Stephen’s squadron is quickly approaching drop night. We have no idea what day it’s actually going to happen but we are fairly certain (and hope) it will be soon. I get so many questions day after day from people such as, “Where are you going next?” “When do you find out?” “Have you found out where you’re going?!” “How do ‘they’ decide?” “Are you moving to Italy?!” While some are just curious, I know most are asking because they genuinely care about our next steps. To be honest though, it can get pretty overwhelming at times to explain the drop process and how it works to every single one of these people. Mind you, nothing is ever certain in the military so most of the time we have barely any answers ourselves. It’s not the least stressful situation to be in… Hours of sleep have been stolen by the thoughts and anxiety that commonly surround a drop and we think about the possibilities multiple times throughout the day. I’m going to smack the typical “You chose this life” or “That’s just the military life for you” phrases down right now and put this straight– that 100% doesn’t make a drop or “this lifestyle” any easier.
I know people will continue to ask so this is my attempt to answer any questions people might have concerning a drop. To all of my friends out there going through this, feel free to politely share this post with anyone that doesn’t understand the way it works, what a drop means, etc. Hopefully it brings you some peace and for a quick moment, helps rid of those short bursts of anxiousness.
What is a drop night?
A “drop night” as they commonly call it, is the time when an Airman who is going through a training course finds out their next assignment. UPT (undergraduate pilot training) is one of the most common places for a drop to occur. The location (base) and plane are the biggest unknown variables going into a drop. Stephen’s drop in Columbus, MS, for instance, is where we found out he would complete F-16 training at Luke AFB. Now that he’s months away from completing this training, there will be another drop to determine where we’ll be for our first tour.
How do they decide who goes where?
It can vary between squadron/flight. For Stephen’s first drop, each student pilot made a list with their highest preference to their lowest preference of what they wanted to fly for their career. They gave the list to their Commander who typically forwards it to a higher Headquarters personnel in charge of determining what plane they will fly based on their class ranking, which depends on test scores, check rides, and many other factors which I don’t know. For this drop at Luke it is very different. All of the men and women in the class know exactly what they’re going to fly for their first tour. What they are deciding this time around is the where.
In the pilot world specifically, the potential locations that the pilots could be stationed at are dependent upon where their plane flies out of. On the drop list for Stephen’s squadron they are expecting slots for bases in Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea, and South Carolina. However, like I mentioned before, this is the military. They can throw a curve ball at any minute. We’ve heard some rumors about TFI (Total Force Integration, aka an active duty person serving full time at a Guard location) slots being added to the drop list but we aren’t holding our breath.
The way a drop takes place also varies greatly between pretty much every drop. There are a lot of different ways they can go down. At Stephen’s first drop, they had each student sit on stage one at a time in front of a huge room of people. Girlfriends, friends, wives, fellow classmates, people from the community, etc. filled the room. It’s not uncommon for people on base to go see a drop on a Friday night, especially when it’s such a small base like Columbus. In their defense, it is pretty darn exciting to watch. Anyway, they put a slide up behind the student sitting on stage that explained a little bit about them and one of the IPs (Instructor Pilot) roasted them jusssst enough. Once the roast was over…. WOOOOOOOOOOSH. They projected a video of the plane they would fly behind them and the student would turn around and that was the first moment they found out what their assignment was. When it was Stephen’s turn, I sat in the very front row. I don’t even really know what they roasted him for but when a F-16 took off in the video behind him I do know that the first thing he did was look at me to see my reaction. I sure as heck didn’t know what jet it was but I knew it was fast and that he would be happy. It was like he was saying, “Should I look?” and I was saying, “Heck yeah you should!” . So he did and boy I’ve never seen my fine husband filled with so much joy.
Oh! There’s also usually a theme for the drop at UPT. Stephen’s was a Margaritaville theme since their class motto was “It’s 17:01 somewhere” (they were class 1701). They really are a blast. We had so much fun that night. Let’s just say it wasn’t apple juice in those mugs…
For this drop at Luke it’s very different. Like I said before, they know what they’re flying, just not where. The way this works is they get a list of the locations with the number of slots at each one. Then, the class all agreed that they are going to try to talk it out first and if they can’t, then they are going to each roll 6 dice so that they each have a number (highest number one could roll would be a 36… lowest would be a 6). The person who rolls the highest number will choose the base they want to go to first, second highest will choose next, etc. until the entire class has determined where they will be stationed for their next tour. This is the part that can vary greatly between drop. The class decided that they wanted to do it this way but we’ve heard some classes pick a stick, draw a straw, etc. The reason behind this is because for example, if there are 5 people that want Shaw and only three slots available, it is up to “luck of the roll” to determine who will get it. I’m certain this drop won’t be as fun as the last one simply because it’s more informal and just a bunch of pilots sitting in a room talking it out but hey, the wives are still determined to have a good time. I may or may not have just added another bottle of wine to the shopping list…
To give you some sort of timeline for our situation:
The class is supposed to get the list today (Friday). Once again, not holding my breath. Then, they are supposed to talk about it with their spouses over the weekend and roll the dice and choose on Monday. We’ll see if this timeline holds true but for now that is all we know.
So there you have it, folks. A drop fully explained. Let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability!