Sunday, January 31, 2010

POV = aaaahhh

Believe me, you want a POV at MC 'A' school.  A Personally Owned Vehicle gives you greater independence which lowers stress levels... Unless you're being bombarded with ride requests.  It's a small price to pay.

My only transport is a 2008 Honda Shadow, and it's way too cold to be on a bike.  Up until now I've been taking the shuttle, cabs, and the backseats of other peoples' rides.

My dad was nice enough to lend me his car until I graduate in April.  He just bought my recently deceased grandfather's truck so now there's an extra vehicle available.  My shipmate Justin Johndro drove me in 4 inches of snow, bad drivers, and traffic jams to meet dadeo halfway (dad lives 2.5 hours away) so I could get the car.

It's not hard to have a car on base here at Fort Meade.  You just take an online safety course, which doesn't take long.  And there's plenty of parking.

Motorcycles are another story.  

I haven't thoroughly researched it, but I can tell you this.  Be ready to provide written proof of safety courses you've taken (MSF card) or face the possibility of a waiting list to retake everything over again.

Check out this motorcycle FAQ for more information.

Many thanks to dad, Kathy, and           Johndro! ------>

I'm going to get my car.

Friday, January 29, 2010

pt morning and studio photographers in civvies

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are physical training days.  Today we got up as always at 0430 and headed out to the gym a few blocks away.  It was a brisk 18 degrees this morning.  Chief Carter gave us a "recess" day which means we could do anything we wanted.  Most play basketball, some lift weights.  I challenged Chief to a game of racquetball.  He runs a marathon every couple months and is stronger than two of me.

I still beat him.

That's why I love racquetball.

At 0700, class starts an hour earlier for my class today.  We'll be in the studios learning how to use professional lighting systems.

All sorts of crazy lights and lots of fun effects.  I'll throw some up here if I can figure out how.  (I figured out how.) We get to wear civilian clothes and bring props, which makes today even better.

 <---- One aspect of our jobs as MCs is studio photography, which includes full length, close-up (think high school/college graduation photos), and group shots.

This is me projecting the Slaughter effect.  

You don't want to be on the other end of this stare.  ;)

Eight hours later... one of the MTIs was commissioned as an Ensign today.  Military Training Instructors run the detachment where we live and oversee our "sailorization".  He asked me to be part of the First Salute detail, so I got to be the first to salute him as an officer.  It was my honor Ensign Larson. 

Yes, I'm a hugger.  I blame it on my mother.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Out Into the World!

TIRED.  I'm currently in the Intermediate Photo class.  Today we went on a field trip to Washington, D.C. to take photos of as many people as we could.  The idea is to get us used to approaching strangers, explaining who we are, getting a good shot, and then obtaining some basic info from them to write a caption.  WHEW.

Armed with the Nikon D200, I partnered up with Grimnes and Snow, two female sailors.  You always look less threatening in a mixed gender group... /grin  I just finished touching up and emailing some of the subjects' photos to them as promised.

Tomorrow we'll caption everything in Adobe Bridge or Adobe Photoshop CS3 and take turns showing our photos to the class on a big projector screen.  I'm sure it's tough for some to get up there and have us analyze their work. 

We're also learning to use massive print machines.  (like the ones at one hour photo places)

Gonna play some Warcraft III with the boys (I'm second best!) and go to bed by 11pm.  No PT tomorrow but still up at 0600.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 'A' school - Defense Information School overview

Wow, that's a mouthful... For me, finding information about MC 'A' school was a bit frustrating.  I hate walking into a situation blind or even moderately hazy.

I, Glenn Slaughter, aka "Your Hero", will change all that!


Check out the Defense Information School Course Catalog for a listing of all the courses you can take.  Scroll down to Visual Communications and click the link next to Basic Mass Communication Specialist Course - USN and that will show you an overview of what you'll study as an MC.

Click here to go straight to what you'll learn as an MC. (These links worked as of 11-18-2014)

Here's a list of stuff you may want to know about MC "A" school:

This is what my experience was like.  Yours may be different.  Flexibility is key!
  • I arrived at Ft. Meade, Md Sept. 23, 2009 and I graduate Apr. 15, 2010.  That's almost 7 months.  This is the longest "A" School in the Navy. (unless the Nukes beat us)
  • 99.9% of the people I met, from the second I arrived, were nice.  Good vibes are here!   
  • Every branch is here! I've saluted Army, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.  Learn the ranks!
  • I started out sharing a room with 3 others, and a head (bathroom) with 15 others.  From there I shared a room with 1 other, then finally got my own room with its own head.  (the student leader or section leaders get these)  After a couple of weeks, everyone had a room with a refrigerator in it. 
  • PT is only difficult for a few.  We get up at 4:30am Mon, Wed, Fri and do push-ups and sit-ups.  Then we run, outside when it's warm enough, in the gym when it's too cold.  It's too cold right now.  Outside we run to cadence like in "Full Metal Jacket". The hardest part is lack of sleep.
  • The food is good.   The DFAC, or dining facility, serves bfast, lunch, dinner.  There's a sandwich station, salad bar, grill, hot baked foods, desserts, and tvs with ESPN that we can barely hear.
  • Classes aren't too difficult for me, but they've given trouble to a few.  Here's why:
    • They hate a certain aspect, like writing or taking photos.  We do it all here.
    • They have trouble talking to strangers.  We take photos of random people and interview instructors we've never met before.
    • They can't handle the military side of life here.  For example, being on time to everything.
    The best way to excel here is to have a good attitude.  This is relatively safe, structured learning environment designed to prepare recent boot camp grads for the real deal: THE FLEET.  Be prepared to work on your weak points.

    For example, I can be on time but I'm not great at having my uniform 100%.

    I realized this the first day when I got called out by a 1st class petty officer for having my sleeves rolled up incorrectly.  I didn't get upset, I just realized I had to double and triple check myself every day until I got better at looking squared away.

     It helps me to know I'm on display every day.  As the student leader I stand in front of the detachment, which averages 60 souls based on class levels, and give briefs twice a day.  You can be damn sure someone notices if I'm not A+.

     While I'm on the topic, the structure of the student body is:

    Three sections of about 20 students each.  One section leader and one assistant section leader, themselves students,  head each section.

    Section 2 is pictured on the left during their evening duty muster.

    The section leader and assistant section leader assign specific cleaning tasks to each student.

    That's six section leaders with one student leader acting as the bridge between them and the chain of command that runs the detachment.

    Each section has duty every third weekday and every third weekend.

    Those on duty muster (meet) at certain times to clean the building.  And when it snows, the duty section shovels.  It's fun for about 10 minutes.


    Alright, the next post is going to jump ahead to present day.  There will be stuff left out that's happened from the time I arrived til now.  Should've started this blog sooner...

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Navy Boot Camp: The First Step is the Hardest

    [cue "Jaws" theme music]

    U.S. Navy boot camp is at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, IL.

    It waits... to swallow up scared little recruits and take them to the bottom of Lake Michigan.  Noooo!!!!!

    Seriously, it's not that bad, don't worry.  If you want speed advice on how to survive Navy boot camp here it is:

    1.  shut up (or figure out how to not get caught talking to each other)
    2.  sleep
    3.  receive letters
    4. be ready to miss loved ones
    5.  shut up
    6.  study
    7.  eat healthy
    8.  *attitude is everything - squash your ego*
    9.  get along with the other recruits
    10.  shut up
    Here's my experience and more tips on how to make it through with as few problems as possible:


    I stepped onto Naval Training Center on July 28th, 2009 after the most comfortable bus ride I'd ever been on.  I really didn't want to get off that thing.  It had soothingly soft seats and monitors that played a boot camp video for us.  No one bothered us, we just sat there in calm silence watching the movie while the Chicago sun set around us.

    "The calm before the storm" suits I think.

    The plane ride from Baltimore to Chicago had been uneventful.  I had flown in with a group of 7 other recruits.  Once arriving at O'Hare airport, we walked to where we needed to be.  There were 3 Navy RDCs (Recruit Division Commander, Navy's version of drill sergeant) waiting for us.  We were instructed to empty our pockets and turn over items like magazines, drinks, or food.  One RDC told me he'd be sure to eat my unopened Power Bar.  Good to know bud.

    After this we joined a group of about 20 recruits sitting in rows in a corner.  More small groups would show up and the same process repeated about 5 more times.  It was weird sitting in those silent rows.  Even though the area we were using was fairly quiet, random people still walked past every couple of minutes.  Many had looks of curiosity mixed with pity on their faces.  Carry on, nothing to see here.

    So back to Great Lakes.  We got off the bus, went inside and lined up facing each other while an RDC paced between us giving instructions.  God help the fool that looked at him. "I told you to look straight ahead!!!!!!"

    THIS IS WHEN IT GETS REAL.  YOU WILL BE SCARED.  (it's okay, you're supposed to be)

    After standing there for a few minutes and listening to random kids get yelled at for looking at an RDC or not standing on the line, we started in-processing.  This involves uniform issue, hair cuts, giving up the last of your personal stuff, etc.

    I think I only brought my ID, calling card, some cash and dental records with me (I have bad Irish teeth).  My memory of boot camp is already fading a bit, but I can't recall ever thinking damn I wish I'd brought this.  They gave us a Recruit Gift Card with $100 on it.  We were taken to the NEX (Navy Exchange) there twice to shop for any needed items.

    We got a 5 minute phone call the first night.  Be ready for it.  Don't lose talk time screwing up the calling card or forgetting your dad's number like I did.  I ran out of time and wasn't able to talk to him until 3 or 4 weeks later.  I was able to write letters in the meantime though.  Ehow has a good article about writing letters to Navy boot camp recruits.  Except for the part about recruiters not giving out the address, the article is accurate. 

    We all went without sleep that first night.  The only nap I got was when the RDCs told us to put our heads on the desks we were sitting at.  Some recruits told me later they thought it was a test.  I never thought that.  I honestly believed they were giving us a few minutes sleep, maybe for legal reasons.  Either way, I was right and enjoyed 15 minutes of sweet sleep in the middle of all that "fun"  That is, until:   "Get up recruits!!!!!"

    Next we were taken to our temporary compartment, or barracks.  Our RDCs had heavy metal blasting when our newly formed division (60 of us) entered.  I like heavy metal so the music actually helped a bit. Guys, if you want to scare me, play country.


    Now began the routine. Or the beginning of routine.  I was in an all-male division.  We were ruled by 3 RDCs. One senior chief and two 1st-class petty officers.  They were all tough, but I got the sense they knew their stuff.

    The thing about boot camp is attitude.  You're in the military and you could be going into combat.

    If you have a decent attitude you can see things with a different filter.  Instead of being yelled at about some stupid shoelace being tied wrong, you're being shown the importance of following directions/attention to detail.  It could save your life someday. 

    But back to the routine.  We spent a lot of time folding uniforms.  There's a different way to fold each item.  The camo (NWU) is folded one way, dress blues another.  I hated it.  I'm not a folder.  I got yelled at a couple of times when my folding sucked.  "Slaughter you're in trouble if you're struggling already!!!"   

    Good to see my college degree means I'm smart.

    We learned to make our racks (bunks) with our bunkmate.  We'd be given about 5 minutes to do it.  I think I  hated it worse than folding.  I don't know what it is about making a bed that I don't like, I just know I don't.  Come up with an effective method with your partner and do it the same every time. 

    That's another thing about boot camp: teamwork.  It's going to be a HUGE focus.  Our Navy isn't about any one sailor.

    We need each other in the fleet, so the "me me" attitude starts to be pushed out at Great Lakes. It isn't pretty.  A lot of younger guys struggled with the concept.  Help others when you can.  Show an idiot with a college degree how to fold a shirt and he may help you study for a test.  Pass someone your uneaten dessert and he may give you boot shining tips.

    PT, physical training, was usually in the afternoons in Freedom Hall.  I didn't like this much either.  I was used to running outside first thing in the morning.  I was used to stretching BEFORE running.  None of this happened at Navy boot camp.  We would run really fast warm-up laps around the track before stretching and running the longer run.  I pulled 67 muscles that first "warm-up" run.  After that I stretched in the compartment beforehand. 

    Get in shape before all of this! You don't want "am I going to pass the PRT?" added to all the other stress.  Check out what you need to score here. You're looking for at least Good Low.  I saw two from our division get held back because they couldn't pass the Navy Physical Readiness Test.  Don't let that be you.

    The lack of sleep was the hardest for me.  I'm 32 and I like me some 8 hour sleep!  Plan on getting 5 to 6 hours a night.  Practice for it before you get there.  The RDCs would leave us at 9-10pm and return at 5-6 am.  Between getting ready for bed and trying to drown out a room full of chatting teenagers, I didn't get to sleep until 11 usually.  During the night I'd be woken up to stand watch or iron my uniforms.  I still remember that sinking feeling when I'd see the lights switch on through my closed eyes.  I knew what was coming.  Lots of yelling and screaming and LOUD heavy metal.  "Get your asses UP!!!! Get up!! Get up!! Get up!!"


    After about a week of observation the RDCs appointed recruit leadership positions. At the top was the RPOC, recruit petty officer in charge. I was Laundry PO.  It was perfect.  I didn't want a big leadership position.  Those guys got yelled at all the time in the beginning.  No thanks.  I had my quiet laundry room and my crew of four to help.  We took care of the division's laundry and we did it well.  And we also avoided some IT (intensive training, or punishment) sessions by being in that room.

    Written tests weren't too bad.  There were four tests I think.  Basic Navy knowledge stuff.  I studied every Sunday when we had half a day off.  Some recruits failed tests but they were always allowed to take one retake.  Everyone passed the retakes.

    Battlestations is the final obstacle between you and those front gates.  Listen if your RDCs give advice on how to pass.  Hopefully you've been cultivating good relationships with most of your shipmates.  You'll need them at battlestations.  I can't legally write much about the event, but I will tell you this.  Everyone passed in my division.  Stay awake during the instruction periods, stand up if you need to.  Keep calm, DON'T ARGUE with each other or the facilitators.  It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

    I'll probably come back to this post and add things or elaborate on others.  Email me with questions. :)

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    The Journey To Now: in 250,000 words or less

    This is a truncated version of how I ended up here. Everyone's story will be different, but chances are good we'll all face similar challenges along the way.  This was my route:

    • The Decision
    • Research
    • Recruiter
    • MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station)
      • ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)
    • DEP (Delayed entry Program)
    • Boot Camp
    • "A" School



    I've done things in reverse order. I earned a college degree, a Bachelor's in Electronic Media and Film, then decided to join the military.

    I joined after watching the documentary "Carrier". Actually, that's oversimplifying it. I joined because I want to serve. And travel. And get a hands-on education that has real value in the real world.

    Check out "Carrier", though. Watching it pushed me into action.  This was December 2008.


    #1- Know the job better than the recruiter. Or at the very least, don't go in blind. More on that under 'recruiter'.

    Mass Communications specialist is a very new rate.  It was created in 2006 by combining Photographers' Mate (PH), Journalist (JO), Illustrator/Draftsman (DM) and Lithographer (LI).  Add video, graphics, and some website training to that list. There are links to the left with good information.

    #2- Do you want to be an officer?   Because I'm a degree holder, the officer route was open to me immediately. PAO, or Navy Public Affairs Officer, is the commissioned officer version of MC.  I applied for PAO first.  They accept about two a year, so even though I scored well, I was not selected.  I may apply again in a couple of years, but at 32 my age is working against me.

    PAOs are many times picked from the MC pool, so keep that in mind if you've got your eye on officer.


    Some recruiters don't understand the rate.

    This is really important.  I've talked to other students here and I almost always hear the same thing.  I don't know why, they just don't.

    One guy here failed out of the school because he can't write well.  His recruiter told him he could just do photography if he wanted.  Another student just told me yesterday that he joined the Navy to shoot video.  Both of these guys rolled the dice when they enlisted.

    Mass Communications specialists are expected to be proficient in everything I described in the first post.  There's no picking and choosing.  You may end up doing one type of job out in the fleet, but here at the Defense Information School, you'll be expected to conduct interviews, write news stories, take photos, record video, etc.  I'll go into detail about what we study in a later post.

    You may have to fight...and wait.

    I, along with many others here, was told the chances were slim to none of me getting in.  That's especially true now.  The U.S. military has plenty of potential recruits to pick from.  Couple that with the fact that the MC community is extremely small (and popular) and you've got an extra tough rate to get into.

    How do you do it?  Score high on the ASVAB.  It makes you more marketable, which gives you some leverage.  Stop by Navy Cyberspace for the latest requirements to enter the MC community.

    STUDY!!  I couldn't believe how many at boot camp rolled into the test hungover and unprepared.  There's free ASVAB study guides and pay ones.   You'll probably take a practice mini-test at the recruiter's office. Take it, it's a good predicter of how you'll actually score at MEPS when you take the real thing.

    Walk in ready to tell him or her that you'll only take the MC rate. I told my recruiter that from day one.  It doesn't give you a guarantee by any means, but you may save yourself the headache of being pushed towards other rates.

    At the end of the day, however, there has to be an open seat available.  I waited 7 months in the Delayed Entry Program for mine.  You'll find out about that at MEPS.


    MEPS, or Military Entrance Processing Station, is the one-stop shop for all branches.  This place is an assembly line that collects young civilians and churns out certified grade "A" recruits ready to be shipped out to boot camp.  

    Here's what happens there.  Individual experience may vary.
    • My recruiter drove me to the Miami MEPS location early in the morning.
    • I was given all sorts of tests to assure physical fitness.  Seeing, hearing, flexibility, blood, urine, etc.  This took a lot of waiting, about half a day.
    • I ate lunch on the government's tab.
    • The second half of the day involved a lot of waiting, taking the ASVAB, the typing test, then getting the job. 
      • I didn't give much thought to the typing test, until I sat down.  It was administered on a friggin typewriter!  That really threw me off.  I was given a letter and told to type as much of it as I could in...I think 5 minutes.  I finished with a few mistakes (you can't hide em on a typewriter) and was good to go.
      • The requirements at the time of my entrance were 20 words per minute.  Stop by to check your speed.  It's easy to use, although the stuff they make you copy is a little harder than the Navy test.  I just took one of tests on that site and averaged 75 wpm, 108% higher than the average.  Just thought I'd throw that in there.
      • I got my ASVAB test score back, which was a 96. My recruiter tried to get me to go the Nuclear route. Big bonus, but no way.
          • We went to see the detailer who immediately said: "Well we've got ONE spot for MC on July 27th."  This was 7 months away.  Enter the DEP.
        • I went into a little room with other newbies and swore in.  This is the first of two oaths that you'll take.  
          • The first is swearing into the Navy Reserve with a DEP contract. (you can still get out of the military at this point)
          • The second, taken on your second visit just before shipping to boot camp, is swearing into active duty (this one's for real, better be sure!)
        •  My second and last visit to MEPS was the day I shipped to boot camp.  I was driven to the area the night before and put in a hotel with the other recruits. (from every branch)  Early the next morning we took a shuttle over to MEPS where I was tested again for drugs and disease. I was held up by some paperwork issues (college transcript I think) and couldn't ship out that day.  Another stay in the hotel and another early morning later I was on my way to the airport in a big comfy bus!
        Try not to get too frustrated at MEPS.  It's a lot of waiting, and setbacks do happen.  Just go in with something to read, and don't lose sight of your goal....Mass Communication specialist!


        The DEP, or Navy Delayed Entry Program, happens to everyone.  It's very rare for someone to ship out right away.  It used to be that way.  But now, there's a longer wait for most rates.  On the plus side, recruits in the DEP have time to get their doughy asses in shape for boot camp.

        It depends on the recruiter, but for me the DEP involved a structured program.  I visited my Delray Beach recruiter office every week to participate in workouts and instruction sessions where we learned the basics of marching and military etiquette.  I was grateful to have such a great group of recruiters.

        Here's what you want to do while in DEP:
        #1  Get physically prepared.  You don't have to be ready to run a marathon, but you don't want to be lagging behind during PT. (physical training)  I ran 2-3 miles every other day and did push-ups and sit-ups after the runs.  I also did some medium-intensity weight lifting 3 days a week. Check out US Navy Physical Fitness Standards for advice on how to prepare while in the DEP.  I'll write more about Navy boot camp PT in the boot camp post.

        #2  Get mentally prepared.  Enlisting in the military is a BIG deal.  You want to be focused and ready for your ship date.  Party it up some, enjoy life as a civilian.  But don't let the day sneak up on you.

        #3  I read Navy recommended books, ran with Navy cadences on my ipod, and tried to learn everything I possibly could from recruits who'd made it through boot camp.


        -BOOT CAMP-

        Ahh Navy boot camp.  That one deserves its own post.

        -"A" SCHOOL-

        Mass Communication specialist "A" school was a mystery to me before I got here.  In a nutshell, it's like college with curfews and early morning PT.