I was in Air Force ROTC for a while, at the University of Florida. Even though everybody gives this as their excuse for not being a pilot, I can be serious when I say: I had to leave for medical reasons, it sucked. ROTC was fun.

AFROTC is the brain side of the Armed Forces cadet corps: the Army cadets are mostly big chest thumpers, as Igloowhite put it, and the Navy cadets are somewhere in between (there are hopeful pilots *and* hopeful Marines among their ranks, so you never really know what to expect). There were a lot of aeronautical engineering majors in AFROTC: I would say that half of the cadets were majoring in some form of engineering or another.

The best way I can describe it is as a co-ed fraternity with really sexy uniforms and its own unique method of hazing. Like a fraternity, we had awesome keggers, and even a house to hold them in (actually, it belonged to a few members of the drill team, but they would invite everyone over for parties). The juniors and seniors in the detachment were "POCs," or cadet officers, and the freshmen and sophomores were "GMCs," or cadet scum waiting to be shouted at by the POC's for messing up.

Also like a fraternity, we had a wonderful rivalry with the Navy and Army units downstairs. I still remember the sign on our refrigerator ("SNACKCOM") that said:

All items 50 cents (plus 25 cents "Army tax")
Now on to the hazing! Every week, we had a two-hour session called Leadlab, which would usually consist of marching maneuvers and other drills, but sometimes included war games and other fun stuff. Leadlab for the GMC's was preparation for Field Training, the ROTC euphemism for boot camp, and for the POC's it was preparation for active duty, so they got to lead things.

We had a wonderful little booklet called the Warrior Handbook to memorize: stuff like ranks, equipment, Air Force history, mottoes, creeds, what to do if you become a prisoner of war. POC's loved to pick on the lowly underclassmen by getting in their face and asking "What's the Air Force mission?" or "Sing the Air Force Song!" If you didn't know it, you would be doing pushups.

Pushups are an important part of ROTC life. There is an evil examination called the PFT that you must pass in order to stay in the program, and unless you can do 30 pushups within 2 minutes without stopping, you flunk out. (You also have to be able to do 45 situps in 2 minutes, and run 2 miles in 18 minutes. Not too difficult: the Army and Navy had it harder than we did.) Anyway, to keep us all at PFT highs, the POC's would order us out to do exercises at 5:30 AM two days a week, often liberally abusing their ability to extract more pain from us through Warrior Knowledge. The following exchange took place at six one morning:

POC: What's an E-3 in the Air Force?! Pyle!
Pyle: Errrr, a Senior Airman, sir?
POC: NO! Drop and gimme twenty! Pilgrim, you know what an E-3 is, don't you?!
Pilgrim: Um... a Sergeant? I mean... no, sir, no I don't.
POC: Then drop and gimme twenty! Sekicho, stop snickering! You know what an E-3 is?!
Sekicho: Uh, yeah, an E-3 Sentry is an AWACS platform based on the Boeing 707, sir.
(insert long silence here)
POC No. 2: Guess he *did* get it right...
Things I quickly learned from ROTC:
  • Shoe polish works best when applied along with saliva.
  • Your war face is never scary enough. Ever.
  • BDU parts take six months for the government to find/produce/steal, and another year to ship. This, despite the fact that Afghanistan can be turned into a wasteland within the same time frame...?
  • Every drill instructor thinks that liberally quoting Full Metal Jacket is witty.
  • Conformity is everything, until you become an officer, at which point you can do whatever you want as long as you stay away from China.
  • You can stand up in one place for several hours on end, as long as you never lock your legs! Once you lock your legs, you will pass out and die. Or so I heard.
Guess that about covers it.