Thanks for checking in!

I started this blog to keep in touch with my family and friends during my time attending Commissioned Officer Training (COT) and the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course (JASOC) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Now I'm done with training and back in the "real" world, but I'll keep updating this blog with any interesting developments from my JAG career.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 5 (Days 27-33): Graduation!

The last week of COT is called the character phase of training.  This basically means that all of the graded measures are completed and the trainees are evaluated solely on the basis of whether they have the character to be Air Force officers.  In other words, now that we have privileges (for example, to wear civilian clothes and go out to dinner and have a few beers), are we going to go crazy and screw everything up, or are we going to act like reasonable and responsible adults?

We did alright.  I'll admit it was weird to get off base for the first time and see my flightmates in civilian clothes on Saturday night.  I still felt like checking my clothes for loose strings and sitting at attention while eating.  But that wore off after a while, and we had a great night.  And on Sunday we got to go out again and watch the Superbowl, which was a nice bonus we weren't expecting.  (Our curfew would have had us back in the dorms an hour before the game ended, but the OTS staff leadership gave us an extra hour.)

The rest of the week was a build-up to graduation.  We had three or four blocks of intense parade practice, mixed in with some outprocessing briefings as well as lectures on standards and accountability.  It was hard for all of us to stay focused given that we were all looking forward to our family members' arriving and to graduating on Friday, but we managed.

Susan and Joaquin's arrival on Wednesday night was like clouds parting after a hurricane.  It was really wonderful to see them, even though I only had about thirty minutes to spend with them before I had to head back to my dorm.  It felt easy, and normal.  Well, normal despite the surroundings.  Joaquin knew me right away, which did a lot to alleviate my fears of having to earn his love anew.

I spent Thursday morning running around campus before participating in a retreat ceremony.  Retreat usually marks the end of the business day and consists of the playing of Retreat while lowering the flag and folding it up for safe storage overnight.

After the retreat ceremony we were released to have lunch with our families.  My mom, dad, and Papa Lopez had all arrived as well, so the six of us headed out to Dreamland barbecue, a fantastic place in downtown Montgomery very near the base.  Joaquin had a ball dancing with some of the waitresses to the soul music--of course!--that provided a soundtrack for our midday meal.  He then ravenously and hilariously dug into some world-class banana pudding with two spoons.

Thursday night was the Dining-Out, a formal military dinner used to celebrate important events.  I put on my monkey suit--aka, mess dress--and Susan joined me and the rest of Kelly Class at the Officers' Club.  It was a highly entertaining evening, complete with skits poking fun at our experience, a grog bowl, and numerous toasts.  To my surprise, Echo Flight won the table-decorating contest, as judged by the esteemed guests at the head table (assorted Brigadier Generals, Colonels, and Lieutenant Colonels).  Our tables were decorated with green army men (in honor of our flight commander and G.I. Joe lookalike) and plastic bugs (for the Echo Flight Exterminators).  But that's only part of the table-decorating competition.  The other part is the chants and jodies we burst into each time the head table guests came around.  Here are a couple of the chants and jodies we said:

Flight Chant
We don't hesitate
We exterminate
Bugs, rats, spiders, mice
Falcons, Griffins, other flights
chirp chirp chirp chirp SQUASH!
Yooooo Joe!

Echo Flight Exterminators
Stompin' all you bugs and haters
If you try to step to us
We'll just make you eat our dust
E-C-H-O, act like you know!
E-C-H-O, that's how we roll!

And we won without doing our signature jody, which I put up against any other jody voiced by Kelly Class over the last five weeks:  the Nine flights jody.  This one came to me in a half-sleep state and I woke up at midnight to scratch it out.  Here's how it goes.

Nine flights fought for fame and glory
Eight flights fell, here’s the story
Alpha took a shot at us
We ran them over with a bus
Bravo came a sniffin’ round
We put ‘em six feet under ground
Charlie tried to pass us by
We stopped ‘em, dropped ‘em, made ‘em cry
Delta wanted a little taste
We rearranged their pretty face
Foxtrot came and threw a punch
We blocked ‘em, clocked ‘em, ate their lunch
Golf had violence on their mind
But simply didn’t have the spine
Hotel tried to take us down
But found out we’re the toughest ‘round
India was last to fall
They found out winning takes some guts
Nine flights fought for fame and glory
Echo won – end of story!

Three flight commanders sent to the grog (Snake Eyes is on the right)

Echo Flight men

Echo Flight ladies

They were sent to the grog bowl for wearing "party shirts"

The day after the dining-out was graduation day.  We started off with an awards ceremony.  I was pleasantly surprised to be named a Distinguished Graduate along with two others in my flight.  That means that we were all in the top 10% of the class based on our graded measures.

Getting my award from Col Stout
After the awards ceremony, it was time for the parade.  We had been practicing all week for this, and our egos bore the scars of many a tongue-lashing from the training instructors tasked with whipping us into shape for parade.  To our great relief, it went off almost without a hitch (there was one time where a group was off step, but I'm sure it wasn't noticeable to the audience).


My salute isn't straight enough - dang!
At the end of parade, we took the oath of commission as some F-16s did a flyover.  It was pretty awesome.  Then it was picture time on the parade field before heading back to our flight room one last time to get certificates and challenge coins from Snake Eyes.  And before it could all really sink in, it was over.  I was done with COT and thinking about getting back to California.  The past five weeks felt like a year, and in a blink it was history.  Amazing.

My roommate, Father John

Another happy member of Echo Flight

Snake Eyes was a wonderful instructor

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