05 January 2012

Grand Finale

In the words of Porky Pig, "That's all folks!" 

When I sat down to write this, my final post, I intended to write about how we’ve come to the end of our journey now that pilot training is complete. But as I thought about it, I realized that really, our journey is just beginning, and in many ways, it’s never-ending. Pilot training is over (well, almost, as C is completing his follow-on training right now), but it is the beginning of his career as an Air Force pilot and the start of our new identity as a military family. We will go through trainings, deployments, TDYs, leave…countless experiences. But before we face these things we have the gift of knowledge that this year has awarded us. We have built timeless friendships, made special memories, conquered fears and obstacles, and most importantly, learned our strength as a family.

Over a year ago, I started writing about our journey. I wanted to be able to update our friends and family on our progress here, but I also wanted to create a resource. It’s easy to find information on the pilot training experience from the student perspective, but not so easy to get a feel for what the families will go through. I hope now that I have created something that will be useful for the many more families who will come behind us. In closing, I have asked some of my fellow spouses, what is one piece of advice that they would give to incoming UPT families. Here’s what they had to say:

Enjoy it. You may be far away from home, family, friends, and your life in general, but enjoy it. Some days it feels like it will never end. Some days you will barely get a kiss from your husband, and most likely his eyes will be open - looking at his Dash 1. But it goes by fast. And it is likely one of the only times everyone around you will be going through the same thing. You'll make friends fast, easy, and for forever as long as you are open to it - so be open to it. Support your spouse through this, but make sure he supports you too. Make the best of it, and it will be a fantastic time. – MQR

It's an intense time, but there are lots of perks to pilot training which can be extremely beneficial if you're open to them: a helpful & encouraging group of other spouses who embrace you quickly, some small town perks and the benefit of having your husband at home with you almost every night. It really can be a fun adventure and there is so much support readily available. Make the most of every program or volunteer opportunity that you can. It does go by faster with each phase. Most of all, support your man! He needs it so much and even though you're far from home, friends and commodities, it's a great time for you to develop your marriage and focus on the few things that really matter. – MER

Live in the moment. It’s easy to measure time by when he gets home, or after the 15-day program, or during phase 3, but in the meantime, you lose so many important moments. Get involved. Make friends. Do something you love. Be independent. This is such a unique time in your life, and his, and you will never experience it again. Make the most of it. – JS

It is a crazy, stressful, and awesome time! It will be the fastest and slowest year of your life. Some days and nights go by slowly waiting for your husband to come home, but the whole year really does go by fast. And it's easy to become overwhelmed and feel like you're going through it alone so make sure you reach out to all the people around you. Your husband will be so busy, but the base has so many great people to help and guide you through your time here and the other spouses are an invaluable resource. No one will understand what you're going through more than the other spouses so make sure you get involved and make friends. I have met the most friendly and welcoming people here and made some of the best friends I'll ever have. And don't forget to make time for date nights and time to spend just with your husband. Many training bases don’t have a lot to do, but try and find fun activities around base or in the city and carve out time for some fun. He will be stressed out during the work week and spending time together is a great way to relieve stress and maintain a great marriage. He'll need all the help and support he can get from you during this year but I promise it will all be worth it in the end when he gets those wings. – JN

It is the only time that you can not be embarrassed when you need to answer your front door at 3pm and you’re still in or PJs! All the spouses understand that perfectly! – AC

Embrace the area.....it is probably in the middle of nowhere, but especially if you have children there is always something to do. Most events are free or very affordable...check out local websites for events. The OSC is amazing and not like many other bases!! You will truly feel at home if you let yourself! Take the opportunities to join everything!! The best way to make friends is to live on base and go to everything you’re invited to!! But always support your husband/spouse during pilot training. Even for the smartest person this will be a trying year considering all the guys submitted to UPT are the best of the best. Enjoy the time you do have with your spouse because when you get out into the real world of pilots there are long hours, many deployments and TDYs. – KJF

Remember why you’re at pilot training. Like it or not, you are there to support your spouse’s dreams and career. Even when it’s tough, remember that while you can’t help their career, you can certainly hurt it. They just need your unconditional support, no matter what. Even if you’re not in your dream location, or don’t get your dream assignment, remember what it’s all about – helping your spouse to become an Air Force pilot. Also, even if you don’t feel comfortable at spouse events, it’s still good to go because you never know what great friendships you might miss out on! – ET

Even though pilot training is very rigorous, it is the most time you will spend with your spouse in the coming years. After pilot training, there will be many TDYs and deployments to cope with, so enjoy a simple life in a small town. Attend everything that you can! And be a good friend to those you meet. For most spouses, this is a first assignment away from family. The friends you make at pilot training are often lifelong friends and will be there for you through thick and thin. Enjoy spending time with them and making great memories. Don't burn any bridges because, while you cannot help your husband's career, you can definitely hurt it. Getting to know the permanent spouses at the base through OSC is a great opportunity and they are very fun people! Pilot training is a great foundation for your military career going forward! - TG

08 November 2011

Mission Complete

Graduation. Finally. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This year of UPT has been both the slowest and fastest year of our lives. Slow because sometimes the obstacles have felt insurmountable and the days have crawled by. But fast because I can’t believe it’s already over.

UPT Graduation is not just a single event – it’s more like a festival. We began with the arrival of family on Wednesday afternoon. The following day was “Red Carpet Day” – a day for family. We started bright and early at the squadron breakfast, where we enjoyed a feast of donuts and coffee, followed by a presentation by the squadron commander and flight commander. Here, the family learned a bit about the ins and outs of daily life and we were thrilled to learn that C had been selected for the Flight Commander’s Award for outstanding performance, attitude, and dedication.

C with his proud parents
From there, we were able to tour the base, including the squadron, RAPCON, and sim building. We learned a new perspective from the air traffic controller students and even had a chance for all of us to fly the T-1 sim.

C & his dad in the T-1 sim
On Thursday afternoon, we had a huge surprise when C’s squadron flew in for an unannounced visit. Our friends and family were able to tour his future plane and meet his crewmates.

That evening, we all piled into cars and headed to the class party at our favorite BBQ place. It was a great chance to meet the students’ families and let off a little steam.

Blowing off steam
Friday morning welcomed the winging ceremony – probably the most awaited event, short of Assignment Night. We enjoyed a short and sweet guest speaker, followed by the presentation of awards. Once again, the proud family applauded as C was called up for the Distinguished Graduate award and the AETC Commander’s Trophy – the two most prestigious awards in UPT.  Finally, H & I joined C at the front for the anticipated pinning of the wings. My husband officially became a United States Air Force pilot.

Wing pinning

C's Bling

Proud family
After a bit of downtime to primp and preen, we may our way to the formal graduation banquet. Even mediocre food could not dampen the electricity of the night. The students, dressed in their spiffy mess dress, were thrilled to be students no more and the glamorized, beaming guests provided testament to the trials and triumphs of the past year. C rounded out his trophy case with the receipt of the T-1 Leadership Award and even I was recognized for my contributions as a spouse during this difficult program.

I couldn't be more proud!
When the feast was cleared, the ties came off for a late night of frivolity – a much-needed release and a true celebration.

C and our dads at the post-party

Graduation has felt much like a wedding: endless planning, the joy and chaos of visiting family, and an event that is over before it has even hit you. It’s hard to believe that we are done – that the routine will be broken and the people who have been like family to us for so many months will be leaving. The urge to rejoice the end is tempered by the reality-shaking acceptance that we must all move on. But one thing I know: though the class of 12-01 may never be reunited, the bond that they (and we as spouses) have formed is eternal. You can’t go through the worst and the best together without coming out stronger and united. 

19 October 2011

The Stuff of Which Dreams Are Made

Assignment Night: Big event 1 of 2 that marks the end of UPT. Anxious faces, shaking hands, nervous laughs. What does the future hold for the students and spouses of Class 12-01?

For all of the tension leading up to the big night, the final product was extraordinary. Date change and facility obstacles were completely forgotten as the decked out hangar filled with supporters and food. 

The night was truly a celebration. Never have I seen so many happy faces, so many dreams realized. 

The assignments (known as “the drop”) were cream of the crop and at the top of nearly every student’s wish list. The excitement was contagious, even for those of us who already had our assignment. C and I rejoiced with his classmates – these people, who have become like a family over the past year, have a career of adventures ahead of them and we could not be more thrilled.  

10 October 2011

No Room at the Inn

The day has finally come. As I write, C is sitting next to me studying for his LAST, FINAL, ULTIMATE checkride in UPT.

Not only does this week conclude the flying portion of C’s UPT journey, but we have also arrived at Assignment Night for his classmates. No more wondering about the future – as of Friday, the students of C’s class will know what their airborne destinies hold.

And, I am happy to report, we will not be holding this important rite of passage in a cornfield like I had feared throughout the past two weeks. You see, about two weeks ago, the date was changed. Not such a big deal (unless you were a family member with plane tickets or requested time off). But, of course, the changes couldn’t end with a simple switcheroo of the calendar. Instead, the scheduled facility was already booked for the new date, sending the class members into a tailspin of brainstorming (no pun intended). Every suggested venue was shot down by booking, personnel, or other logistics, so that as of last week, the poor lieutenants were all ready to receive their assignments, with no place to do so. But hooray! A venue has finally emerged and promises to hold a night of much rejoicing and the potential to create an Assignment Night for the record books.

And so the countdown begins (or continues)…4 days until Assignment Night; 18 days until graduation. Life is sweet.

24 August 2011


Despite living and breathing all things pilot training for the last year, our lives have continued to progress in other arenas as well. We’ve all celebrated birthdays, gotten haircuts, had the flu…normal stuff. Today, however, was a big milestone in the life of our family: the first day of kindergarten.

These days, it seems that the beginning of school is routinely associated with a certain loss of innocence; parents are no longer the most influential people in a child’s life and friends take on a much greater significance. As a teacher (on hiatus), I’ve witnessed firsthand the “mature” experiences of today’s child and the rapid progression from baby to teenager – kids seem to be in such a hurry to grow up. I’ll never forget the day one of my sixth grade students asked me what brand of mascara I use.

This short-lived childhood and the inevitable loss of control (someone else is responsible for keeping my kid safe during the day) are the things that scare me the most as a mother. But, as I looked into the eager (and slightly scared) eyes of my little girl this morning, I knew she was ready, even if I was not. The rational side of me knows that this is the turning point not where I lose my little girl, but where the foundation that C and I have laid for her is put to the test.

17 August 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare

Blood is pumping a little faster; nerves are jumpy; palms are getting sweaty. Yes folks, we are officially 72 days away from graduation. While this may seem like quite a few days, for those of us who have been at this for almost a year, it’s more like the blink of an eye.  At this point, C has remaining 2 checkrides (one next week), 17 flights, and 1 sim.

So, what happens next?

Coming up in less than 8 weeks is the night that most of our active duty pals await even more than graduation: Assignment Night. This is the event where each student finds out their first assignment – aircraft and location. Some people say that first assignment makes or breaks a career; others say it’s simply the first step in a long journey. Either way, it’s a pretty exciting deal. Personally, it’s a little anticlimactic for us (much like track select), since we already have our assignment, but we are thrilled to discover the fates of the rest of our UPT family.

Two weeks later, the real celebrating begins during the graduation festivities – concluding with the much-anticipated pinning of the wings.

But wait! The voyage doesn’t stop there. After graduation, our journey continues almost immediately. Before returning to our home base, C will attend three follow-on trainings. As we have just received our dates, we learned the C will leave for SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape – Combat Survival Training) and Water Survival five days after graduation. During these, he will learn survival techniques in a classroom setting and then actually survive in the wilderness.  Upon his return, he immediately leaves for Pilot Initial Qualification training. Another training? Basically, pilot training works like this: First, they teach you how to fly a plane (the Air Force way); then, they teach you how to fly a plane similar to your assignment; and finally, they teach you how to fly your actual designated plane. The upside is that C will only be about three hours away for the 4-6 months of PIQ.

It all seems like such a whirlwind. Here at UPT, we all seem to be trapped in a dichotomy of time: while some days/weeks/months seem to crawl by, it’s hard to fathom that a whole year has gone by since we began this process. It’s coming to an end, and yet, it’s not.

18 July 2011

Groundhog Day

It’s come to my attention that my posts have been rather sparse lately. This is largely due to the fact that very little has changed in UPT-land. In fact, I’m feeling a bit like Bill Murray these days…

C is about halfway through the T-1 program, in the Navigation block (the second of three blocks). He passed his first checkride and has begun flying to outbases. We received the fantastic news on Friday afternoon that the class is no longer on formal release! The flight room has now become less of a prison and more of a refuge.

To help out our very busy men, two of the other class spouses and I have taken on a bit of class fundraising to help cover the costs of assignment night and graduation events. Students are responsible for footing the bill for these events, which can get pretty costly in the end. We have been working with local restaurants to set up fundraising nights to earn a portion of the proceeds.

As it is summer, H and I have been enjoying a lot of quality time together. Most of our days are spent like this:

We love spending evenings and weekends with C, though since the poor guy has been flying like a mad man lately, his evenings sometimes look a lot like this:

Life keeps rolling, even in UPT when it sometimes feels like time has stopped. Actually, it’s amazing how quickly the time has flown as graduation draws nearer and nearer…