Tag Archives: OCONUS

What to Expect When Your Move is Unexpected?

box-head-movingAs military spouses, we know to expect the unexpected. Yet, somehow the unexpected often catches me by surprise. Early one morning this past June, I was sipping my coffee and browsing the Internet for exotic European vacation deals. We were beginning the third and final year of our tour in Vicenza, Italy and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

My husband walked into the room holding his Blackberry saying, “We need to talk.” My stomach turned a bit. I knew something was up, but what would it be this time? “I’ve been offered a job in Georgia and I will need to report as soon as possible.” I can’t remember now if I ever answered, or if a flurry of questions about the kids, school, camps, scheduled trips, commitments and so much more simply filled my head.

There are many PCS resources available for military families, but I couldn’t find the one that told us how to successfully complete an overseas PCS within 3 weeks.

Week 1, we scheduled movers, scheduled our flights, spoke with the schools and frantically began researching the city that would be our new home. This move was really happening.

Week 2, purging and organizing was the name of the game. Every closet and room was accosted by every family member – talk about some special bonding time. Week 3 came quickly, the movers arrived and we moved into the hotel on post. Two years had gone by faster than I had realized. Goodbyes are hard, but I found that the unexpected goodbyes were even harder.

Days later, we headed to the airport in the early morning hours. After flight cancellations, delays, and a myriad of other travel issues, we touched down in Atlanta, GA. We had arranged to stay the night with some friends. One night quickly turned into 6 weeks. That’s right… my husband and I, our three children, and our 80-pound Bernese mountain dog moved in with our civilian friends for 6 weeks!

We bought and closed on a house in record time. We balanced work, illness, surgery, and the every-day adjustments due to moving back to the US after our European stay. We registered the kids for schools, sports, and activities in hopes of making some connections before the school year began. As many of you experienced this summer, our car shipment was delayed and our household goods came later than expected. Somehow, as military families often do, we got through it.

There were frustrations and tears mixed with adventures and memories that make me proud of how this lifestyle has molded our family. Each of our children has struggled in one way or another. I could actually write on and on about the pain of watching the kids struggle with what has been the most difficult move each has experienced.

The first quarter of school just ended and autumn has begun. Military kids are resilient and mine are adjusting and thriving and handling struggles as they come their way.

I still find it hard to believe that we completed an overseas PCS in 3 weeks, but we did. I have learned once again that military kids are strong, my husband is a patriot that is honored to fulfill his military duty, my friends are like family, and that home is where the Army sends us.

Kim-EdgerPosted by Kim Edger, Website Architect

Survive and Thrive: Embassy Duty!

After almost 24 years of moving around with my husband, I didn’t think any new assignment would faze me. Then the Air Force sent us to Quito, Ecuador, an assignment without a military base. And we’re not alone—many military families live in cities around the world without the kind of support we’re used to seeing. No commissary, no base exchange, no military hospital, or community center.

Assignments like these are most common in the Army, where junior officers start off as Foreign Area Officers (FAO) and eventually end up as attachés at many US Embassies around the world. But more senior officers in other services are offered opportunities as well. And where would any good Defense Attaché Office be without support staff? Jobs for both junior and senior enlisted exist in all services in just about every location.

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If you’ve only been to large bases where there are strict rules about socializing between officers and enlisted, an Embassy assignment might come as a bit of a shock. The military is only a small portion of the Embassy whole, and part of our job is to blend with the State Department culture.

Survival tip #1. Be prepared to leave your military etiquette at the door (but don’t throw it away completely).

State Department employees and their families don’t have strict delineations between staff, so everyone socializes with everyone else. In fact, on many Friday nights, the Marine House is the go-to spot to meet everyone. And because many spouses end up employed at the Embassy, the combinations of who works in which office, and who works for whom can be rather overwhelming. But it’s also how everyone knows how to support everyone else. It may seem a little incestuous at first, but if you aren’t in the loop, support can seem lacking.

Survival tip #2: Find a way to belong to the Embassy community, whether it’s as a valued employee, volunteer, or an often seen participant in community functions.

With these two tips, you’re going to survive. But we want more than that. We want you to thrive! That sometimes means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Living overseas most often means dealing with a new language. It always means dealing with a new culture. It is possible to make a life that revolves simply around the Embassy community. In fact, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the trips offered by the Community Liaison Office (CLO), and joining the group language classes offered by the Embassy community, especially when you first arrive.

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But to thrive, you’re going to need a comfort level with the local language so you can leave that safe place and enter the world around you. You’ll want to purchase food at the local markets, speak to your neighbors in their native tongue, and have the mechanic fix your car. Waving hands and smiling can only get you so far, and after a year in country, it will be downright depressing not to be able to ask for a ripe avocado instead of the unripe ones offered.

My tips for immersing in the local culture include getting to know other foreign spouses. If the United States has an Embassy at your location, so do many other nations. Here in South America, the majority comes from Latin American countries, and the common language is Spanish. That doesn’t mean I won’t find English speakers. But in order to thrive, I’ve forced myself to speak Spanish beyond my comfort level. I make mistakes and laugh at myself when others point them out. And by doing so, I’ve learned that Spanish-speakers make mistakes, too. A common word in most of Latin America is a swear word in Argentina. It’s funny to watch the face of an Argentine when someone from Venezuela is saying the equivalent of the “F word” in the middle of a pretty mundane conversation. Moments like that happen all the time, but unless you understand what is going on, you miss out. And when you miss out, you feel like you don’t belong.

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My final tip for thriving is to make friends with the locals. Many already work at the US Embassy, so they’re easy to find, and are often very willing to share their favorite restaurant recommendations, or the best place to spend a weekend away. Your spouse will know more than a few local military because of his or her job. Getting to know those folks can be very rewarding. We found an acting coach for my son through a retired Ecuadorian officer’s wife, who also happens to be an actress. That simple introduction has made my son’s Ecuadorian experience much richer.

My example of thriving comes from friending the wife of a local military officer on Facebook. She noticed my love of photography and my love-affair with her country. This opened a new door for me – she and her husband have introduced me to people and places I would never find in a guide book. They’ve opened their hearts and minds and in return, I offer them friendship. At the end of the day, and at the end of any military tour, it’s the friendships that help us thrive.

angie-drakePosted by Angie Drake, Air Force spouse, and blogger at Not Your Average American, Quito, Ecuador

Survive and Thrive in Ansbach, Germany!

Our Army life is relatively simple: it’s just my husband—a pilot, and me—an artist. Our first duty station since his graduation from flight school at Ft. Rucker, Alabama landed us smack dab in the middle of Europe. Moving here to Ansbach, Germany was a huge challenge, but I think it would be for anyone at any stage in their life! We’ve been here for two and a half years, and in five short months, we’ll be on our way to the next PCS stop.

Reflecting on my time here, I don’t think I could have spent it any better. It was important for me to be active in the Army community, but I wanted to dive into the local culture, too. Traveling and experiencing Europe was a must-do, but my primary goal was learning and devoting time to my artistic endeavors, something that would be dramatically different had we been living in the States.

So, how did I survive and thrive in Ansbach, Germany? Here are some tips:

Embrace the local culture.
The first few weeks of living in a new country feel like you’re on the best vacation ever. After the honeymoon wears off, it’s easy to find yourself lamenting life as you once knew it. The language barrier grows to the size of a beast, it’s frustrating that you have to plug your favorite appliances into a transformer, you can’t understand your phone bill and customer service is basically non-existent. Plus, you are really far away from your family. It took me quite some time to fight the urge to stay home, rather than venturing out, but eventually, after many mistakes and embarrassing moments, I became accustomed to using the German grocery store and post office. I got a German mechanic, joined an Art club in town, and even got pretty decent at reading the local newspaper, and finding fun events to attend. Small victories led to larger victories. I plugged away at learning the language as best as I could. And even though I still don’t always understand what strangers say to me; it’s amazing to realize how much I do know considering I started with zero prior knowledge of the language.

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Embrace your branch’s community.
Even though there are thousands of people at one location, the Army community can feel pretty small. For numerous reasons, Soldiers and families have a tendency to isolate themselves, doing themselves a severe disservice, especially at an OCONUS duty station. Having friends, or at least acquaintances, can help you not feel so alone. I think the easiest way to get comfortable in a new community is to join something: FRG, Spouse’s Club, Red Cross, ACS, or classes at the gym. You’re bound to eventually meet many people that are friendly and have great advice. Like it or Hate it, some of my best travel tips have been picked up at Spouse’s Club luncheons. And when you’re having a bad day (like the time I broke a bag of rice at the grocery store, spilled it all over myself, and didn’t know how to ask for help cleaning it up) it’s great to be able to go to the gym, see your friends, and tell them all about it so you can laugh together.

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Don’t let the need to travel overwhelm you.
My husband and I have seen a lot of what Europe has to offer, but we haven’t seen it all. We designed a travel budget to avoid spending our life savings we worked hard to create. We also made a priority list and a general outline of how much travel we could accomplish. Activities like snowboarding and surfing are a priority for us, so many awesome cities didn’t make the cut. Instead of focusing on all the places you haven’t been, recount the good memories from where you have been.

Set new goals and stick to them. Achievements are empowering.
I think the hardest part of being a military spouse is continuing your personal growth. Moving frequently and landing in random destinations come with a set of difficulties, and many times, new duty stations prevent us from being the achievers we used to be. Living in Germany proves very difficult for spouses who would like a career. Luckily, as an artist, I can do my job anywhere. It’s harder for the lawyers, nurses, hairdressers, and public health specialists. But I’ve met them all, and they make it work. If you’re on a base that doesn’t allow spouses to work, take the opportunity to start a new hobby, train for a 5k, or enjoy time with your kids – just don’t get down on yourself. Your job doesn’t define your self-worth! Challenge yourself with a goal and stick with it, even on the crappy days. It isn’t easy, but once you accomplish the goal, you feel stronger… like a superhero! In the time I’ve been here, my husband’s spent quite a bit of time away working. Instead of feeling lonely, I got comfortable with being solo. I learned German, but I also embraced reading, tried many new recipes, improved my cooking, and attempted things that intimidated me like learning how to meditate or do a handstand. Your goals can be any size or significance. You don’t have to move mountains to empower yourself!

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In less than six months, I’ll find myself in a whole new world: Ft. Bliss, Texas. It’ll be a far cry from this land of forests, fields, and medieval charm. But I know there are many delightful secrets and surprises to be found in the next chapter of my life. I plan to use the positivity and confidence that I built here, to give me the strength to embrace my new life there.

Posted by Sarah Geraci, Army spouse and owner of Florida Scarf, USAG Ansbach, Germany

10 Things To Do With Your MilKid Before Their 10th Birthday

What’s more awesome than living for an entire decade? Most military kids might say, “Getting my own ID card!” And they’re right. Nothing is more awesome than getting to buy your own Skittles from the commissary, and flashing that new piece of plastic around like you’re king. So why not make your child’s first 10 years of life even more out-of-this-world by trying this ultimate MilKid bucket list? Here are 10 things to do with your MilKid before their 10th birthday:

1. White House Easter Egg Roll, Washington, D.C.

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Join more than 30,000 guests on the White House South Lawn for this annual event, which includes live music, storytelling, and food. Wear your Sunday best and do some egg rolling!

2. Blue Angels flight demonstration, Pensacola, FL

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Executing maneuvers with just 18” of separation and reaching speeds of nearly 700 mph, and just under Mach 1, the Blue Angels flight demonstration is a thrilling peek at some of the Nation’s best Sailors and Marines in action. Bring your earplugs!

3. San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA

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From koala feedings, to zoo tours, and even family sleepovers (for real!), the San Diego Zoo offers an up close and personal experience that will leave your MilKid dreaming of lions, tigers, and bears…oh my!

4. Attend an Operation Purple Camp, Nationwide

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Because what awesome MilKid would want to miss out on the camp adventure of a lifetime?! Our Operation Purple Camps offer a special place for MilKids to connect with others in their same situation. And the S’MORES….come on!

5. Tiger Cruise Aboard a Carrier Ship, Where Available

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This is an awesome opportunity for immediate family and friends to see day-to-day operations up close, while a ship is at sea. You’ll get to eat at the chow hall, sleep in racks, and participate in tours around an amazing “floating city.” Check with your service member’s command to see if they are participating.

6. United States Silent Drill Platoon, Washington, DC

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Taking place in the back yard of the Commandant of the Marine Corps at Marine Barracks 8th and I, you’ll see a performance like no other. These highly trained, carefully selected Marines execute precision drill movements and rifle handling in unbelievable synchronicity…oh yeah, and in complete silence!

7. Shimoda Salmon Festival, near Misawa, Japan

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If you love a good fun-filled festival, the Shimoda Salmon Festival is for you. But there’s a catch…literally. Try your luck hand-catching salmon swimming around in shallow pools! An Airman who’d experienced the festival before described the salmon catching as “very much like trying to catch a greased pig, but fun!”

8. Meteor Crater, Winslow, AZ

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Does your MilKid love dinosaurs, space, or awesome sci-fi movies? Seeing the Meteor Crater in all its glory is a must-do! Created more than 50,000 years ago when an asteroid traveling 26,000 mph collided with Earth, the Meteor Crater is the world’s best preserved impact site, spanning nearing 2.5 mi in circumference!

9. Whale Watching Boat Tours, near New England, or the Pacific Northwest

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Take advantage of the beautiful ocean scenery and see our endangered friends in their natural habitat. New England and the Pacific Northwest boast some of the best coves and viewing areas in the country, and a whale watching tour is sure to bring out the marine biologist in your MilKid!

10. Get a Military Identification (ID) Card!

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By age 10, it’s mandatory for your MilKid to have his or her own military ID card. While having your own ID card is a rite of passage for any MilKid, not having one by his or her 10th birthday can present issues when trying to be seen in Military Treatment Facilities. Make sure you schedule a time to get your child’s ID card when your service member is home!

Have you checked anything off on this MilKid bucket list? What else would you add for other kids to try? Let us know and share your pictures with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

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.

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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

Friends All Over the World: Hawaiian style

hawaii-1Moving in the military can be difficult, especially when you have to leave good friends behind. One of the benefits about being a military family is the likelihood that wherever you decide to visit or move to, a friend is nearby.

Recently, a friend of mine got married in Hawaii, and I made the trip there to attend. Because my friend lives in Oklahoma and my family is stationed in Virginia, I rarely get an opportunity to see him. This wedding was going to be the perfect opportunity to see some old friends from my hometown as well as some other special friends who I had not seen in quite some time.

Hawaii is an amazing place to host a wedding or enjoy a vacation, but it’s also the home state of an Army Infantry Brigade and two of my fellow military spouses and close friends are currently stationed there.

Hannah is a friend I made near Ft. Campbell, KY. Our husbands were both deployed and we leaned on each other for support and companionship. Our friendship was important to both of us, especially during some of the tougher days we faced while waiting for our husbands to return from war.

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Fortunately, I was able to spend some time with Hannah while I was in Hawaii. We
laughed and caught up on each other’s lives over some fruity drinks by the hotel pool. Because of her familiarity with the area, she took me to a quiet, local beach for the day. It was great to see her and her sons again!

Another military friend, Ronya, had only moved to Hawaii a couple weeks before I arrived. Her family had not received military housing yet, and was staying at the Hale Koa. It’s a military resort on the ocean and is absolutely beautiful! After finishing some shopping around the area, I stopped by Hale Koa and was able to re-connect with her.

On my final day in Hawaii, Ronya, myself, and friend from my hometown, went hiking at Manoa Falls. I never would have imagined when we met years prior, Ronya and I would someday be hiking in Hawaii!

Military life is always changing, and making friends can be difficult for some, knowing that you’ll eventually be separated again. Just remember that it’s not really “goodbye” but instead it’s “see you later,” and if you are lucky, that “later” just might be in Hawaii!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife