I want to become an officer... Where do I start? (Part 1 of 3)

You are a brand new Airman and you would like to become an officer someday.  Where do you start?  One of the fundamental requirements for becoming an officer is having a bachelor's degree, so that should be your first overall goal.  You will likely have responsibilities as an Airman which will take priority over your education, so I will start by outlining some shorter term goals you can work on first.

Be Good at Your Job - First and foremost, you will want to be known for being good at your job.  If you want to become an officer you can't do it alone, you will need the help and support of your chain of command.  Your chain of command will be much more likely to support your application if they know you are a hard worker who delivers results.  If you are an unknown Airman or a troublemaker they will not put any work into helping you out.  Have a positive attitude and be eager to learn everything you can about how to do your job well.  If you have qualification or certification requirements, complete them quickly and score well on your evaluations.  Once you know how to do your job, pass on your knowledge to others and become the trainer.  All of this may seem minor but it is the little things which add up to make a solid application package.

Complete your CDCs - Everyone in the Air Force has a skill level associated with your career field, and this skill level is included in your Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC).  For example the enlisted AFSC for Security Forces is "3P0X1" with "X" being the skill level.  An Airman will be awarded a skill level of "1" upon initial entry into the Air Force and "3" upon completion of tech school.  To earn the "5" level you will have to complete your career field's applicable "Career Development Course" or CDCs and complete "On-the-Job Training" or OJT.  I think the typical OJT time period is one year.

The Career Development Course is a self-paced course which takes you a little deeper into everything you went over in tech school.  Most career fields have 3-4 books which they call volumes, and while I said it was self-paced your time limit to complete each volume is 30 days.  Completing each volume will involve going through the text yourself and taking self-tests throughout each unit (usually 2-3 units per volume).  Once all units are complete, your supervisor will have you take an all-encompassing test covering each unit or volume and copy your answers onto "bubble sheets" for your record and you will go onto the next volume.  Once you complete all volumes you will take a formal "End of Course" test or EOC at the education center and receive a final score.  While you have 30 days to complete each volume, I believe you have 12 months to complete them all.  Your goal should be to stick as closely to the 30 days per volume timeline limit as possible.

It is important that you do well on your EOC.  I think the passing score is 65% but your goal should be to score in the 90s.  I have not seen stats on this, but I would guess the vast majority of Airmen score in the 80's.

Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) Degree - You have probably been told many times that completion of tech school gave you X many of credits toward your CCAF.  The CCAF is an Associate's level degree which is awarded by the Community College of the Air Force.  You will need to accomplish around 60 credits to be awarded the degree and mine was divided into around 30 what I would call general credits of math, science, humanities, etc. and 30 related to your career field.  When I did mine I think completion of tech school and my CDCs gave me all but six career field specific credits, so I was only responsible for the 30 general credits and the remaining six specific credits.  Typically, each class will give you three credits and your degree progress is tracked in the "Virtual Education Center" in the Air Force Portal.

One of the easiest ways to complete your general credits such as math, English, etc, are to take mini tests called "CLEP/DANTES" tests.  These tests are easier than you may think they are.  If you need 6 English credits, for example, look to see if there is a CLEP that will give you those credits (such as "English Composition.")  There are books at the base library you can use to study for free.  Once you are ready you schedule a time and a day with the Education center and if you pass the test you are awarded three of those six credits.  There is a long list of available CLEPs and like I said most are easier than you may think.  Take as many as CLEPs as possible.  They are free to take the first time for military, and back in the day the cost was around $75 for civilians.

To complete the remainder of your credits you will need to enroll in a university.  The base education center can help you out with choosing a university, but keep in mind in this day and age online universities are an option too.  The Air Force Tuition Assistance (TA) benefits are huge!  I personally recommend you push yourself and go through a university which will push you to your limits.

When I was an Airman I didn't look for a university, I went to the education center and signed up for the first one that would take me and had the field I wanted to pursue.  While I was taking the classes I didn't focus on learning as much as possible, I did the work to receive a decent score in the class.  I thought I could do well in the classes without doing the readings!  If I could do it all again, I would have chosen a more prestigious university and would have applied myself more to not only doing well, but learning as much as possible in every class.  

Regardless of what you decide to do, keep in mind you can use one university for your CCAF and choose another one for your bachelor's degree.  When you actually start your bachelors, choose a field you are interested in.  The field you choose has zero impact on what your career field could be as an officer (with a few exceptions, perhaps medical or pilot).  Focus on maintaining a decent GPA (3.5 or above).  Other than that, learn lots and have fun!

Whole Person Concept

The last goal I will leave you with is to develop your "whole person concept" image.  You will hear about this a lot and it is not an easy concept to explain.  It is more of an art, not something which works well with a formula.  The Air Force wants to:
  1. Be an effective contributor to your job (a.k.a. the mission)
  2. Be an active and involved citizen in your community (both on-base and off-base), and
  3. Continuously work on improving yourself (training, certifications, education, etc.) 
The most important part of this trio is mission accomplishment.  Like I started with, you want to be known for doing your job well first.  Once you are the go-to guy at work, then you can commit some of your time to improving the rest of your image.

Because I consider the Whole Person Concept (WPC) an image, it is something which takes time to develop.  It is important to know that it is not crucial that you work on all three aspects of your WPC image at the same time.  While you are working on your education it is okay to not be volunteering as much as everyone else.  If life is really busy at work it is okay to slow down on your education.  Your goal should be to develop each aspect of your image to a personally established goal/level by the time you are ready to apply for OTS.  I will talk about timelines in a different post.

Community Involvement - Your supervisor will help you learn how to be successful at work so I will stick with addressing the other two aspects of your WPC image.  Community involvement is Air Force code for volunteering.  In general, you will be pushed to do this or that volunteer opportunity all of the time by your leadership.  While it is important to stay involved with the mandatory volunteer opportunities which come down the pipe, it is also important to be creative with what you do and to stay connected with the things which matter to you.

Volunteering gets a really bad reputation in the Air Force and I think that is the opposite of how it is supposed to work.  People are supposed to volunteer because they feel personally inspired to do something to help with a cause they support.  They are not supposed to choose which opportunities they are involved with from a master list, they are supposed to seek out the opportunities which matter to them and enthusiastically want to help.  Think about this when you consider your volunteering options as a new Airmen.  Don't just think because you gave blood and helped clean up the park with the rest of your flight that you are good to go.  I have a lot more to say about this but I will close for now.

Self Improvement - This category is both the easiest and hardest category to find bullets on.  It is the easiest when you are actively working on your education, because your education is both quantifiable and commonly known to all.  It is hardest when you are not working on your education because most of us do not typically do quantifiable things which clearly say you are making an effort to improve yourself.  Here are some random examples of some self-improvement opportunities you can consider getting involved in.

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