Just over one year ago, we received orders for our upcoming PCS. Instead of the familiar post we anticipated—GERMANY was our destination! While unexpected, it was not entirely unwelcome. After all, an opportunity to live in Europe seemed too adventurous to pass up! Once our initial glee subsided, I was suddenly overwhelmed with questions, worries, and uncertainties. I pored over the tiny print in my husband’s orders thinking that there must be something in there to answer my questions or tell me what my next step was. (Take my word…there wasn’t much in there to help!)
Where would we live? Is it true the German homes are all tiny stairwell housing? Could I bring my minivan? Do I need to learn German? Do I need to leave all of my furniture behind in storage? How will we get there? What about the dog? Do I need to buy new electronic devices and small kitchen appliances in 220v? What the heck is Command Sponsorship? What is in a CS packet? Do we need passports? [Does your brain hurt yet? Just remembering all of this makes mine ache a bit!]
I searched the Garrison webpages and checked out the newcomer guides for bits of information, but I got frustrated trying to piece it together. I spoke with friends that had been OCONUS and made contact with a few people that were in Germany to find more answers. What I really wanted was for someone to take my hand, tell me to stop worrying and give me a few steps to get started in this crazy PCS process. Why wasn’t there a handbook titled “So You’re Going OCONUS?” Well, here it is, my fellow OCONUS adventurers and worriers…a handbook to get you started!
So, You’re Going OCONUS…
Step 1. Take a deep breath and squeal with glee because ADVENTURE is coming!
Step 2. Take a deep breath and hang on to your sense of humor, because getting there may be stressful!
Step 3. You have a million questions right now. Scribble them all down so you don’t worry about forgetting them and then put the list away for now. I promise, you’ll get to it ALL!
Step 4. Determine whether it is an unaccompanied tour or if you can apply for Command Sponsorship. Command Sponsorship means that the military command is sponsoring your extended stay in a foreign country. (Some locations, like Germany, are nearly all Command Sponsored. Other areas are required to be unaccompanied tours. Each area has different rules regarding length of tours, remaining time in service, etc.) Your Personnel Officer or Assignments Manager should be able to help you with this.
Step 5. Schedule a physical (or well-woman exam) for all dependents, if they have not had one in the last 12 months. For children under two, a well-child exam is required within the last six months. This is to ensure that everyone’s medical records are up-to-date.
Step 6. Schedule your Exceptional Family Member Program Screening. There is usually a packet of papers (medical histories, medical records releases, and developmental screenings) to fill out, so pick this ahead of time. If you have civilian providers off-post, the screening will likely also require records from those providers, so make sure you get record releases for them as well. The EFMP Screening is to ensure the area you will be living has adequate medical services for your family’s needs. The screening will usually be done at the nearest Military Treatment Facility.
Step 7. Start the passport process. Official passports are required for travel and can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks to be completed. You must apply through the passport office at your nearest military installation. They can be used to travel from the US to the country on your orders only. Tourist passports are recommended if you plan to do any additional travelling during your assignment. Bear in mind, birth certificates get mailed off to the Department of State with new passport applications. So, unless you have extra certified copies of your birth certificates, you must wait for one passport (with birth certificate) to arrive before you do the other passport. I would suggest applying for your official one first; without it you won’t go anywhere, but your service member still has to arrive by that report date! (Tip: Depending on the state, requesting extra certified birth certificates is easy to do online, inexpensive, and arrives quickly.)
Step 8. Start researching your destination! Contact the Relocation Office for information. Next, work those military friends! The odds are good that someone’s been there recently or knows someone who has; use those connections as a resource. Official and unofficial Facebook pages have popped up for each location. Try searching the installation name in Facebook and see what pages exist. Making contact with people in the area is a great way to get school recommendations, housing suggestions, get a feel for size/storage options in the new housing areas, etc. A word of caution: be sure to fact check any advice you are given with the appropriate agency before making any decision. (For example, check with Transportation before you sell all your furniture because Suzy Q. told you that you can only bring 2,000 lbs of household goods with you!) And, of course, be sensible with your personal information as you make contacts.
Step 9. Start looking at the calendar and think about your travel plans. Your transportation office will be able to give you delivery estimates for your vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage.
Step 10. Remember that list from Step 3? Get it back out and take another look at it. I’ll bet you’ve eliminated quite a few of your questions by now! Go ahead, congratulate yourself! And enjoy the adventure!
What tips would you offer to military families moving overseas?
Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association