Tag Archives: OCONUS

We PCS’d to Another Country…in only 22 Days!

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I find that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) perfectly pairs the excitement and anticipation of the holidays with the stress and apprehension of a root canal.

There’s always so much to do at your current location, and even more waiting for you at your new home. Thankfully, there are great resources available to help you along the way…well, most of the time.

My family and I completed a PCS from Italy to the U.S. in 22 days, flat. It was unexpected, and there was no checklist available to help us perform this feat, but we did it. We shipped a car, packed out our home, took care of medical records, school records, and veterinarian records. All while my husband simultaneously cleared the post. We said our goodbyes and made last trips to some of our favorite sites and restaurants. Just like that, our time in Italy had come to an end.

We boarded the plane to the U.S. with mixed emotions; our first European tour was filled with family adventures, a culture rich in history and beautiful architecture, and delicious food and wine. We touched down it Atlanta, GA on a hot June afternoon. We realized we didn’t have working cell phones and we were hours later than we told our friends (who we were staying with temporarily) we would be. But we piled in the car, and took off to find their home. By evening, we pulled into the driveway and were welcomed ‘home’ in the way friends-who-are-family welcome you.

PCS-in-22-days-military-pinterestWe spent the evening catching up, and jumped into action the next morning. We took care of the cell phones, set up appointments with realtors and began talking about schools for our kids. Typically, we would have started our research in advance, but that was not a luxury we would have this time around. We needed to make decisions and we needed to make them quickly. Jet lag set in and the whirlwind move began taking its toll on all of us. Emotions were running high…and I’m pretty sure I was leading the pack.

Moves are stressful, and we all want to make the right decisions for our families. But none of us are perfect and we can only do our best. Finding the perfect neighborhood, job opportunities, reputable schools, competitive sports programs, welcoming churches, convenient dog parks, quality health care providers (and list goes on and on) can leave your head spinning. Take a breath and know there are very few decisions that cannot be changed. Some may even be changed again…and again.

Several weeks passed before our decisions were final. The excitement mounted as we purchased our new home, school began, the kids joined soccer teams, and eventually our car and household goods arrived. The excitement gave way to a calm that was peaceful and very familiar.

Our military family was home, once again.

Have you experienced a chaotic move, and finally found ‘home’ after it was all said and done? Share it with us in the comments!

kimPosted by Kim Edger, Website Architect

Calling All Bloggers! Share Your Story on Branching Out!

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It’s no secret—military families have collected their fair share of stories, experiences, and traditions throughout their military journeys. We know you’ve got plenty of tips, tricks, pictures, and laughable moments up your sleeve. That’s why we want you to be a guest blogger!

Our blog covers all areas of military life, including PCS moves, raising military kids, spouse employment, military marriage, and the tough stuff—like transition, being a caregiver, and even divorce.

During the months of July and August, we’re looking for unique stories in about:

Think you’ve got awesome blogging skills and want to share your journey with other military families? We’d love to hear from you!

What works:
Inspirational stories – we want readers to jump out of their seats because they were moved by your journey. Sharing personal stories, hardships, or humor can be just what someone needs to relate to you. Don’t be afraid to amaze and inspire!
Original content – We will not publish content that has already been published elsewhere on the web. We aim for authentic and unique content!
Well-written content –Your writing should reflect your individual voice! So if you feel excited, let us know! Had a hard time with a recent PCS? Express that in your writing. Great blog posts will grab the reader and keep their attention through awesome details!
Topics about military families or military life – We are 100% military family focused, so make sure your submission is, too! Are you a company looking to share a resource? Great! Use your original content to tie back to the military community, and keep in mind: our subject matter experts will review any resource prior to posting.
Sending your own photos – Pictures are the best! And we want to share yours! Make sure images are appropriate, clear, and don’t violate OPSEC or PERSEC.

What doesn’t work:
Incomplete, unedited articles – Always be sure to proof read your work before submitting it. If you’re unsure if something is well-written, have a friend or family member read over it and give their thoughts!
Inappropriate content – No profanity, graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments will be accepted. Make sure you aren’t oversharing, or violating OPSEC or PERSEC! If you’re submitting photos, please be sure they are tasteful.
Advertisements – We don’t promote any business or organization we are not in direct partnership with, and we do not offer advertisements on our blog; however, we do have advertising opportunities through our mobile app, MyMilitaryLife. Please email App [at] MyMilitaryLife [dot] org.

How to Submit:
Email your completed article to Blog [at] MilitaryFamily [dot] org. Because Branching Out is 100% military family focused, we will review each submission to ensure it aligns with our content strategy. If it does, you’ll receive an email from us to let you know your article will be published. Please allow us some time to respond – our little fingers type as fast as possible!

Blog submissions must include:
First and last name
Contact email
Service affiliation and location
250-700 words per post
Headshot or clear photo of yourself

The Fine Print:
Sharing is caring – We want your original content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share the link on your own website after we’ve published your submission! Share like crazy!
Editing and adapting – We reserve the right to edit and adapt your guest blog content as we see fit.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

My PCS has Gone Bad…Now What?

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In the peak of summer, military families are immersed in the chaos of the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) cycle. This process involves so many moving parts; it is amazing that it works as well as it does. Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) is the executive agent for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Personal Property Program. SDDC recommends diligent planning, attention to detail and flexibility for a smooth move. Our Association even has a fantastic smart phone app, called MyMilitaryLife, that does all the hard work for you! But we all know things go wrong, even with the best planning, and most flexible parties. SDDC’s website is a great starting point for links to everything that follows. Bookmark it, write it down, and make it your friend!

Even though we are on the downswing of peak PCS season, we still get questions on the “rules” about moving. US Transportation Command’s guide can be useful, with information from weight limits, to the hours your packers should be at your home. For questions about what can be moved to how, it is a great guide.

Most people are now moving using the online Defense Personal Property System via Move.mil instead of going through the Personal Property Shipping Office (PPSO, aka PPPO, TMO or TO) to arrange their PCS move, but you can still find your installation PPSO. By using the Move.mil website portal, you can stay informed of where you are in your moving process, along with access to your Transportation Service Provider (TSP). In most cases, you will want to contact your assigned TSP as your first line of defense with any complications that arise. However, you can also email, phone, or submit help tickets directly to SDDC via the Move.mil website portal.

If you are in the middle of the moving process and something goes wrong that costs you extra money (for example, your packers don’t finish in time and the movers are delayed, causing you to incur extra costs because you can’t leave as scheduled) you can file an Inconvenience Claim. This would be done through your TSP via Move.mil. Your claim must be reasonable and the costs must be directly related to the newly created hardship, and you must be able to provide receipts to support your claim. If you have trouble with an inconvenience claim through your TSP, you can contact the PPPO or Military Claims Office to assist in the settlement process. We sometimes hear the claims process can be cumbersome, but there are a lot of resources on the Move.Mil website portal to help you understand the process. Check out their guides and tutorials available.

If your problem is related to your Privately Owned Vehicle (POV), get in touch with the contractor moving your vehicle, International Auto Logistics (IAL). If your vehicle has not been delivered and the Required Delivery Date (RDD) has passed, you are entitled to reimbursement for a rental vehicle. The military will cover up to seven days at a rate limited to $30 per day that expires upon the date the POV is delivered. Any car rental required beyond seven days will have to be submitted to IAL. They will review claims for temporary lodging and rental car expenses due to a missed RDD via their website.

  • For damages to your POV, you need to contact IAL to file a damage claim. 1-800-389-9499 or email claims@ialpov.us.
  • For IAL’s customer service, email customerservice@ialpov.us.
  • For more assistance on POVs, you can reach the USTRANSCOM POV Inspector General Customer Support Team at usarmy.scott.sddc.mbx.pov-ig-reponse@mail.mil.

After your move, you want to make sure to fill out the Customer Satisfaction Survey. The scores you provide help determine whether or not the TSP you used will continue to ship for DoD families. Good or bad, your feedback matters.

Don’t forget that all of these resources and quick links are at the touch of your fingertip through our innovative, perfect-for-your-military-journey, smartphone app, MyMilitaryLife!

Have you used any of these resources? What questions do you have about PCSing? Share them, and your experiences, in the comments!

Brooke-GoldbergPosted by Brooke Goldberg, Government Relations Deputy Director

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