As I have written before, I was in Air Force ROTC from 2002 – 2005 at The Ohio State University. The first chapter of my book recalls my selection to pilot training, a surprising and devastating discharge because of a minor medical condition, and my eventual commission in the US Navy Reserve in 2009.
As part of Air Force ROTC back then (it’s different now), a four-week camp called Field Training. It was basic officer training for the Air Force, a truncated version of Officer Training School, that happened between cadets sophomore and junior years. As I wrote previously in another post, the rating a cadet earned at Field Training was factored into future calculations for job selection.
As I wrote that post, I looked at some pictures I had tucked away in a small bin in my bedroom. They were taken on a one-time use camera and printed off at a local CVS upon my return. As I looked through them, I began to remember some of my fellow cadets’ names, as well as the name of our flight’s captain, whose last name was Napier. A quick Google search turned up his first name, and I eventually found him on LinkedIn, where I messaged him. He said he remembered me well, and in our subsequent conversation, he mentioned he had kept the journal entries of each cadet and asked if I wanted mine. As a guy who at 34 years of age wrote a 200+ page book taking a reflective look on his life, I was very interested to see what I thought about myself and my flight from a stressful four weeks almost 16 years ago.
I have typed out each of the journal entries and kept them word-for-word, as they appear below in Italics. I don’t remember the situations about which I wrote, I have provided additional context to each, as necessary, as it made sense for the time.
Training Day 5
The flight has really improved on their individual drill evaluations (IDE), marching performance has increased dramatically, and we can now march to chow almost flawlessly. The flight worked well during dorm clean. Most of all, I was ecstatic to find out the flight did so well on our fitness test. I even achieved my personal best. I did not see much negativity today as I believe we really started to work.
At Field Training, we marched in formation everywhere, and it clearly took time for us to get used to our flight commander, the cadence, and each other. I can’t believe it took us five days to be able to march well together. An interesting thing I noticed about my writing is that I put the flight first before referencing myself regarding our fitness test. Was that something I did purposefully? Or was it something that just happened. Was I putting others before me intentionally? I’ll probably never know, although the important lesson is that, as a leader today, I know to put others before me.
Training Day 7
The flight lost its motivation for a while, they got a little too lazy. Things did turn around in the evening. We’re starting to lose our faith. I think a lot of people still don’t want to be here, and are not motivated to work. This goes for me as well. Sometimes I don’t feel as if it will end, but the time is going quickly. The flight is learning how to work under pressure and realize that things aren’t so bad. Everytime something gets to me I try to tell myself, at least I’m not on Bloody Omaha.
This was written one week in, and I can see that we had finally begun to tire from the craziness that was our first week. The last sentence is interesting, of course. One of the personal items that I brought with me, all of which had to be stored in a small locker in our wall unit, was a book on the US amphibious landings at Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. I was a military history major in college and had a fascination with Operation Overlord, so I thought that bringing a book about it with me to Field Training would always give me the perspective that what I was going through wasn’t so bad.
Training Day 8
Today was long and hard on the flight. All of the marching and sunlight really burned us out. We did well at the parade. I think the change of flight positions will be good for us. Stand O was tough, now it is time to be a follower and see how others do. I think the flight did well during our quick uniform change, we just need to do better at finding what are the “tricks of the trade.” I mean by that, certain general things of how to move faster, put on uniforms quicker, put them away quicker, as time moves on we will get better, I am confident.
The mention of “Stand O” refers to my role as our flight’s standardization officer for the first week. I remember checking in on our first day with Captain Napier and our Cadet Training Assistant (CTA) Mickey Condon, who was entering his fourth year in Air Force ROTC and returned to Field Training as an assistant instructor. They saw that I had experience as a “Stand O” during my sophomore year and told me that I would have that position for our flight at Field Training. It is an incredible difficult job the first week, as it was my responsibility to ensure everyone looked the same and our wall lockers, rooms, accessories, and beds looked the same, according to the Field Training manual. If something was off in anybody’s space, it was my fault. It is clear from this journal entry that I was glad there was a change.
Training Day 9
Today was very frustrating. Besides the IDEs done well, I realized something about our flight. A LOT of people have NO sense of tact. TOO many people put themselves above the flight. I understand people need to stand out, but when regular cadets act as CTAs I get frustrated. I also understand we need to move quickly, but when our fellow cadets treat us like children, that is frustrating to me as well. According to me, we are in our storming phase. It better go quickly because right now I am not very pleased.
As I mentioned above, I don’t recall exactly what this was in reference to, but if I trust my gut, I think it was about cadets who were put in leadership positions acting more like our superiors than our fellow cadets. We got yelled at enough by the staff, we didn’t need to be degraded or talked down to by our fellow cadets in our flight, just because they were made flight commander or some other position of “authority.”
Training Day 12
Shooting was fun. I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, but I did ok. Our flight is getting a little “interested” in what’s going on during this camp. I have contributed most to this. We’re wonder…all this stuff (M9, JETO, confidence course), we thought was going to happen the last week, (our transition week) yet it is happening now. Seems a little interesting to us. Lack of food/sleep is finally catching up to us. It certainly has for me. It has also come to my attention that we don’t have enough time for things (which I’m sure is part of the plan). TOO MANY people need to do laundry but we can’t do it, they’re either taken or “it’s not our day.” We need time to iron uniforms, shine shoes, work on wall lockers, clean bathrooms, et cetera. That’s kind of frustrating, but again I’m sure thats all part of the game. I guess I’ll live.
There are a number of takeaways I have from this post. I remember going to the firing range at Ellsworth AFB. The instructor told us that if we met a certain threshold that we would qualify for a special ribbon we could wear on our uniforms. A few of our flight did, but not me, and I was a bit disappointed at that. The other two activities referenced, JETO and confidence course, refer to jet orientation and an obstacle course, respectively.
Jet orientation was an interesting thing and probably was what I was most looking forward to. Speaking with cadets who graduated from Field Training in years before, jet orientation was a one-day event in which the Air Force paid to charter a commercial aircraft and flew a bunch of cadets and staff from Ellsworth Air Force Base to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where each cadet would get a ride in a training aircraft, as Randolph AFB was the home of the Air Force’s pilot training. The idea was to generate (or keep) interest in flying careers, as that is the Air Force’s priority mission. It is clear that I didn’t get to go this week, but others did. I think, as a flight, we presumed that these “fun” activities would happen during the last week as a kind of reward, but it appeared as if they were happening throughout the four weeks and not just in the last week.
The confidence course was a standard obstacle course located at the base and gave us something fun to do (and not be yelled at). I don’t remember the specifics of it, but I do remember that I eventually had an opportunity to go.
Training Day 14
Halfway over. Its gone quick, maybe a little too quick. The flight needs to move faster, still, but we are working on it. We have a lot of work to do to finish strong. The inspection tomorrow is important. I’d like to do well. I want to see Santos do well too. He needs some confidence. One last thing, I’m getting pretty hungry. This dining hall thing is finally catching up.
Reflecting on this entry, I find it interesting that I say that the first half of the training had gone by “a little too quick.” I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that…
The other interesting reference is to Santos. My flight mate Juan Santos, who was actually my roommate for the first few weeks, was a cadet from the University of Hawaii (if I remember correctly). He showed up to the training with many of his uniform items still wrapped in the plastic bags when he bought them from the uniform store, which showed that he did zero preparation for the training in the preceding weeks, whereas I had read the manual front to back, ironed my uniforms, and shined my shoes rigorously. Unfortunately, as Santos was my bunkmate, I received a lot of crap from the staff because he wasn’t as prepared as I was. Wherever he is today, I hope he’s doing well!
Training Day 15
Our flight is having a lot of problems with special drill. Our leaders are not planning, therefore our practices accomplish nothing. On a lighter note, everyone passed the standby inspection. This shows our flight’s attention to detail on our rooms, but again, on another note, our uniform wear was crap. Everyone included. This needs to be changed. Too many people are not thinking about the next day and they are not preparing. I received 3 341s today, the most ever since being relieved of Stand O. One of them I don’t feel so bad about. If I have to take a 341 for helping my team, so be it. I do need to work on keeping myself “locked up” in informal situations. Hopefully people going on JETO tomorrow will have fun, I’d like to be there but I guess my turn hasn’t come yet. I just want people in the flight to stop trying to stand out above the rest, and just join the flight. We need to care about each other a lot more than we do.
If I remember correctly, special drill referred to these very specific marching orders we had to perform within a given area. The cadet giving the orders had to think ahead or we would inevitably march outside the box and be punished.
The mention of a 341 refers to a Form-341, which we used for infractions. If we were caught looking around while at attention, talking in formation, or any other of the million things we could do wrong, we were ordered to complete a 341 and turn it into the staff at the end of the day. Apparently, I received three of them this day, but I’m also proud to know that I got dinged for something when I was helping my team.
I also see that I still hadn’t gotten my chance to go on jet orientation by this time.
Training Day 17
A few of the things I have learned at field training are the importance of first impressions, teamwork, and followership. I realized from m counseling with Captain Napier that I may come off as arrogant when people first meet me. I do not want that to happen anymore and I will watch how I present myself in the future. I know now that “teamwork makes the dream work.” We are all here to learn solo leadership while also learning teamwork skills. Followership is big as well because leaders need followers. The followers are the ones who get the job done.
This is the first time in my life I an recall where I have a moment of true self-reflection and self-awareness. I have always had a problem with overconfidence and arrogance, particularly in my late teens and twenties (I like to think I’m more humble these days). In further discussions with Captain Napier in the past few weeks, he informed me that, in the cadet peer evaluations, arrogance was a word used to describe me quite a bit. This journal entry had a comment from another flight captain, which read: “Learning has occurred…now let’s execute and see what you’ve got – Captain Creighton”
I’m not sure what or if I changed, but this was a critical step in my personal growth.
Training Day 18
Tough day. Lots of PT. We worked hard. Regarding the issue of CTA Solomon, I am not justifying bad behavior with worse behavior, but I hear CTAs talk about cadets constantly. This is something that needs to be worked out. Again, what we did was wrong, and somewhat disrespectful, but as I said earlier, we need to remember our bearing and not be stupid for the last nine days.
If I remember correctly, CTA Solomon was a large, bulky guy from the Air Force ROTC detachment at Texas A&M. I don’t know what this incident was about, but whatever I/we did, I admitted was wrong and disrespectful. It might have been an impression of him, as he had a very distinct voice that I and fellow flight member Donnie Meyers used to emulate well. If it was that, and we got caught, then yes, that would be wrong and disrespectful. It is interesting that I try to qualify our actions by saying that it was not as bad because we heard them talk about us.
Captain Creighton commented, “Learn and move on. Life is too short to get caught up in small details.”
And that is where the journal entries end. Field Training ended on the 28th day, so I had 10 more days until I left. I eventually went to jet orientation, but had a less than enjoyable experience. Usually cadets got to fly in (and fly) either the T-38 jet trainer aircraft or the T-6 propeller trainer aircraft. Unfortunately, just a day or two before, a pilot trainee landed a plane without putting down the landing gear, landing the belly of the plane on the runway and tearing up the concrete, and that meant a significant number of planes couldn’t fly. I didn’t get to fly in either a T-6 or T-38, but I did get a ride in a T-1, which is a dual engine trainer, similar to a Lear jet. I didn’t get to fly the plane at all (at least I got to fly an F-16 the following summer).
For more on my time in Hotel Flight, Ellsworth II, Air Force ROTC Field Training 2004, read my other post about how I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and learned a valuable lesson.
As I also mentioned above, I did not commission in the Air Force after a devastating and surprising discharge during my senior year of college. I never gave up and instead commissioned in the Navy in 2009. You can read more about that in the first chapter of my book, Get After It: Seven Inspirational Stories to Find Your Inner Strength When It Matters Most.