My NCOA Experience - Part 1

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DJ / 6 Years Ago

I left for the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy (NCOA) on the morning of Monday, January 3rd. The Academy is co-located with the Knoxville airport in Alcoa, Tennessee, about 10 minutes south of Knoxville. I left home around 9:30am and heading north through rural South Carolina. I immediately felt like I had gone through a time machine into the 80s. For over 2 hours I saw very little civilization, and most gas stations were one pump affairs with the old spinning analog number dial. I finally found a more modern one and it sold bait and ammo in addition to gas.

I finally arrived at McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base at 3pm and quickly checked in to billeting. I had been forewarned of the state of the accommodations and I had hoped that those warnings were exaggerated or that the situation had improved over the last few months. My hopes were for naught. The room was tiny, with tiny little beds (yes, 2 beds - roommates, yay!), stained sheets and "comforters" (they could hardly be called that), not enough storage space, a very small flat screen TV, mini fridge, and a government computer. The towels were the least absorbent and most rough out of any I had ever used. Notice I did not mention a microwave. Each set of 10 rooms shared a single microwave in the common room.

I kept waiting for a roommate to show up that night, and one never did. I slept really poorly that first night, probably because I kept anticipating someone to come in the door and invade my privacy, as well as the general discomfort of the bed and bedding. That whole day I had just a touch of a sore throat and shrugged it off. Just my luck, the next morning I woke up with a full blown case of the junk. I felt like my head was filled with cement. I went to the gym to attend death by briefing for a few hours before finally getting separated out into a 14 person flight and going to the classroom where we would spend the next 6 weeks of our lives.

We did all of that typical first day stuff, like introductions, defining expectations, and the like. The 13 other students in my class all seemed like upstanding individuals - none annoyed me right out of the gate and I figured that was a good sign. The instructor seemed a bit uptight, perhaps, but I wasn't too worried - more on that later. That night I still had no roommate and was thinking that was pretty sweet. Maybe I lucked out. On day 2 my sickness really took hold and class got down to business with real lessons. Our instructor was a real by the book type who followed the lesson plan relentlessly and asked slight different versions of the same questions 4 times in a row and then berated us for not participating after the first or second question. That would continue to happen several times of the next couple weeks.

Despite the iron fist that we were under, we started having a good time as a flight, eating lunch together, going out to dinner together and such. We spent more time than we had hoped complaining about our instructor, but perhaps that brought us together and united us faster. The amount of reading required was retardedly large those first couple weeks, and the assignments on top of the reading came pretty regularly. We had to write bullet statements, memorandums for record, complete fill in the blank assignments, and we were mandated (ok, super strongly encouraged) to be in study groups. I never study, but I figured I could help other people out.

I quickly showed myself to be the "brain" of the flight, and once I got the highest score on the first test, one in which 6 people in the flight failed and another 2 passed right on the razor's edge, I knew what I had to do. Since no one liked our instructor's teaching style, thought that was boring, and was stifling the class, I decided to leverage my teaching skills and hold some classes in the evenings to review the material and hopefully help everyone pass the test. I think it worked, as 2 or 3 people failed the fourth test, and a 1 person total failed the fifth and sixth tests combined.

I have just this moment come to realize how amazingly dull this story has been so far, and for that I apologize. I will spend the rest of my words here just telling random stories and making random observations.

Our very first weekend here we had a major snowstorm that actually canceled a day of class. Unlike a normal military snow day, we had to make this up. We were originally threatened with coming to class on Saturday, but instead they smashed 9 hours of instruction where 8 used to be by cutting breaks from 10 minutes to 5 and cutting 20 minutes off of lunch. That week was a brutal drag because even after just 8 hours of instruction with longer break our brains were mush, so now they were even worse. This was still better than class on Saturday, though.

That crazy snow weather also killed one open ranks inspection and several sessions of PT. Our first group PT was originally scheduled to be our 4th. That, combined with my sickness, resulting in my doing very little physical activity for almost 2 weeks after I got here. That was pretty annoying

We randomly have these blocks called "Commandant's Time" - basically just guest speakers - that was sometimes awesome but most of the time stupid. We had Capt Robinson who was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton and he was awesome. Most of the others were just filling space.

Much of the time our flight was together outside of class was spent complaining about our instructor. Fortunately for us, that situation was about to change.

To be continued...

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