Tag Archives: OCONUS

Finding Military Family Support Around the World!

baumholder-germanyI have an amazing job and I travel frequently. During my stateside travels, I get to see the incredible community support provided to military families and veterans. These communities fill gaps where others can’t and it makes me feel good to know my neighbors care. But when traveling overseas, what does ‘community support’ look like? Do other countries care about American military families?

I wasn’t sure that support for American military families living overseas would be as generous.

I was wrong.

A few weeks ago, I traveled through Germany and Italy for two weeks while attending the annual Americans Working Around the Globe conference, and I hoped to get a chance to really see communities overseas embrace our nation’s military families. You see, community support and involvement overseas is scrutinized through the use of different policies on installation access, as well as Status of Forces Agreements. The threat protection level is higher and there is security awareness outside the gates. Host nations have their own policies, too. The take away? It’s not easy to be a business or host nation organization and support military families.

But they find a way.

The best community support I saw was in Baumholder, Germany. It’s a small installation compared to those around it, but that’s what makes it special. The community struggled for several years through a huge downsizing on the military base, and some businesses didn’t make it. But those business who made it through, care about our American military families.

And they show it.

Businesses still post support signs to show they care about American military families. The people of Baumholder truly care about military families and want to make them feel welcome. They may not walk in our shoes, but they understand. I saw a huge outreach to get American families involved in events and celebrations because they want to give us a ‘home away from home,’ and make sure we know we’re welcomed and respected.

Support from communities overseas might be harder to find, but it’s there.  And I think it makes a world of difference!

Are you a military family living overseas? Have you noticed how your community reaches out to support you? Tell us about your experiences!

christinaPosted by Christina L. Jumper, Volunteer Services Director

Survive and Thrive: Our OCONUS Adventure to Okinawa!

The-Young-Retiree-in-OkiI’ll never forget how I felt when my husband mentioned we might be moving to Okinawa, Japan for three years. “Verbal orders,” he told me. This meant the move was not set in stone, but he should know for sure any day, and we should start preparing! I felt sick to my stomach and tears burned the back of my eyes. But I couldn’t let him see me upset over something that was going to be beneficial for his career.

Then the orders fell through and I released the biggest sigh of relief!

We began talking about all of the reasons why it was awesome that we didn’t have to go. Not long after, he told me again, “Verbal orders…to a different command in Okinawa.” Talk about an ironic twist of fate. I was stressed. I was heartbroken. I was scared!

Once again, I kept the emotions hidden from him, but openly sobbed on the phone with my grandma the next day. When I married him, I made a commitment to myself, and to him, that wherever the Navy sent him, I would not only follow, but I would bloom where we were planted.

I opened up to him about my fears; there’s no sense in keeping it all in. And if you are, I would encourage you to talk to your spouse – if they’re anything like mine, they’ll know exactly how you feel, but could be putting on a strong front for you. This is a great time to encourage each other through the move!

We hit Pinterest together and I created two boards: “Travel: Okinawa” and “Travel: Asia” to get us inspired about the move. We started researching all of the amazing things we would get the chance to experience once we arrived. We started looking at the MWR and MCCS websites, and dreaming of the trips we would save our money to go on.

The-Young-Retiree-in-Oki2The minute I landed in Tokyo, I was smitten with the country and knew Okinawa was going to be an amazing adventure! When we got settled, we created a bucket list: “101 Okinawa Things in 1,001 Days.” With silly things like eat at 50 new restaurants, and stay at 6 (as yet undiscovered) resorts on the island! We’re also doing free things like collecting a jar of sea glass, and visiting various castle ruins. We even included some lofty ideas like visit Kathmandu or Bali, hike Mt. Fuji, and walk on the Great Wall of China!

We’ve crossed seven things off our list and are working on five others! I never, in a million years, thought I would be vacationing overseas, let alone living there! I carry my bucket list in my purse, and on the weekends we look at it to see what we can cross off. Whether we book a tour through ITT to go to the world’s biggest tug of war, see battle sites around the island, or if we hop in the car and pull over when we see beautiful beaches… we get out there and enjoy our new home!

If you’re looking at overseas orders (or even orders on the other side of the country), and find it a little overwhelming and paralyzing: take a deep breath, cry it out, then hop on the internet and research all of the fun, once-in-a-lifetime things you’ll be able to do. You’ll get so much more out of your time at your new home if you live positively, make an adventure list, and get busy crossing things off!

Have you ever moved out of the United States? How did you bloom where you were planted?

elizabeth-osbornPosted by Elizabeth Osborn, a Navy Spouse, living in Okinawa with her husband, enjoys a life of leisure during their time abroad by being active in several spouse groups both through the military and in the local community. She blogs about their adventures and her experiences at The Young Retiree.

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

shimoda-salmon-festival

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

meteor-crater

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