One of the aspects of the health professions scholarship program (HPSP) that seems to provoke…
What to Expect at Commissioned Officer Training
Now that you have heard a bit about COT in a previous post, let’s talk about what to expect.
Please keep in mind that this information is from 2011. When I attended, they were really making a big effort to “toughen up” COT and make it more like the main OTS course. This included more yelling, room inspections, etc. I heard lots of stories about COT being a relaxed “salute school” or “charm school” where people worked from 9am-3pm and spent every evening in the officers’ club. This seems to have been the case in the past, but as of 2011 they were trying to make the COT experience more similar to the experience of the line officers training at OTS (it’s still much shorter and less intense than the regular OTS or enlisted basic training).
COT is a 5-week program held at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s an abbreviated version of Air Force officer training for professionals who are entering the Air Force: doctors, nurses, lawyers, and chaplains.
The goal is basically to make sure you can:
- wear a uniform
- speak and understand a little bit of Air Force lingo
- salute or stand in a parade without embarrassing yourself
- avoid breaking any military laws (the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a bit different from some of the civilian laws you may be used to)
Are they going to yell at me? Curse at me? Call me names?
Well, sort of. The instructors aren’t there to be your buddy. They are intimidating. They certainly do yell, although they don’t curse. They will probably tell you that if you can’t manage to do _____, you can’t possibly expect to lead a team. The task in question might be anything from shining your shoes to ironing your shirt, and usually has something to do with attention to detail or following rules. They will probably call you incompetent at some point. They will try to stress you out. It’s their job, don’t take it personally. It’s not exactly Full Metal Jacket and they are pretty PC in their insults, at least.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day starts at 0430 when you wake up. You’ll have about 10 minutes to be ready for morning PT (physical fitness training). For guys, this means making sure you don’t have significant beard stubble. For girls, hair must be secured in a way that is uniform appropriate (neat and off your collar).
Your flight will march to the running track where you will do PT for an hour. When I was there, this was Insanity or something very similar (like P 90x, but entirely body weight based exercises that don’t require equipment). If you are curious about this, just do a quick youtube search for insanity workouts. For more information on COT PT, take a look at this post. Most medical folks will be going in the summer, it is in Alabama, and the workouts are intense, so be prepared to sweat like crazy.
Then you have breakfast in the cafeteria, shower, and change into your uniform of the day, either blues or ABUs (Airman Battle Uniform, the current Air Force camouflage uniform). If I remember correctly, the flights take turns – sometimes you eat first, sometimes you shower and change first.
Then you have lectures, small group discussions, and marching practice for most of the rest of the day. You will have plenty of studying, reading, and preparing your room for inspections to do in order to keep you busy until bedtime.
Lights-out was sometime around midnight (I don’t remember if it was 2330 or 0030), but of course you can’t get through 5 weeks on 4-5 hours of sleep per night, so you will need to budget your time to make sure you can get to bed before that.
There are several days where you have leadership exercises outdoors. Since the course is held in Alabama, and most people go in the summer, be prepared to be HOT. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Seriously.
You will be in a uniform of one kind or another nearly all day, every day.
Getting there and getting checked in
The Air Force will provide you with information for the travel agent that they use in order to book your ticket if you are flying. You MUST use the Air Force’s travel agent or you will not be reimbursed. For more information on in-processing, check out the Air Force’s site for inbound COT trainees here. Look under non-prior service, not in-processed your base.
The Air Force will pay you starting the first day at COT, but getting your pay and benefits squared away can take some time. I had a few colleagues who didn’t get paid until the very end of the course. You should arrive with your finances squared away, and plenty of money in your checking account to cover your anticipated expenses at COT assuming that you don’t get paid at all until after you get home. Don’t count on your military pay to cover your expenses at COT, or your rent at home.
There are also several things that you will have to pay for out of pocket. The OTS page lays out the details here.
You will need cash/check for the following items:
- meals at the cafeteria (I think this was about $10/day, the OTS website says $4/meal).
- souvenirs (squadron coffee cups, challenge coins, etc)
- your ticket to the dining out (the graduation dinner)
- your MREs
- hair cuts for males (most females won’t need a hair cut during the course)
If you skip all of the optional items like souvenirs, this comes to about $500 that you will need in cold, hard cash. There is a drawer for each attendee in your room, in which you can lock up your valuables. When I went, you needed to provide your own lock (a standard Master combination lock works great).
You can use plastic (credit cards) for:
- any uniform items that you haven’t purchased yet (more on purchasing items ahead in a future post)
- some items at the BX (laundry detergent, flashlights, deodorant, etc)
What do I need to bring, how much does it cost, and where do I get it?
I’m glad you asked! There’s enough to say on that topic that it deserves its own post, so keep an eye out for that coming soon.
What other questions do you have about what to expect at COT?
Keep an eye out for a few more posts on COT coming up soon. We will be talking about shopping for gear and uniforms, and of course you may have already read the posts on what COT is, and how to prepare physical fitness-wise.