BOLC Week One: I Love This Uniform, But This Beret Is A Lemon!

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    My first blog from Ft. Sam Houston! HOOAH!

    Let's see, where were we last ... oh yes, departing for Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC). I drove from Virginia to Jackson, Tennessee on the first day. It was a fabulous drive -- lovely weather and a huge playlist on the iPod. I am a machine when it comes to driving; once I get behind the wheel with a goal, I don't like to stop much. I made it to Jackson that evening, stayed in a hotel (at the government rate -- after all, I was traveling on official orders!), and hit the road in the morning. I meant to leave at 0600, but I didn't get going until 0700 -- I was just a bit too tired for a "zero-dark-thirty" departure.

    So, onward to Texas. Another day of fabulous weather and fun driving! I made it to Ft. Sam Houston (in San Antonio) and the post hotel for check-in around 2100. A long day, but I was so jazzed just to be here that I didn't go to sleep until after 2300. My fabulous roommate had already checked in, and we finally got to meet for the first time (we'd only known each other from the allnurses Government/Military forum).

    Tuesday we had a free day, since we weren't officially reporting until Wednesday morning. We went to a few places like the PX -- the Post Exchange, an on-post department store. Wednesday morning we officially reported in our PT uniforms for height/weight and initial in-processing. I was beyond happy to make weight! I had been working on this. The Army goes by pretty standard height/weight tables, and people who fall outside of those measurements have to be "taped" -- measured at the neck, waist, and hips. There is some kind of magic formula that determines if these measurements keep you below an acceptable body weight. I had to be taped at my physical exam at Walter Reed in June (and I was fine by that measurement), but was glad to make weight this time. Barely, but that's okay. It will only get better from here!

    Of course, all the new BOLC students wanted to know about one thing: when would we have our first PT test? For PT tests, there are three areas: push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. Minimum standards are set according to gender, and then grouped by age ranges. We were told that our first PT test, a "diagnostic" to see where we stand fitness-wise, would be Friday morning. Oh joy.

    Thursday we reported in the morning in our Army Combat Uniform (ACUs), which was the first day I'd really worn the uniform. Exciting! It was a very long day of paperwork and forms, with briefings from Personnel and Finance. Be sure to bring many copies of your orders (I had 15 copies, I have given many away!), and an expandable file folder is very, very helpful. Go ahead and carry around your vital documents in that for all first-week activities -- medical records, immunization records, birth certificates, social security cards, marriage licenses, copies of your oath of office, etc. Some people came to this day without all their documentation, which could potentially result in delays in being "assessed" (this is when personnel gets you into the system), or delays in being paid. Note to married people: you can use a notarized copy of your spouse's driver license to get them enrolled into the system, and I believe this is a new development.

    New accessions (newly commissioned officers) are also allowed a one-time, interest free advance of $2500, paid back in bimonthly installments over 12 months. This is a great deal! If you need it, you have it. If you don't, you still have it and thus won't miss it from your paycheck. This advance is offered to you on the second day, during the Finance briefing.

    More fun on Thursday: drill and ceremony! This is formation, marching, saluting, etc. For a military brat like me, I have a small clue ... just enough to be dangerous, really. We spent a while out on the field, learning the basics of drill and ceremony. I had fun, because I am a dork. The prior service folks taught us well.

    And another milestone occurrence on Thursday: my actual swearing-in! I guess this used to be done in the company of the new accession's friends and family back home, but now it's done en masse if the new accession hasn't done it before arriving. So I raised my right hand and took my oath. Yes, I am official!

    Friday morning was chilly and breezy as we gathered at 0430 for our PT test. I never thought I'd be complaining about being cold in Texas! I was nervous about the PT test, but excited to see how I'd do. I've been working on my running since December 2009, doing the Couch-to-5K program to prepare for this. I am short, and running does NOT come easy to me. I was fairly confident about the push-ups, and confident about the sit-ups. I should have known better ... as usual!

    We gathered on the grass in the middle of the track and prepared for our first PT test. The order of events is push-ups, sit-ups, and then the two-mile run. There are two ends of the scoring spectrum: minimums and maximums. It's highly desired to "max out" your reps or running time, and not just meet the minimum. My minimum for push-ups: 13. Yes, being female and old can have benefits! I was so excited that I did 25 push-ups. Yes, really. I surprised myself! But I also hurt myself, because a little bit later when I tried to do the sit-ups, the one area in which I was confident, I discovered that I had cashed myself out by being an over-achiever in the push-ups. Oops! So yes, I failed my sit-ups. Ugh. Oh well ... that means room for improvement! I will dial the push-ups back just a notch in the future, until I am stronger in all areas.

    I went into the run with some trepidation. I think I would have been a bit more chipper if I'd gone into the final section with 100% pass, but alas, it was not so. The run started, and I kept a steady pace -- probably somewhere around 5 mph, which is pretty fast for a short chick like me. The track is a half-mile, so we had to do four laps. The first lap, I felt terrible. Awful! I thought, oh geez ... there is NO WAY! I kept pushing. The backside of the track has an awful headwind that can just suck the breath from your lungs. I concentrated on in through the nose, out through the mouth, in measured breaths, enjoying the wind at my back at the end of lap one. By lap two, I felt more comfortable with my stride, and thought ... OMG! I can do this. After lap three I saw the clock, and realized I was going to have to kick it up to meet my minimum time. Lap four brought me a nasty cramp in my right calf. UGH! To my dismay, I had to slow to a brisk-ish walk for what seemed like way too long to work the cramp out. It became tolerable, so I took off, calling on anything I had left to get me around that track. Into the headwind I sprinted, trying to get through that lung-sucking area. I came around the last curve, looked at the clock, and thought I'd already passed my time. Arrghhh!! Then I looked again and realized I had about 20 seconds left to make it. I sprinted with all my strength to the end, and made my minimum time by ... three whole seconds. I was so relieved! My goal is now to improve my time by at least a couple of minutes.

    We were dismissed to shower and have some morning chow, then report back to our auditorium for more briefings. Thankfully there was less paperwork this time! To get an idea of what some of the people we'll care for are going through, we watched some clips from RESTREPO, a documentary about soldiers in Afghanistan. It's the real deal, and not for the faint of heart; there is information on it here: I recommend watching it, if you are able. Very powerful and emotional.

    Another very interesting briefing today was from a representative from the Armed Services Blood Program ( This program collects blood for our soldiers who need it, and the need is constant. My one true regret to growing up overseas is that I am, according to the FDA regulations, "indefinitely deferred" from donating because I lived in Western Europe during the "mad cow years," meaning I am at risk of having contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) from tainted beef. I would really, really love to donate for our soldiers and their family members, but because there is no test for vCJD, I cannot. According to the ASBP, this situation is reviewed every six months by the FDA and CDC, so but far, no go. In any case, if you are near a donation center, I urge you to consider donating blood to benefit our troops and their families.

    Anyway, about the whole beret thing ... I had discovered before leaving home that my beret still needed work. Despite an initial shaving and shaping, it still looked ... well, terrible, as if the Purple Pieman had perched his hat upon my sad head. Okay, maybe not that bad, but close! Even my beret-wrangling-experienced roommate had a go at my beret -- shaving it more closely, helping me wet it and shape it again, even folding it and sticking it under my mattress for hours to flatten parts of it. Nothing helped. We declared it a lemon! Note to newbies: get yourself a pre-shaped, pre-shaved beret if possible. And if you are coming to Ft. Sam Houston, do yourself a HUGE favor and go to Kim's right outside the post gate on Harry Wurzbach Road. They will not only fit you with a beret, they will steam it and fold it, ensuring a super-sharp, squared away beret. I also had my rank sewn onto my patrol cap and Kevlar cover while I waited. Fabulous service!

    Next week is sure to bring more adventures!
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    About Pixie.RN, MSN, RN, EMT-P Senior Moderator

    LunahRN: a short green-eyed redhead, very tattooed, a volunteer Paramedic, ER RN, new 2LT/66HM5. Avid reader, addicted to good shoes, allnurses, and her smartphone.

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  3. by   PrettyinPink1234
    heyy, i will be joining your class for the short course at the end of next month!
  4. by   Pixie.RN
    Excellent! We seem to have a great group here.
  5. by   pyroandbozzt
    Use a disposable razor, shave the entire beret.

    Then soak it, and wear it on your head. Form it the way it's supposed to sit with the flash sitting over your left eye and the fold going down to your ear (I don't know how women wear theirs with hair but this is for males).

    If you need anymore help send me a message. I'm stationed at Fort Sam Houston in the Honor Guard at the National Cemetery.
  6. by   Pixie.RN
    I truly appreciate the offer -- being Honor Guard, I am quite certain your beret and beret-shaping skills are superior. I think I'm squared away now, though -- my beret is looking good! Finally. Thanks again!
  7. by   pyroandbozzt
    Question regarding your commission. I'm currently Active Duty enlisted but going through civilian Nursing School (Wayland Baptist) for my BSN. I'll graduate a few months after I ETS from the Army.

    When you were applying for your commission, did you have the feeling the Army is so hard up for Nurses they wouldn't have a problem with prior enlisted?

    Also, what is your training timeline? Do you have the attend basic training or anything else besides BOLC?

    I would message you this question but I cannot find any option to do so.

    Thanks for your time ma'am.
  8. by   Pixie.RN
    You have to have 15 posts on allnurses before you can use the PM system -- it's a means to deter spammers from signing up and PMing spam to members right away.

    The Army is not hard-up for nurses at all right now; on the contrary, it is extremely competitive. The numbers were crazy this year -- something around 400 applicants for 50-something slots. However, prior service seems to be a big advantage, judging from the percentage of BOLC students who are prior service ... an overwhelming majority, I believe! The prior service folks have been very good to us direct commissions who have less than a clue. I grew up as a dependent, so I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous ... for example, I'm very good with acronyms and the phonetic alphabet.

    BOLC is our basic training. The first 9 weeks are for all of us medical types, and the last 2 weeks we have the Nurse Track. From here, we report to our first duty stations.

    You might want to visit the Government/Military forum on allnurses -- there is a lot of information shared there that will likely be relevant/helpful for you:

    Welcome to allnurses, and thank you for your service!
  9. by   PrettyinPink1234
    hey--have you heard anything about field training yet? Ive hear rumors that ts 20 days straight now, instead of gong back to base on the weekends....just wondering bc it might require me to buy more uniforms if i cannot wash them on the weekends!
  10. by   traumaRUs
    Lunah I luv your enthusiasm.

    I'm in the never donate blood too group because we were stationed in Spain the 80's.
  11. by   Pixie.RN
    Quote from PrettyinPink1234
    hey--have you heard anything about field training yet? Ive hear rumors that ts 20 days straight now, instead of gong back to base on the weekends....just wondering bc it might require me to buy more uniforms if i cannot wash them on the weekends!
    Pure rumor. No worries!
  12. by   PrettyinPink1234
    Quote from LunahRN
    Pure rumor. No worries!
    excellent, thanks! hope everything is going good for you. I am actually really excited to get down there!
  13. by   highlandlass1592
    It may seem trite but that's not how I intend it.Thank your for your have my highest regards and thanks. I have a lot of respect for people in the service, even more so for those who are nurses! :-) I have two friends now who just finished service..both are nurses. I am in awe of them. My friend, who's husband is also a nurse, gave me an army nurse insignia pin (I've tried to get one for years, I love collecting nurse collectibles!) and I think of them all the time.
  14. by   angelkerri
    Thanks for this post I applied for the board last November and I got on the OML (DX) Better than being non-select I suppose, but still very frustrating as I had my heart set on it. But! I was selected for a Reserve position which I hope will be a foot in the door to Active Duty later on. I'm trying to view it as a positive too as it allows me three years to get a few things done on my own as a Reservist before committing myself 100% to Army. I am very excited about the opportunities ahead of me. I like your little snapshot into BOLC...I hope everyone is having a great time. I'm there in spirit