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.
I’m scheduled to attend COT in a few weeks and I just wanted to know is there an obstacle course and what kinds of things does it involve? I’m just trying to be as physically prepared as possible. Thanks!
There isn’t an obstacle course pre se (like in every military movie), but there are physical activities that include a high ropes course. If you are prepared to pass the physical fitness test, you will do fine with the rest of the activities.
I am flying to COT and I don’t think I can carry large liquid item. This question may sound silly but Is there any store where I can buy detergent close to the training site?
Yes, you can buy detergent nearby, at the same “mini-mart” type store where you get the flashlights and reflective belts. I brought a bag of laundry pods which worked fine and were easy to pack.
So how out of shape can you really be and still pass through? I am interested in a medical lab tech position but I’m out of shape and chubby. Should I even bother applying or will they deny me?
Thanks for your question. You need to be in fairly decent shape to pass the PT test – many of us who are not otherwise athletic spent several months preparing. There are also maximum height/weight standards for military entry, so since you mention weight you will need to make sure you fall within the height/weight standards and are able to pass a military physical before you even get to the PT test. Medical lab tech is an enlisted position, though, so the entry and training requirements are different from what is described here. Commissioned Officer Training is the initial military training for direct-commissioned officers such as lawyers, physicians, and chaplains. Medical lab techs go to enlisted basic training followed by technical school (more information here). They recommend that you be in decent shape prior to arrival at basic training – see this document for more information. Ultimately, though, your best bet is going to be to talk to a recruiter. Keep in mind that the information on this site is aimed at medical professionals (physicians, physician assistants, nurses) and most of it does not apply to the enlisted health sciences career fields, which have an entirely different process.
What kind of food do they have at COT?
Standard cafeteria “hot food line” fare: meat, potatoes, veggies. Breakfast options usually included pancakes, sausage, eggs, cereal, yogurt, fruit. Lunch and dinner there were usually 2-3 entree options (typically meats), 2-3 veggies/sides, salad bar, and fountain drinks. There are a few days where you will be eating MREs (Meal Ready to Eat: shelf-stable field rations, which are actually pretty good). Your flight gets a big pile of MREs (which includes some vegetarian) to split amongst yourselves so if you have dietary restrictions you can typically trade with friends.
do you get a chance to go the gym to work out while on COT?
There is no time to go to the gym, but you will have mandatory physical fitness training M-F mornings for an hour. When I was there, this was mostly insanity-style workouts.
So there are washers and dryers In quarters? With that said do you need the entire 4 sets of uniforms, as the more you have the more your spend and the more items that are inspectable.
Bring what is on the packing list – laundry takes time, and time is in short supply. Yes, the washers and dryers are in the dorm.
I am in the process of applying for a position in the air force. But 4 months ago I broke my wrist and am just getting back to really working out. I’m about 30 pounds over weight, push up are a real struggle for me right now, sit up I can pass and run as well. Before the break I could do around 25 in a min. I could possibly be leaving for training June 2019, so 9 months ago. I want to say it will be good to go in the next two months, but were there any people there with previous injuries, or braces, medical waivers to do an alternative exercise rather than push ups?
You must be able to pass the full PFT without modifications when you arrive at COT. You will also need a medical waiver in order to enter the Air Force at all with a prior injury – they will likely require that you demonstrate that you are completely healed in order for your waiver to be approved so you can commission (join the Air Force).
I am about to start Nurse Practitioner school in August. Will there be any time for private study even as a part time student during “Commissioned Officer Training” the one month training?
I would not anticipate being able to participate in any other activities during COT. It is a busy course, and you are often scheduled from 4:30am until late evening, and then have homework and assignments to complete.
Thank you for this! At what point after arriving will we be able to call or text home?
I’m sorry for the late reply! You can call/text easily from the airport when you land, before you are picked up. Otherwise, it may be the evening before you can have much of a conversation.
Im scheduled to attend COT in March 2020. I plan on driving to Maxwell, in doing so i plan on bringing extra clothes and detergent etc. Much of which i wish to leave in my car. (Less to have inspected in the room). Will I be able to access my vehicle to get extra detergent pods or bring out my printer if i turn out to need it?
I do imagine not having authorization to drive during my time there amongst other restrictions.
I’m so sorry that I didn’t get back to you before your trip! I hope all went well. When I went, folks who drove were not able to access their cars on a regular basis in the early part of the course. Is that what you found as well?
On average how much will the COT cost & will I receive payment for participating?
The course itself and housing are free, and the government will also pay for your travel to and from the course. You will pay for supplies, uniforms, and meals. If you buy everything on-site, I would expect about $2k (including about $1500 for uniforms, $200 for meals, and $300 for other misc items). You will be paid active duty base pay for your rank and years of service – for most HPSP students this will be second lieutenant with less than 2 years of active service. You will be paid a housing allowance for your home zip code. So your total pay really depends on where you live before/after COT, since that determines your housing allowance. You can find calculators online to tell you what your housing allowance (BAH) and base pay would be. A lot of people had problems getting their pay started (administrative issues), so be prepared to not actually see your full, correct paycheck until 30d after completing the course.
My wife and I are considering her joining the AF as an OT. However, we have a 7month old son now. How conducive will COT be in allowing her to be a mother as well?
Thanks for your comment! I’m not sure what you mean by conducive to being a mother. COT is an intensive, month-long program. It is a challenge to finish your work and get enough sleep to function, let alone other commitments (like video calls with the kids, etc).
My wife and I are in a similar situation to James. What are the standard communication options? Are you at least able to call home from your cell phone or pay phone immediately after starting training or after a particular period of time (I saw 10 days listed elsewhere)? Are facetime, email, sending pictures ok? Thanks for the info!
Ethan, thanks for your comment and sorry for the slow response! You can call home from the airport before you go the OTS compound, or the evening of the first day. Your cell phone is to be left in your room or turned off during the duty day. You can send pictures, but you won’t have much of a chance to take pictures with your phone being put away during the day. Facetime and email are fine, on your personal time in the late evening (8-10pm or so).
Hi James, how did you or wife make out. I’m and OT as well and recently applied.
What can you share about R-COT? How does the creditable service / rank based on education work? What was a typical day like at COT?
Thank you for your message! Rank based on education is pretty straightforward:
– If you have a bachelor’s degree, you come in as a 2nd Lt
– If you have completed medical school, you have 4 years of constructive service credit and typically enter as a Captain
– If you have completed medical school and internship, you have 5 years of constructive service credit (and typically also enter as a Captain).
See DOD financial regulations here.
A typical day at COT starts at 0430 with formation and an hour of intense physical fitness training. This is followed by breakfast, showers, and then classes and drill practice from about 0800-1700. After that, you have dinner and work on other projects or meetings until lights out around 2200. Good luck!