(If you are not going to BOLC anytime soon this next post might not be too interesting, but stay tuned!)
I have been getting a few emails from folks going to BOLC and I realize they are asking a lot of the same questions as I had before leaving so I wanted to address some common questions before I write about weeks 5-7. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any other individual questions!
Q: When did you take your oath of office?
A: I (along with many other classmates) took my Oath of Office and was sworn in the second day of BOLC. Even some people who were sworn in by their recruiters had to be sworn in again- the date on the oath of office (the physical piece of paper) had to be signed for the day that we actually started BOLC. If I remember correctly, the Reserves and National Guard did not have to do this, but I am pretty sure most everyone Active Duty was sworn in at Fort Sam Houston.
Q: Did you bring a computer? A printer?
A: Yes, and yes, I bought a cheap printer there. There are some computers on post at Fort Sam that you will have access to use (as well as printers) but hours are limited at these labs, and you will be needing your computer for homework (YES you have homework at BOLC!) and for regular email updates. In summary- it would be very inconvenient for you not to have a computer (unless you get a roommate that loves to share) and mildly inconvenient not to have a printer.
Q: When/how do you get reimbursed for all the traveling and expenses?
A: This was one question that I COULD NOT find an answer to prior to leaving for BOLC and it drove me crazy. I had no clue if I needed to fill out paperwork before going to BOLC, or what in the world I was able to spend on hotels. So hopefully this will help some people out.
(Keep in mind that I DROVE to BOLC- I do not know how it works for those who flew!) Basically, you will not get reimbursed for any of your travel until you get to your FIRST DUTY STATION. In other words, other than keeping your receipts (which I ended up not even needing when filling out my travel vouchers) is the only kind of paperwork you need to do prior to leaving for BOLC. When you get to your first duty station (if you are active duty- reserves and national guard I really do not know), you will have a finance brief and go through the paperwork step by step to get reimbursed. You will have a finance brief the first week (though it was the biggest, most unorganized headache in the world) at BOLC in order to start getting paid regular pay. You should get that first paycheck the 3rd or 4th week in BOLC.
You WILL get your clothing reimbursement ($600 for NEW active duty soldiers) your first paycheck at BOLC. If you are struggling paying for things that first month or so, you can get a $2500 pay advancement (intrest free) your first paycheck. You will pay it back over the course of the next year or so- about $200 will be deducted from your paycheck. It’s a nice way to have a little extra cash when you first start out.
I can’t tell you exactly what the per diem rate is for travel to BOLC. I kept my lodging under $100 a night and didn’t splurge on food and I was reimbursed plenty (I just got my travel voucher paid this week). It’s confusing to figure out exactly what you got paid per day when it comes in a lump sum, but the government will pay you a certain amount a day for every 350 miles away you are to your destination. So- if you are 700 miles away from San Antonio, they will pay you x amount for 2 days to get there. If you take any more or any less than that, they will not pay you for those days- so don’t take too long to get there, but also take your time and don’t drive too much on one day (I could have taken a few more days from California to get to Texas).
Please feel free to email me with any more specific questions about travel reimbursement- like I said I had no clue what I would and wouldn’t get paid for before leaving for BOLC!
Q: What about getting all my stuff to my first duty station?!
A: There is a transportation office at Fort Sam that is awesome (or at lease it was to me) about helping me figure out how the heck I should move my stuff from storage in Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. For people who still have their stuff unpacked (or have a lot of stuff) in their house it would probably be best to do a government move. This is where the government will pay for movers to come pack up everything and move it to your first duty station. In my case- we don’t have a ton of stuff, and it was already packed in boxes in storage, we chose to do a ‘do-it-yourself move’, or a DITY move. We rented a U-Haul, packed the stuff up ourselves, and moved it, and got reimbursed (or WILL get reimbursed- I should get paid next week). The amount you get reimbursed depends on how much stuff you have (you have to get the U-Haul weighed empty AND full) and the distance you travel. It was stressful and a lot of work- but you can make some money for moving the stuff yourself. We probably paid $800-900 out of pocket to move our stuff, and we are going to get reimbursed about $2000. Was the stress and physical labor of moving ourselves worth it?? If we have to move again we will probably do a government move, but it is also possible to do a ‘partial DITY’- something to ask the Transportation office. Again, you will get all your reimbursement for your transportation (different from your travel vouchers) once you get to your first duty station.
Q: How essential is a car at BOLC?
A: It is not impossible to get around Fort Sam without a car, but from what I saw, it is a pretty big inconvenience. You basically will need to drive everywhere on Post- I am sure especially for the July class, the on-post housing is not very close to the PX, PT field, or AMEDD building, and you won’t want to be walking outside TOO much in that summer Texas heat. That being said, however, there are definitely enough people that have cars that it is easy to carpool. Even people who all had cars carpooled often, since we mostly needed to be in the same place at the same time. If you will not have a car at BOLC, I would recommend finding a good friend or roommate (probably someone in your platoon when you get broken up into them) that is your go-to car buddy. Sometimes different platoons will have different schedules so keep that in mind. Also, when you break up into different tracks the last two weeks of BOLC, all the nurses will be separated as well.
Well, I hope all of that helps out some of you, and again, if you have any other questions, please email me (email@example.com) and I will get back to you ASAP!!