
Be open to criticism.
Feedback is a big part of TFOT and learning your own leadership style. If you can’t take criticism (positive or negative)… you will hate it. Come in with a humble, teachable attitude. Weigh the feedback you receive and be introspective in how you may apply it. Be unoffendable and eager to improve in any way you can.
Know your “why.”
Why did you join the Air Force? Why do you want to become an officer? There will be points in training that will test your resolve–guaranteed. Remembering the reason you came in the first place and focusing on it will help you get through rough times and on to graduation!
If you’ve attended TFOT, what advice would you give? If you’re attending it in the future, do you have any questions or concerns?