Welcome to USAFR—Where everything’s made up but the points do matter

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Emily Rautenberg
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing public affairs

Deciding Your Whole Future at Eighteen

My entire life, I heard my mother say, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” People would laugh, I would laugh, and no one would take that comment seriously. As I’ve gotten older though, I can’t help but to relate to what she said. Especially now, looking back at all the ideas I had for my future when I was in elementary school, all the dreams I had when I was in high school, and all the stress and tension I experienced in college.

When I started applying to colleges my senior year of high school, I didn’t really know where I wanted to go, what I wanted to major in, or what path was best for me. I knew I had developed a passion for special-effects, due to the amazing computer graphics work done in The Lord of the Rings movies by Weta, a New Zealand effects company. I knew I was pretty good with computers, and I knew I loved reading and writing. All my English teachers tried to convince me to be an English major. So when I applied to school, I looked at English and Computer Science programs, not really sure what I was even looking for.

The only thing I really did know during the application process was that college was expensive—especially the private schools I was applying to. The second I expressed my financial concerns to my parents, my dad, a retired Army Major, suggested applying for an AFROTC scholarship. “What have I got to lose?” I thought to myself. Several months later, I was awarded a decent scholarship, and felt I would have been stupid not to accept it. Next, I struggled to choose between two incredibly great schools, which happened to offer me the same financial aid package, and both participated in the AFROTC program.

After choosing my school, my major in Computer Science, graduating high school, and moving away, my college, and pseudo-military career began. I quickly realized that while Computer Science was interesting, challenging and a lucrative career move, I did not love it the way I had hoped. I was really more interested in Computer Graphics, from an artistic perspective, not a programming one. I also realized I was involved in ROTC to get a scholarship for the major I did not really love. By my sophomore year, I was already feeling trapped and confused. I was going through the “what is my future?” dilemma that normally doesn’t kick in for most college students until junior year (senior for the lucky ones).

That’s when I decided to pick up a second degree in Visual Arts and Technology, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my college career. I was much happier taking classes I really enjoyed, and I was finding interesting connections between the two majors which made me start to love to Computer Science, too. I signed up for my school’s Five Year Master’s Program and was going to earn both my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Computer Science, along with my Art degree. I was performing well in ROTC and even graduated from Field Training as a Distinguished Graduate. I began to really feel a connection to the military, and for a moment, everything felt comfortable. I thought to myself, “This isn’t so bad, I can live with this.”

When you’re thinking about your future though, you never want to think that you can live with a situation. You want to be excited by that situation, to love the path you’re headed down. So after my third year, those thoughts started creeping in again, I wondered if I was on the right path, if I would be happy where I ended up, how everything would work out. I began to realize what I loved most in college were my animation classes. I couldn’t imagine going into the Air Force as a Cybersecurity Officer, potentially putting my artistic dreams on hold.

I wanted to go to graduate school for Fine Arts, and I couldn’t find a part-time program I was interested in that would allow me to travel the way the military demanded. I felt conflicted again, torn between what I thought was my ultimate calling, and the commitment I made to my country, the military, and to my father. I knew he would never tell me not to follow my dreams, but he would be disappointed if I didn’t follow in his footsteps into the military.

Ultimately I decided to go with the flow. To graduate, do my time in the military, and if I loved it, stay in. Otherwise, move on to the next phase of my life. After all, people took time off between graduation and graduate school all the time. And that’s when everything started to change for me.

The summer before my fifth and final year of college, my ROTC Detachment Commander sent an email about a new opportunity being offered to my commissioning class. We were given the option to opt into the Voluntary Separation Program (VSP), go into the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard, or compete for a commission. Suddenly, I had options again. I didn’t feel trapped the way I had for so much of my college career. I realized that through the Air Force Reserve, I could fulfill my commitment, receive my commission, become a part of the organization I had worked so to join, and still make my parents proud. I really did want to join the military, but wanted to do it on my terms. The Reserve gave me the ability to pursue whatever career I wanted, whatever schooling I wanted, and still be a part of the military.

The initial process of opting into the Reserve was quite easy. I interviewed for different positions, eventually realizing I was really interested in Public Affairs. I decided if I got a “temporary” position as a Software Developer until I went to graduate school, I would make more money, but would not want to also have a technical Air Force Career. I thought in the Reserve, through Public Affairs, I could get my artistic fix and more of an opportunity to be creative.

That’s how I came to meet my current supervisor, an extremely positive, open person who was willing to welcome me into her PA crew after a twenty-minute conversation. I was so excited. I felt like I found my place. The paperwork was drawn up, and I got the official word in October that I would be joining the Air Force Reserve upon my commission. The rest of my last year of college was probably my best one. I was happier than I had been in a long time. I even got a job offer, which I promptly accepted, for an amazing program that has helped me to further combine my technical and artistic backgrounds.

You’re On Your Own, Kid

After graduating and commissioning, I began facing many obstacles. The transition to the Reserve was not nearly as smooth as it could have been. There were constantly questions about whether I could still go to the unit that had promised to hire me. Paperwork was often misplaced. I found myself constantly reaching out to my recruiter seeking updates, and I often would not hear back for weeks.

I have a hypothyroidism, and was asked for bloodwork three different times to assess my condition. I was constantly getting bloodwork and sending over documentation to my recruiter, only to be asked for it again. In retrospect, I am curious if he ever turned in my previous documentation and if it was really the doctor constantly asking for these updates. Eventually, however, I went to the MEPS for my physical.

MEPs was the worst headache of this entire process. I’m not sure why I wasn’t offered the opportunity to see a private doctor as I had for my ROTC scholarship. I spent more than two hours, freezing in a hospital gown, waiting for the staff to finish up with the four other girls and me. That’s right, there were only five girls. I was there for about seven hours, and would have been there longer if I had not told the nurse I was expected back at work.

To my surprise, a month after completing the physical, I got a call from a new recruiter asking when I would like to go get my physical done. My previous recruiter had PCS-ed without giving me any warning, and did not leave much continuity behind. I felt like I was starting from square one again. Since commissioning in May, I had constantly been told "next month" I would start, but every month, something new seemed to come up.

About two months before I finally started, I got a call from Force Support telling me I never should have been offered my position due to staffing issues. Luckily, my commander has been incredibly supportive and helpful throughout this process. She always told me all of my options and everything that she could do to help. As frustrating as this process had been, I recognized I was one of the first ROTC direct accessions this group of people had to deal with. So needless to say, there would be some growing pains!

I was finally officially scheduled and ready to start in January for the first UTA of the New Year, but due to an intense blizzard, the UTA was postponed, so I did not get to start until February. This added a little more stress, because I found out before starting that my Air Force “anniversary” was in May, the same day I commissioned, so in order to get a good year that counted towards my retirement, I would need to make all 50 of the minimum required points by the end of May 2016. Meaning, without January, I would only have 4 months to make up my points. With the help of my commander, I made them up, getting my last point the day before my anniversary.

Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy

I have been so thankful to finally start my Air Force career, and overall, have had a good experience. I am starting to get the hang of things, and am finally beginning to enjoy my time here, though the first several times in the office, whether for a UTA or being on orders, were pretty stressful. Newcomer’s orientation, I’m sorry to say, was not nearly as helpful as I would have hoped. The orientation was more, “Hey these are cool things about our base,” than it was about “Hey let’s get you set-up online.” I understand why that is done as many of the people at the orientation had been in the military for several years already, so they already knew most of what they needed to in terms of Air Force Reserve systems.

I, however, did not know anything, and would have greatly benefitted from a weekend dedicated to the technology side. Or, at the very least, a checklist or cheat sheet. That is why I have created my own “What You Should Know” document based off of what I wish I had known. Especially after discovering how many systems the Air Force uses to track a person’s information. A lot of these systems overlap with information, and by the time you’ve gone through them all, you have no idea which is which and where to go for what you need. Hence the document below.

Getting Started

1. Gain Network Access (see below)
2. Open the Air Force Portal (https://my.af.mil) NOTE: Links to other systems can be found here
3. Register/Access the following online portals (view the descriptions below for more information)
a. CEI and enter your information (Online Portals Descriptions below)
b. vMPF and update your vRED (Online Portals Descriptions below)
c. My IMR and complete the “Air Force Web Health Assessment” as well as your “Individual Medical Readiness Status” to check your status
d. ARCNet and view your “Readiness Report” in order to check your status
e. AEF Online and view your “PDPT” in order to check your status in more detail

Getting Network Access

1. Double CACing
In order to do anything on the computer initially, you will need someone else to insert their CAC, log in, then insert your own CAC into a different CAC reader (you can normally ask the front desk (orderly room) or around your office for a CAC to USB converter, and plug that into your machine). You should now be able to start setting up your accounts on the online portals.

2. Air Force Portal
This is the best resource you have because it has links to all of the systems you will need to use, as well as a library database of forms, memos, policies, etc. You may need to create an account when you first sign up and set a very strict password (right this down somewhere because military passwords must be very complex and it might take you a while to memorize it).

3. ADLS (Advanced Distributed Learning Service)
You must complete your IA Training and Awareness Certification before you can be granted proper network access, so as soon as you get on a computer, do this training! As of writing this, in ADLS it is called “DoD IAA CyberAwareness Challenge V3.0,” which can be found under “Total Force Awareness Training.”

4. DD Form 2875
Fill this out (with your supervisor’s help) ASAP in order to get proper network access (you must have completed your Cyber Awareness Training in order to submit this form). If you don’t yet have access to email, log into your personal email account (i.e. Gmail) in order to send and receive these forms with your supervisor.

Important Online Portals to Familiarize Yourself With

Once you have network access (or when you are Double CAC-ed since getting access can take a while—don’t be afraid to keep calling the Service Desk asking if they’ve gotten your form, if there’s anything wrong with it, etc. to make sure they’re on top of it). The following portals are, in my opinion, the most important, and the most useful, especially to get started and track your progress. Links to all of these can be found on the Air Force Portal (I suggest favorite-ing these specifically).

• ADLS (Advanced Distributed Learning Service) - https://golearn.adls.af.mil/
This portal is for online courses, some of which must be completed ASAP (more information below).

• AEF Online – Air & Space Expeditionary Force Center - https://aef.afpc.randolph.af.mil/
This is designed to be sort of a One-Stop-Shop to check your status, though it is not refreshed every day. Once you log in, click on PDPT (middle navigation, all the way at the right). This is your Personal Preparedness Information, which is a quick summary of your Medical and Training status. Make sure you check this at least once a month to keep yourself up to date (you can also get locked out if you do not log in regularly).

• ARCNet - https://www.my.af.mil/arcnetprod
In the top navigation, find “Readiness” and click on “My Readiness Report.” This will show a summarized version of your status which includes your Mandatory Trainings, your Fitness Assessment, Medical Readiness, and Evaluation due date. Other helpful pages are “Duty Plan” and “Participation.” “Duty Plan” allows you to view a calendar version of your scheduled UTAs, TDYs, RMPs, etc. You can also request to add time by clicking on the date and selecting the Duty Type from a dropdown menu. “Participation” will show your duty summary, both for the FY and your RR.

• AROWS-R - https://arowsr.afrc.af.mil/arows-r/
As a Reservist, you will use the -R version of AROWS, which stands for Air Force Reserve Order Writing System. This is where you will go to create, track, and certify your orders (more information below).

• CEI (Civilian Employment Information) - https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/esgr/
You only need to access CEI in order to update your Civilian Employment status. Enter your employer’s information at your earliest convenience, and then again any time you change jobs.

• DTS (Defense Travel System) - http://www.defensetravel.osd.mil/dts/site/index.jsp
This is where you will submit your travel vouchers if your orders specify DTS (always check your orders for this first to determine if you need to use DTS or RTS)

• eFinance (RTS) - https://www.my.af.mil/efinanceprod/GovWarning.aspx
This is where you will submit your travel vouchers if your orders specify RTS (always check your orders for this first to determine if you need to use DTS or RTS)

• My IMR - https://imr.afms.mil/imr/AppDir.aspx
This is where AMDS will update your medical records. You can complete your Web Health Assessment here, as well as view your “Individual Medical Readiness Status.” This is very helpful in determining when you are due for different vaccines, dental appointments, etc.

• myPay - https://www.my.af.mil/mypayprod/
This is where you can view your direct deposit pay statements from the Air Force (from UTAs, TDYs, etc.). Make sure you visit the Finance Office to give them your bank account information. It may take several weeks to process your first paycheck, but after, you could get paid as quickly as a few days after your UTA.

• myPers - https://gum-crm.csd.disa.mil/
Under “Air Reserve,” in the upper left is a link to “Incidents/Messages.” This is very helpful as it is a log of any formal issues you have had, whether that is with changing an address, setting up your bank account, etc. You can submit questions here, or call the Service Desk directly. When you call, an incident log will be made for you.

• vMPF - https://w45.afpc.randolph.af.mil/AFPCSecureNet40/CheckPortal.aspx
On the lower left hand side, you can click “Record Review” in order to check on your personal information. Here you can view your documented Address, Performance Reports, Awards, Education Level, etc. You can also click on “Record of Emergency Data (RED)” to enter your emergency contacts.

• vPC (virtual Personnel Center) - https://gum-crm.csd.disa.mil/app/processes/form/fn/vdb
This is also part of myPers. You can view a snapshot of your recorded awards, evaluations, etc.

ADLS (Advanced Distributed Learning Service)
There are a tons of courses available online, but here are the most important ones to knock out. You can see what courses are due for you under PDPT on AEF Online or My Readiness Report on ARCNet. Some of these courses are also offered in person, and some, like SAPR are mandatory in person.
• DoD IAA CyberAwareness Challenge
• Human Relations
• Force Protection
• Security Administrations
• Free Exercise of Religion Training
• Suicide Prevention (in person training)
• SAPR Annual Training (in person training, as of 2016 called Green Dot)
NOTE: These are the most important ones to do first, but there are many others that are required (check AEF Online for more information).