Category Archives: PCSing

OCONUS Orders: Where Will My Kids Go to School?

Siblings-with-backpacks-on-way-to-schoolOne of the great advantages of military life is the opportunity to live overseas. How many of our civilian friends and neighbors have the chance to pick up and spend two or three years exploring Japan, Germany, or Korea? However, along with the excitement that accompanies overseas Permanent Change of Station (PCS ) orders comes an onslaught of questions. Where will we live? What about the dog? And – most importantly for families with school-age children – where will the kids go to school?

For most families moving overseas, the choice of a school is fairly straightforward. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) operates elementary and secondary schools at installations in countries all over the world, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Bahrain, South Korea, and Japan. For families stationed at these locations, these Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) provide a comprehensive, quality education to children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

However, what about those families heading to a country not served by a DoDDS school? How can they find an appropriate school for their school-age children? For answers to these and many other questions, families heading overseas can turn to the Non-DoD Schools Program (NDSP). The NDSP provides support and funding for the education of authorized command-sponsored dependents of military members and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees assigned to overseas areas where no DoDEA school is available.

The NDSP supports families moving overseas in a variety of ways. First, it helps families identify the different options for educating their children in their new location: local public school, private school, virtual education, or homeschooling. Your new command or overseas location should have an NDSP Liaison who can provide you with information on your choices. You can also find contact information for regional instructional specialists at the NDSP website.

Depending on your child’s grade level and the options available at your new location, the NDSP may be authorized to pay tuition for your child to attend a private school. Allowed tuition amounts vary by location.

It’s important for families to understand that not all the costs associated with attending school in their new location will be covered by NDSP. NDSP is not allowed to pay for uniforms, meals, or personal computers, for example. Families should also be aware that private schools may have a lengthy application process, so it’s important to reach out to NDSP for support and information as soon as possible after receiving orders.

Parents of special needs children may be especially concerned about an overseas move and the ability of the local school system to meet their child’s educational needs. The NDSP can offer guidance about options available in your new location and will work with parents, service providers, and school personnel to make sure your child’s needs can be met.

Moving overseas can be an exciting adventure for your family. Arming yourself with as much information as possible beforehand helps ensure it will be a positive experience for everyone. Bon voyage, travel safe, and be sure to take lots of pictures!

Has your child attend a NDSP school? What advice would you share with military parents?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Moving with Pets: Must do’s before you PCS

pcs-with-dogFun fact about my dog, Macy: she’s four years old and has lived in three different states. She grew up on an Oklahoma farm with a mini horse, and the night before Thanksgiving this year, she ate 24 dinner rolls when no one was home. Pretty special, no?

Moving her to three different states has been interesting, as you can imagine. The lesson learned is that PCS moves don’t just affect school-aged kids and military spouse careers, they can be just as tough for our furry friends. Not to mention how time consuming it can be to get our pets ready for an OCONUS move.

In my own move, I made sure that Macy was up-to-date on all vaccines, and got a copy of her record from my veterinarian to keep with us in the car while we drove to our new installation. I packed a bag of things for Macy, like a bucket of food, some bones, a leash, and extra water. Since she loves the car, we didn’t have to worry about how she would do on the drive, but if your furry friend isn’t accustomed to car travel, you may want to use a crate to keep them confined for their own safety.

If you know your move may take a few days, and staying in a hotel is a must, be sure to find pet-friendly hotels along the way. La Quinta Inn is extrememly pet friendly – they don’t even require a pet deposit! Moving can be expensive, and it can be frustrating to have to pay an extra $200 for our pup to stay with us in our hotel room.

It’s not like she eats things she shouldn’t.

During our travels from our installation in Northern Virginia to Pensacola, Florida, we made sure to make many stops, even if WE didn’t need to. Depending on the type of pet you have, they may need potty breaks frequently. Because I carried a water bowl in our car, I was able to give Macy a water break when we stopped.

pcs-with-pets

A tip for uneventful travel, is to limit feedings prior to getting on the road. It’s recommended to feed your pet a few hours before leaving, and lightly when stopping for the night. Letting your pet chow down in the midst of travel can cause upset stomachs, thirst, and Macy’s personal demon: really bad gas.

Do yourself that favor. Trust me.

Moving overseas with a pet can present its own challenges, too. Make sure your pet is accustomed to being in their crate. This is how your pet will travel on the plane, so helping them feel safe and comfortable in one makes for a stress-free flight for both of you. Check customs requirements and ensure that your pet is allowed in the country you are moving to – some have breed restrictions. Even Hawaii has strict regulations and quarantine requirements. Get all paperwork done sooner, rather than later!

Another important tip: contact the airline company to find out all the important information you need prior to your flight. Here’s a checklist from United Airlines. Will your pet’s crate fit on the plane? Are they small enough to travel in the cabin? Booking weekday flights are best, as some veterinary employees may not be working on the weekends. Ensure that your total travel time does not exceed 12 hours – non-stop flights are ideal because they reduce any confusion of layovers and making sure your pet doesn’t get left behind.

On the day of the flight, verify with the airline that your pet is listed on the flight. Military OneSource suggests mentioning to the pilot or flight attendant that your pet is on the flight. It may not make any difference, but it may ease your mind.

If you need help planning for your PCS with pets, there are programs like Operation Military Pets that can help with relocation costs. The key to any successful move, is to be prepared and start early! Before you know it, your move will be over and your pet will be a seasoned traveler!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

PCS: Panic, Cry, Scream

ShannnonSeb1In the military community, summertime is notoriously known to be “PCS Season” – the most popular time for service members to receive new orders, or their “Permanent Change of Station.” In my world, I like to think of it as “Panic, Cry, Scream,” because that is usually how I feel shortly after we get the news of our new orders. Panic sets in when I realize all the things already on my To-Do list, followed by a good cry because, once again, it’s time to pick up and find a new home. Screaming happens frequently as the time to move gets closer. To-Do lists are left undone, there are no more tears to cry, and whether I like it or not, change is coming.

That’s the funny thing about this lifestyle – being a military family. Change is inevitable. I remember the turning point when I realized life was going to change drastically. This moment left me with no other choice but to embrace change.

I left my small hometown in Florida in 2009, where I lived for all 23 years of my life, and moved with my now-husband all the way to Oklahoma. He and I had been dating for a while and being left behind while he got new orders to Oklahoma was not an option. I was going with him whether we were married or not! I packed all my things from the bedroom I’d grown up in, took the furniture from my room which still showed 10 years of pencil marks my mom made to track how much I’d grown, and began dreaming of a new life in the Midwest.

The morning came when we packed the car, said goodbye to my mom and dad, and set off for our new installation. I took in the moment like it was the last breath I’d ever take. The smell of pine trees mixed with the humid Florida air while my parents stood at the end of the driveway, waving as their only child drove away. I was fresh out of college, unmarried, and leaving my Southern bubble behind.

Then it hit me. Thoughts scrambled through my head as all the familiar things I knew and loved passed by the car window. My mind raced and all I could do was embrace the change that was happening. I had to be brave and fearless, kind and understanding. It was time to be determined and ferocious to take on the military “lifestyle” and be the best supporter I could be for my service member. This was the moment life changed for me.

I married my husband seven months later.

ShannonSeb2

I never dreamed of a life as a military spouse. In fact, I never dreamed of a life outside of my small, Southern town. Call me naïve, but I did not think life existed in a world where there was no sweet tea, or beach access. Choosing to pull out of the driveway that humid morning in 2009 has been the best decision I have ever made.

Today, I am a strong-minded, gritty military spouse with a few years of deployments and PCS’s under my belt. I am resilient and determined to make the best of any situation. I have learned how to rely on like-minded people for support. I have figured out it is okay to attend military balls wearing the same dress each year because, chances are, no one would remember. I learned how to be a banker, chef, tailor, and nurse!

Change is inevitable, especially in the military culture. It’s important to remember that each PCS is a chance to see the sunrise from a new place, meet new friends, and find new adventures. Maybe it’s not “Panic, Cry, Scream,” but instead, “Perfect Change of Scenery.” I’ll tell you firsthand, our first PCS was a pivotal moment in my life, and it has shaped who I am today! Embrace it and see what kind of person it makes you.

Shannon-SebastianBy Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

To Deploy or Not to Deploy: Your orders were changed…again

To deploy or not to deploy: your orders were changed…againThe military lifestyle poses many uncertainties for families. For example, deployment orders, Permanent Change of Station Orders (PCS), or a job assignment could change at a moment’s notice. And when this happens, it can be frustrating. Let’s be honest, I want to jump up and down and scream how can this happen, AGAIN?  My heart starts to race, I take a deep breath, and then I’m able to focus on the task ahead: dealing with the latest change.

Here’s how I deal with changes to orders:

  1. Acknowledge my feelings. Some changes are good. For example, a deployment may be cancelled or the new orders may move your family to a duty location you have always wanted to call “home.”
  2. Review plans made based on the original set of orders. You may have already made plans based on the original set of orders, such as completing school registration for your child(ren), placing a deposit on a house, or alerting your employer of an upcoming move.
  3. Start a new to-do list. A new set of orders brings a new to-do list. Talk to your family and decide what task each family member will take to help you tackle your new list.
  4. Research military protections. This item may not apply to your situation. However, it is worth some research time because you could be eligible for military protections if you need to change a cell phone contract, break a lease, or inform your employer of a change in military orders. It may be helpful to contact your local legal assistance office for specific questions.
  5. Keep a sense of humor. I know this is easier said than done. It is hard to be upbeat when many changes are coming your way, but humor does make is better.

I also try to visualize where I’ll be in a one year. Of course, orders could change again, but imagining that I made it through the latest change helps me realize the chaos is only temporary.

Has this ever happened to you? How do you handle order changes?

katieBy Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Tough Choices: Geo-Bachelor or Another Move?

Tough Choices: Geo-Bachelor or Another Move?Since I became a military spouse more than 16 years ago, my family and I have moved eight times for the good of the Navy. Some moves have been greeted with excitement and others with tears, but each time the Navy has asked us, we have packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends, and traveled obediently to the next duty station.

There’s no denying that it has been a great adventure. While our military life has not been as exotic as some others, we have lived in many interesting places. Our kids have explored Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, visited Disney World and the White House, and enjoyed beaches from Rhode Island to Florida. I recognize that in many ways the military has been good to us.

Still, there have been sacrifices. Sacrifices like the challenges that military families face each and every day. My kids have cried at leaving dear friends and struggled to adjust to new schools. I have given up jobs and worked to find a place in a new community.

It’s true, some things do get easier with each move. I’ve discovered a foolproof way to tape up the hardware for our bookshelves so they don’t get lost, for example. But some things never get easier. And a few things that seemed easy the first move got a lot harder the seventh and eighth time.

So, when my husband told me that he would be receiving orders to another ship, in another town, we decided not to follow him. This time, he will go on to the new duty station on his own while the kids and I stay behind. He’ll be what we in the military know as a geo-bachelor. This was not a decision we reached lightly. We talked about it for hours, over the course of many days, and I still lie awake at night wondering if it’s the right thing to do. It will be hard on us as a family. It will be hard on him as he makes the drive home every weekend. And hard on me as I juggle my job with being both Mom and Dad to two teenagers.

But the more we thought about it, the clearer it became that it is the right thing for us, right now. The kids are in high school, tightly woven into a network of friends, neighbors, teammates, and classmates. We have a house that we probably paid too much for and can’t afford to sell. And I finally – finally – have a job where I can find professional satisfaction. All of that seems like a lot to give up, even for the good of the Navy.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this decision. I have received a few skeptical looks from family and friends when I told them about our plans. Even the Defense Travel Office says that “a fundamental philosophy of military service is that members, with their families, create a better work environment and esprit de corps when they can be active participants in the local base and community.”

I understand the military’s philosophy. In fact, I agree with it. In a perfect world, it would be better if my family could all be together. But we don’t live in a perfect world and family life is complicated. Right now, the best decision for our family seems to be to live apart. That hasn’t been true in the past and it might not be true in the future. Certainly every family is different. What works for one family might be a disaster for another. We can only hope for the best and trust that the strength, resilience, commitment, and love that have gotten us through eight moves can get us through one “not-move.”

What do you think? Have you ever lived apart from your service member? What made you decide to stay behind? 

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Moving OCONUS: What do I pack in unaccompanied baggage?

Moving OCONUS and unaccompanied baggageIf you’ve received orders OCONUS, you will generally receive a small weight allowance of items that will be sent via expedited methods to your new duty station. These are items to help you set up house until the rest of your household goods arrive via slow boat. 

For me, it was a lot of pressure to pack exactly the right things and stay within our weight allowance. My family needed extra clothes for the changing seasons and the baby that outgrew her wardrobes every couple of months. The kids needed toys and familiar items to make the empty new house feel like home. I needed household items so we weren’t eating out every day or running to the PX all the time to buy things we couldn’t live without. 

Here’s my list of items I packed in our unaccompanied baggage from our most recent OCONUS PCS. Use this list as a guide to come up with one specific to your family’s needs.

For Each Adult

  • Extra clothes/clothes for the next season
  • Winter jackets/hat/gloves/scarves/boots
  • Extra shoes
  • Bicycle/helmet (check size limitations with Transportation)
  • Books
  • DVDs
  • Hobby/entertainment items

For Each Child

  • Extra clothes/clothes for next season/clothes in next size
  • Winter jacket/hat/gloves/scarves
  • Extra shoes
  • Favorite toys
  • Favorite blanket
  • Favorite picture/room decoration/stick-on wall decals
  • Outdoor play items: soccer ball, baseball equipment, etc.
  • Bicycle/helmet (check size limitations with Transportation)
  • Favorite Books
  • Favorite DVDs

Military Gear

  • Uniforms
  • Boots
  • PTs
  • Running shoes
  • Dress uniform
  • Dress shoes
  • Ruck/duffel
  • Specialized gear/field gear

Baby Gear

  • Pack ‘n Play or portacrib
  • Sheets/waterproof pad for Pack ‘n Play
  • Extra blankets
  • Portable booster seat
  • Sippy cups, snack cup
  • Stroller or baby carrier
  • Portable baby seat, bouncer, swing, etc.

 Household Items

  • Laundry basket
  • Hangers
  • Mini ironing board
  • Mop/bucket
  • Broom/dust pan
  • Folding camp chairs
  • Bath rugs
  • Small area rug (foldable)

Linens

  • Twin sheet set, blanket, pillow for each child
  • Queen sheet set, blanket, pillow
  • Towel set for each person
  • Shower curtain, curtain rings
  • Dish towels, sponge

Kitchen Items

  • Plates, bowls, cups, coffee mugs, silverware for each person
  • Chef’s knife, paring knife, spatula, serving spoon
  • Can opener, wine/bottle opener
  • Mixing bowl, colander
  • Skillet, sauce pan
  • Casserole dish, cookie sheet
  • Kitchen spices

Toolkit

  • Hammer
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Screw drivers
  • Hex wrenches
  • Pliers
  • Utility knife
  • Markers
  • Baby-proofing items
  • Drill

Other
These items are not necessities for me but if you have space, they might be useful! You may also be able to find some of these easily in thrift stores at your new destination. (Especially electronics in the local voltage!)

  • Small television (about 19” due to space limitations)
  • DVD player
  • Fans
  • Coffee pot
  • Toddler or twin air mattress for each child
  • Queen air mattress

That’s my list! Any OCONUS PCSing pros have other tips on what to pack in unaccompanied baggage to ease your family’s transition?

Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

So you’re going OCONUS — what happens now?

So you're going OCONUS -- what happens now?Just over one year ago, we received orders for our upcoming PCS. Instead of the familiar post we anticipated—GERMANY was our destination! While unexpected, it was not entirely unwelcome. After all, an opportunity to live in Europe seemed too adventurous to pass up! Once our initial glee subsided, I was suddenly overwhelmed with questions, worries, and uncertainties. I pored over the tiny print in my husband’s orders thinking that there must be something in there to answer my questions or tell me what my next step was. (Take my word…there wasn’t much in there to help!)

Where would we live? Is it true the German homes are all tiny stairwell housing? Could I bring my minivan? Do I need to learn German? Do I need to leave all of my furniture behind in storage? How will we get there? What about the dog? Do I need to buy new electronic devices and small kitchen appliances in 220v? What the heck is Command Sponsorship? What is in a CS packet? Do we need passports? [Does your brain hurt yet? Just remembering all of this makes mine ache a bit!]

I searched the Garrison webpages and checked out the newcomer guides for bits of information, but I got frustrated trying to piece it together. I spoke with friends that had been OCONUS and made contact with a few people that were in Germany to find more answers. What I really wanted was for someone to take my hand, tell me to stop worrying and give me a few steps to get started in this crazy PCS process. Why wasn’t there a handbook titled “So You’re Going OCONUS?” Well, here it is, my fellow OCONUS adventurers and worriers…a handbook to get you started!

So, You’re Going OCONUS…

Step 1. Take a deep breath and squeal with glee because ADVENTURE is coming!

Step 2. Take a deep breath and hang on to your sense of humor, because getting there may be stressful!

Step 3. You have a million questions right now. Scribble them all down so you don’t worry about forgetting them and then put the list away for now. I promise, you’ll get to it ALL!

Step 4. Determine whether it is an unaccompanied tour or if you can apply for Command Sponsorship. Command Sponsorship means that the military command is sponsoring your extended stay in a foreign country. (Some locations, like Germany, are nearly all Command Sponsored. Other areas are required to be unaccompanied tours. Each area has different rules regarding length of tours, remaining time in service, etc.) Your Personnel Officer or Assignments Manager should be able to help you with this.

Step 5. Schedule a physical (or well-woman exam) for all dependents, if they have not had one in the last 12 months. For children under two, a well-child exam is required within the last six months. This is to ensure that everyone’s medical records are up-to-date.

Step 6. Schedule your Exceptional Family Member Program Screening. There is usually a packet of papers (medical histories, medical records releases, and developmental screenings) to fill out, so pick this ahead of time. If you have civilian providers off-post, the screening will likely also require records from those providers, so make sure you get record releases for them as well. The EFMP Screening is to ensure the area you will be living has adequate medical services for your family’s needs. The screening will usually be done at the nearest Military Treatment Facility.

Step 7. Start the passport process. Official passports are required for travel and can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks to be completed. You must apply through the passport office at your nearest military installation. They can be used to travel from the US to the country on your orders only. Tourist passports are recommended if you plan to do any additional travelling during your assignment. Bear in mind, birth certificates get mailed off to the Department of State with new passport applications. So, unless you have extra certified copies of your birth certificates, you must wait for one passport (with birth certificate) to arrive before you do the other passport. I would suggest applying for your official one first; without it you won’t go anywhere, but your service member still has to arrive by that report date! (Tip: Depending on the state, requesting extra certified birth certificates is easy to do online, inexpensive, and arrives quickly.)

Step 8. Start researching your destination! Contact the Relocation Office for information. Next, work those military friends! The odds are good that someone’s been there recently or knows someone who has; use those connections as a resource. Official and unofficial Facebook pages have popped up for each location. Try searching the installation name in Facebook and see what pages exist. Making contact with people in the area is a great way to get school recommendations, housing suggestions, get a feel for size/storage options in the new housing areas, etc. A word of caution: be sure to fact check any advice you are given with the appropriate agency before making any decision. (For example, check with Transportation before you sell all your furniture because Suzy Q. told you that you can only bring 2,000 lbs of household goods with you!) And, of course, be sensible with your personal information as you make contacts.

Step 9. Start looking at the calendar and think about your travel plans. Your transportation office will be able to give you delivery estimates for your vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage.

Step 10. Remember that list from Step 3? Get it back out and take another look at it. I’ll bet you’ve eliminated quite a few of your questions by now! Go ahead, congratulate yourself! And enjoy the adventure!

What tips would you offer to military families moving overseas?

Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Living overseas: picking up treasures and trash along the way

Living overseas: picking up treasures and trash along the wayI never thought that I would be preparing to write an entire post about trash, but here I am. And when I say “trash,” I mean the refuse, stinky, garbage kind not the fun, guilty pleasure television programming or smutty novel kind.

Germany takes recycling and refuse removal very seriously; it took me a solid three months to remember all the sorting rules and absorb this new attitude. Recycling programs aren’t nearly as extensive or comprehensive back in the States. Now that we are getting ready to leave Germany, I have seriously wondered what I will do with all of my extra plastics and food waste! Of all the things that I thought I would bring back with me from our great Army Adventure in Europe, a zeal for recycling was NOT one of them!

Recycling is required by law in Germany, and yes, there are trash inspectors. A person could be fined if more than 10% of her trash is found to be recyclable! Every type of plastic, paper, foil, metal, and food is recyclable. Some towns do bulk pickups of these items but in most areas you have to sort your different types of plastics, paper, and metal at the sort facilities. There are many ways to tell you are adapting to your new home here in Germany and for us, our ability to effortlessly sort our trash was one indicator that we’d made it!

When I discovered how much I would miss the recycling here, I realized that in our military travels we don’t just bring back new end tables, wall decorations, mugs, or other souvenirs from each duty station. We are changed in a very personal way by each assignment. Perhaps we adopt a new family tradition (Glühwein at Christmas?), we develop a love for new foods (Lebkuchen, YUM!), we pick up a new hobby (Volksmarch and skiing?), or we adopt new ideas and change for the better because of our experience in a new place. (I was never very dedicated or committed to recycling!). These are stories, memories and traditions that we cherish as we move from place to place. Years from now, when we are no longer an Active Duty family, these are things we will laugh about and trace back with stories that begin with “Remember when we were in…”

So, yes, here I sit, thinking fondly about my adventures with trash and recycling in Germany and laughing about how difficult it seemed at first. I really hope that I am able to maintain my German-like zeal for recycling and reducing my footprint when we return to the States. One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but for me, trash will be a treasure I bring home from our adventure in Germany.

What assignments have you picked up “treasures” from? Are they hobbies? New favorite foods? Family traditions? Or maybe you’re like me and picked up a good habit along the way?

Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Trash day: spring cleaning for PCS season

Trash bags: spring cleaning for PCS seasonI have a love affair with trash bags. Specifically trash bags full of junk my family has collected. I love the feeling of filling up those trash bags, hauling them to the curb on trash day, and purging the junk. It is unbelievable the amount of stuff we amass.

Don’t get the wrong idea. My family doesn’t get rid of the junk often enough, maybe once or twice a year. Usually in the spring. Ahh, spring cleaning and the beauty of lightening the load!

One of the gifts the military gives us is an opportunity to start over every few years. With each PCS move, we rummage through our household goods and either donate, sell, or throw away the things that weigh us down before we move on.

This time there were a lot of extra bags at our curb. It has been four years since my husband retired from the Service and eight years since we last moved. We recently purchased a new home and are in the process of moving. Imagine the junk we had stashed away in eight years.

Some of my favorite finds:

  • Baby stuff my boys had long out grown but I can’t part with
  • My grandmother’s childhood desk
  • High school yearbooks
  • My husband’s dress uniform
  • Pictures from my college days that I thought were lost

Some other finds had outlived their usefulness:

  • A box of cassette tapes from my years of rockin’ out with my boombox
  • Boxes of stationery (Who uses stationery anymore?)
  • My husband’s military record on microfiche
  • The Disney movie collection on VHS
  • All those curtains I’ve moved from house to house in case I could use them

How do you decide what to keep, sell, donate or throw away? What has been your best find?

michellePosted by Michelle Joyner, Communications Director at the National Military Family Association