Kelly is familiar with the ins and outs of Reserve Commission Officer Training (RCOT).
What Exactly Is RCOT?
Reserve Commissioned Officer Training (RCOT) is a highly compressed formal officer training school for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. It was created to offer professionals (medical, law, chaplain) a two-week training option in order to create less negative impact on their high-paced and demanding civilian work schedules.
The two-week RCOT course is the equivalent of the 13-week Basic Officer Training (BOT) course that active-duty officer selectees must accomplish before they’re commissioned in the Air Force. It’s the culmination of many scale-down formal training courses that were created for the Air Guard and Air Reserve due to the part-time nature of service in those components.
There are actually a few other courses in-between BOT and RCOT. The Academy of Military Science (AMS) was created from BOT for Air Guard and Air Reserve Line Officer selectees. “Line Officer” is the term for officers that may fill varied positions where a degree is required but not a specific skill; for example logistics, maintenance, or personnel officers would all go to AMS. As these officer selectees are not full-time Air Force they generally have jobs in the civilian sector so AMS was created to offer a less time-intensive officer training that would have less impact on their civilian lives. These people are not commissioned officers until they complete the course and graduate.
Commissioned Officer Training (COT) was created for professionals that were direct commissioned—meaning they were commissioned the day they joined, unlike the officer selectees who are commissioned when they graduate from AMS or BOT—and as skilled professionals, they could not be away from their civilian jobs very long. COT was introduced for the same people who qualify for RCOT, which means medical professionals (doctors, nurses, PAs, etc.), lawyers, and chaplains; however, even with the introduction of a 5-week course some professionals could not commit to this length of training and so RCOT was introduced.
Rcot Myth: "It's Easy for Prior Service Enlisted."
When I was fortunate enough to be scheduled for RCOT people in my unit congratulated me and told me things like, “Kick back and enjoy it!” or “You’re going to love watching the Non-Priors!” meaning that I’d have an easy time as I’ve been through formal military training before as an enlisted member. However, upon arrival, I found this was not true. RCOT may have started as a summer camp for seasoned professionals to get the feel of the Air Force but over time it has converted into an actual leadership “do or die” performance training situation.
Until one attends RCOT, it’s hard to describe. It contains all the usual elements of formal Air Force training such as hurry up and wait, attention to detail through seemingly random and ridiculous rules and structure, and memorizing regulations line-by-line out of an instruction pamphlet created to promote failure; however, it’s more than that.
The training staff is attempting to teach Air Force leadership to seasoned professionals in an extremely compressed time-frame. There is so much information to process yet it's not about learning what to do, it's about actually performing the tasks and requirements proficiently on-the-spot.
The other thing that's different for prior enlisted is that in Basic Military Training (BMT, basic training, boot camp) we're taught to follow directions precisely without question. In RCOT that is true as well, but directions are thrown at you in a vague manner which allows for interpretation. The problem is not only will there not be time to question your interpretation but that you will probably receive conflicting information from another valid source. What do you do then? How do you determine which set of vague instructions to follow, how to execute which one you choose, or if you're not going to follow either set of instructions and do something that makes more sense to you? This quandary doesn't happen every once in a while, this is pretty much the way directions and information flows in RCOT. As disturbing as this seems while you're immersed in it, there's nothing to do but make the best decision you can at the moment, and run with it as you have time for nothing else. It's forced leadership through action and as frustrating as the experience is, it works.
The other consideration about your decision sets is your ability to explain it. Once my Flight Instructor (basically your Training Instructor for the course) stopped me and asked me why I made the choice I did, which involved having my flight walk through water rather than march on the road (I apologize again for the wet socks, my friends!). I briefly explained that it was a safety issue and why. He thought a second, then nodded, and replied that he understood; and all he wanted to do was make sure I had a thought process behind my choice. Needless to say, I was relieved I wasn't going to be yelled at, but I did learn right then that having a rational and being able to express it immediately was a good tool to have and use.
The duty day runs from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day (except the weekends, where you’re allowed to sleep in until 6:30 a.m.). Actual class generally runs until 7 p.m., and when you get back to your dormitories, there are additional mandatory meetings to attend for your flight and/or the additional duty (or duties) you volunteered for or were assigned. And everyone has additional duties, which are covered later in the article.
There is very little time for sleep. Prior to me attending RCOT a prior-service friend of mine who had gone through it a few classes before gave this advice: "Get a lot of sleep before you go, as once you get there you will get none." As I had been through an extreme Air Force performance school before (Recruiting back in the AIDA days) I thought it couldn't be all that bad, however again I was unfortunately surprised. I had it right that it's not as bad as my prior experiences, however, it was bad enough. Do go rested. Very well-rested. You will not be getting much sleep at all until after you graduate.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Michelle R on April 26, 2019:
Can you attend RCOT on a pregnancy profile?
Kelly Machado (author) from Reston, Virginia on March 08, 2014:
Hi Michelle! Sorry for the delay in response (I'm in the process of moving) but here we go:
1. Do you have a Mac? There were students with Macs who did just fine.
1a. The format will be accessible via the blackboard access you will gain once you're there. However our flight had major challenges logging in and registering the first time but one person got in and shared the information with the others. Are you prior service? Frankly I took a look at the welcome memorandums that were in our packets, found the correct logos online, and built one myself.
2. I could create a page with PT info. When are you going to RCOT?
3. Start memorizing OTSMAN 36-2604 (I Believe I have it attached to one of the other articles here, otherwise it's on the Maxwell OTS webpage). Unless they change the test, you will be expected to know all of it - even the portions that have nothing to do with students in COT or RCOT.
4. I'm sorry, I'll have to look up what a hotspot finder is as I don't have one myself to let you know about that. I know some people tethered their phones to their laptops for internet access and it worked fine.
5. Do not rent a car unless you like parking lot jewelry that you won't see, touch, smell or feel until the day before graduation. When you land at Montgomery there will be taxis there that have access to base - that's what I did, the taxi dropped me off right near the inprocessing area so I didn't have to drag my bags far. Also I learned there is basically one flight that will come in to Montgomery that day and it will be full of RCOT students. You'll all identify each other pretty quickly due to the Air Guard/Air Reserve backpacks and healthy, confused looks on your faces that will be different from the other travelers to the area. A bunch of them found each other and took a taxi to get some lunch before they reported in (because yes, you want to eat before you inprocess as it's going to be a long time before you get to eat again once you report in).
6. You live together (did you see my article on the dorm rooms?), eat together, march together... there is nothing you will do during your time at RCOT that will not involve your flight mates other than the time that involves the restroom and shower. And even that time will be very, very short.
If you have more questions don't hesitate to ask. Good luck and have fun!
Michelle Vallejo on March 05, 2014:
Great info! Sent a message via Facebook link. Few of questions.
Other than PPT and Word (1.) do you know of a program where I can create those AF memo's. (1a.) Where can one find the format to create an accecptable template? (2.) Will you be creating a page with PT info. Obstacle course prep? (3.) Any recommendations on items to study/memorize prior to attending RCOT? (4.) I have a hotspot finder on my cell (AT&T) do you recommend getting another resource for wireless access? (5.) Should I rent a car? (6.) Did you march from dorms to the classroom together or just show up in vehicles at the report time? Sorry! So many questions. Thanks for your help.