Tag Archives: OCONUS

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

An Army Wife’s Pursuit of Education OCONUS

Amanda-oakley2In November 2009, my husband and I set off for the adventure of a lifetime after he received orders to PCS to Baumholder, Germany! I was 23-years-old, a recent college graduate, and a newlywed. I was both excited and terrified. I had never lived outside of my home state of North Carolina, and other than moving to Raleigh, NC to complete my undergraduate studies at N.C. State University, I had never lived away from home. Baumholder was also my husband’s first permanent duty station.

It was easy for me to get lost in the excitement of moving to Germany and having the opportunity to travel Europe, however, when all of the excitement wore off, I realized that moving to Germany would mean limited career and educational opportunities for me. Unfortunately, it is common for military spouses to put their educational and career goals on the back burner while they support their spouse’s military career. I refused to let this be the case for me.

Upon arrival to Germany, I learned quickly that if I wanted to accomplish anything I had to be proactive and try to figure out my questions on my own. OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States) duty stations are a different world from stateside duty stations, especially if you have little knowledge about how the Army operates. Prior to moving to Germany, I knew I wanted to attend graduate school. When I found out that I would be moving overseas, I figured I would have to put going to graduate school on hold or live apart from my husband while completing a graduate program stateside.

Thanks to a fellow Army spouse, I learned about the education center on base. The representatives at the education center were so helpful and friendly, and just what I needed after ending up at so many dead ends with my school search. After receiving a wealth of information about educational opportunities for spouses in Germany and giving it a lot of thought, I applied to a program that would allow me to complete my Master’s while living in Europe. I was filled with excitement when I received an acceptance letter to the program, and beginning in January 2010, I was on my way to a Master’s degree!

While I was completing my graduate degree, I also held three part-time jobs. I worked as a childcare provider for two different military families in the area and as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) tutor for one military family that had a child with Autism. I felt it was important to provide some financial support to our family and do something that helped further my career. So much of my life revolved around my husband’s career, I needed something to call my own and to help me find my own identity without getting lost in his.

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I reached my last year of graduate school in 2011, which brought new and exciting challenges for me. I was extremely sad and worried, but I did what any military spouse would do: I wiped off the tears and toughened up! In February, my husband left for his first deployment to Afghanistan. I decided to move back to NC during the deployment, to surround myself with family and work while continuing my education. I think staying busy with work and school was the best distraction I could have had. Before I knew it, the deployment was over and I was on my way back to Germany to welcome my husband home.

The next month, I began my internship at Baumholder Middle-High School. I was in the home stretch! I worked hard as a school counseling intern and in my final graduate school class. I enjoyed assisting the military students and it felt good to be back “home” with the military community. I learned a lot during my internship and received many opportunities to practice my counseling skills.

In May 2012, I received my graduate degree and walked across the stage during graduation in Heidelberg, Germany along with fellow military spouses, military personnel, and civilians. I had completed a Master’s degree, all while getting accustomed to the military lifestyle, living in Germany, and surviving my husband’s first deployment. What an awesome feeling!

Currently, I am working on a post-graduate certificate in behavior analysis. I have decided to become a certified behavior therapist and pursue a career as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Someone once told me that military spouses will never be able to have a career due to the frequent moves and limited opportunities at many military bases. By being proactive and making strides to continue my education and begin my career, I have been able overcome the obstacles and be a strong military spouse at the same time!

amanda-oakley-headshotBy Amanda Oakley, Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Recipient

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