COT: How to Pack Like a Pro

It was about this time 2 years ago that I began freaking out anticipating heading to Commissioned Officer Training (COT). I loved my time at COT (seriously), but I felt grossly unprepared once I arrived. There were so many things I forgot to bring or just didn’t even think of bringing. Being the typical Type A med student that I am, I scoured the internet prior to leaving for COT looking for information. The only resources I found suggested the uniform items one should purchase prior to attending COT. These lists might as well have been in a different language because prior to training I had zero idea what any of the items were. Blousing Straps? Subdued Rank? Huh? I took my uniform list to the nearest AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service) and purchased the major items off the list, but there were several things I had to wait until I arrived at Maxwell AFB to purchase. In addition to the required uniform items, there were several things I forgot to bring to COT that would have made my life much easier. I decided to jot down a list of the odd-ball things you might not think of bringing with you. Keep in mind, you can bring your own luggage, you are not limited to the green duffel that you are required to purchase. Feel free to bring some home comforts with you to make the 5 weeks easier! In addition to your toiletries, clothing and snacks here are my recommendations for items to bring to COT:

  1. Cough Drops or Hard Candy: After a few weeks of being woken up at 04:30, you will be exhausted. Most of my classmates used cough drops or hard candy to help them stay awake in class. I had a few classmates chew gum, but since surviving COT is all about reducing how much attention you draw on yourself, I’d say stick to the candy.
  2. Black Backpack: Only black backpacks are permitted to be worn with both ABUs and Blues. Since you will be attending class every day, having a backpack is essential to carry around your laptop, notebooks, etc.
  3. Plain Running Shoes: The #1 rule of COT is don’t stand out, for any reason. While I love neon Nike just as much as the next person, the more subdued your shoes are the better. Your athletic shoes are the only thing you are wearing that are not standard issue while at PT so you don’t want to stick out by wearing highlighter yellow shoes while in formation.
  4. Civilian Clothes: By the 3rd week you should have earned privileges to be able to leave the COT campus and explore the base and/or go out in Montgomery, Alabama. While I was at COT we were not permitted to leave base in uniform, so having a couple of civilian outfits were necessary. You also have the chance to do a flight dinner and a dinner sponsored by USAA so you may want to have a few “nice” outfits on hand. Also, if you are religious you are permitted to wear civilian clothes to the church services offered on the weekends.
  5. Swimsuit: Towards the end of COT you have more free time and some weekends off. As I went to COT in the summer, I was in desperate need of reprieve from the heat and humidity. There’s a pool on base that’s about a mile walk away from the dorms and it was a nice place to hang out and enjoy the sunny weather without melting from the 98 degree temps.
  6. Eye-glasses straps: For many of the scheduled activities, the use of contact lenses is prohibited. A glasses strap is necessary as you will be doing a lot of obstacle courses and field work.
  7. Plastic Envelope: if you are gearing up for COT, I’m sure you’ve been told to carry several copies of your orders on you. Get a plastic envelope to keep these in as well as any important paperwork you receive when you arrive at COT as the paper envelope they give you falls apart due to wear and tear.
  8. Ruler: This will make putting together your uniform much easier.
  9. Printer: This is a recommendation for those people who are close enough to COT to drive. There were several assignments that we were required to print and turn in, yet the printers that were provided for us were without ink or cables to connect to our computers. Be a lifesaver for your flight and have a printer that you don’t mind letting other people use.
  10. Mobile Hot Spot: Wifi can be hit-or-miss depending on what time of year you are attending COT. Many of your assignments require online access, and with spotty wifi and 200+ people trying to log on at the same time it can get frustrating. If you have the ability to add a mobile hot spot to your phone without paying an astronomical amount I would highly recommend you do so.
  11. Family Photos & Mementos: Sharing photos of those closest to you will be a great way for your flight mates to get to know you as a person outside of the Air Force. Also your social chair may organize collages in your flight rooms as a morale booster and you don’t want to be the only one who can’t participate.
  12. Disinfectant Wipes: When I was at COT there was a guy on my floor who ended up with a naaaasty staph infection from one of the yoga mats that was provided for us. My roommate and I went home that day and threw our mats in the shower and poured bleach over them and rinsed them for a good 20 minutes. Unfortunately, most of the time you do not get your own mat back after PT as they get mixed up in the shuffle of trying to hurriedly get into formation. Having wipes would’ve allowed us to clean our mats daily, as we weren’t always afforded the time to soak our mats in the shower.
  13. Laundry Detergent: You have free access to the washers and dryers but you have to provide your own detergent and fabric softener. I ended up doing laundry every 3-4 days given how sweaty we would get during the scheduled activities. I recommend getting Tide Pods or something similar to save space in your luggage
  14. Hand Soap: I knew we had to bring our own toiletries, but I didn’t think I would have to bring my own hand soap. For the entire 5 weeks I was there I had to use my foaming face wash for my hands, which is not ideal.
  15. Baby Wipes: Unfortunately, if you go to COT in summer you will spend a lot of your time being sweaty. During the first couple of weeks you spend several hours standing outside practicing marching and formation. Even standing outside of the cafeteria for 20 minutes after lunch you will get hot. There is no time between activities to head back to the dorms so baby wipes are good to wipe the sweat off your face or give yourself a freshen-up once you get to class.
  16. Moleskin: I thought I took the time to break in my boots prior to COT, but the blisters that had formed by Day 2 told me otherwise. Moleskin was an absolute lifesaver. I would cut a donut out of the Moleskin, place it over the blister, wrap the area in paper tape and put on 2 pairs of socks and I was good to march for the rest of the day!
  17. Manicure Kit or Pocket Knife: having a small pair of scissors is critical. After washing your ABUs they will often have small threads that stick up from the seams or where your name tag or rank is sewn on. During uniform inspection, they look specifically at these areas to check for long threads so be prepared!
  18. Padlock: You are required to keep your security drawer locked at all times! They will write you up if they find you with an unlocked drawer.
  19. Flashlight: Although this was listed on the uniform list I received prior to COT, I kind of blew it off, thinking I wouldn’t need it. Since you are woken up well before sunrise to march out to physical training, you have to march with a flashlight in your hand. Trust me, they will notice if you do not have your own flashlight.
  20. Black Watch with Stopwatch: I wore a nice silver watch to COT and was told it was out of regulations due to the teeny tiny rhinestones that framed the face of the watch. Having a watch is necessary so just save yourself the hassle and get a plain black one prior to arrival.
  21. Cash: You have to pay for meals out of pocket so bring $300-$500 just to be safe. There is an ATM available, but you might not have privileges to be able to access the ATM for the first couple of weeks. Also heads up, COT is expensive! Although HPSP offers a uniform stipend $400, ultimately uniforms will cost about $2,000. Unless you have a lot of cash-money in the bank, I would suggest opening a credit card with a high limit (USAA & Military Star have great offers for military members).

 

Well there you have it! Those are my top recommendations for those odd things you may not have thought to bring. I loved my time at COT. The hours are grueling and the tasks seem tedious but you get to work with some incredible people and do some awesome things. If you are looking for more inside advice be sure to check out this article. Good Luck!

 


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